The Life and Ministry of Saint John Paul II
Adapted from From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI, by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM with Catholic News Service
© 2005, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all rights reserved.
Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, lived an
unusually varied life before his priestly ordination. As a teen, he split stone
at a quarry, wrote poetry and supported a network that smuggled Jews to safety
during the German occupation of Poland.
As a young priest, he was a favorite
with students at Lublin University who flocked to his classes and joined him on
camping, hiking and canoeing trips. As the second-youngest cardinal ever named
by the Vatican, he ran an informal office and celebrated holidays with Krakow
It should have been no surprise that he would redefine the
traditional role and demeanor of the papacy by traveling extensively,
continuing to enjoy outdoor activities and taking on a wide range of political
and moral issues.
As a high school student in his hometown of Wadowice, in
southern Poland, Wojtyla impressed classmates by the intense way he would pray
in church, a habit of deep meditation that remained with him for life
"Even as a boy he was exceptional," said Rafat
Tatka, a neighbor who knew the young boy as Lolek, a nickname that translates
The Nazi takeover of Poland in September 1939 meant an
official end to all religious training and cultural activities, but Wojtyla
attended an underground university in Krakow and helped set up a clandestine
theater group that performed in stores and homes.
In addition to the quarry, he worked in a chemical factory
-- experiences that provided material for his poetry and papal writings on
He participated in daily Mass, spiritual exercises, Marian devotion and
Friends said that when his father died in 1941, Karol knelt
for 12 hours in prayer at his father's bedside.
Soon after, he withdrew from
the theatrical group and began studying for the priesthood, a decision that
surprised many of his friends, who tried to convince him his talent lay in the
He studied in a clandestine seminary operated in Cardinal
Adam Sapieha's Krakow residence in defiance of Nazi orders forbidding religious
The archbishop saw him as a future church leader. Yet the young man
who wrote poems and a doctoral dissertation on the mysticism of St. John of the
Cross was attracted to monastic contemplation. Twice during these years he
tried to join the Discalced Carmelites but was turned away with the advice:
"You are destined for greater things."
He was ordained Nov. 1, 1946, just as the communist regime
replaced the Germans at the end of the war.