Józef Wojtyła, known as John Paul II since
his October 1978 election to the papacy, was born in Wadowice, a small city 50
kilometres from Cracow, on May 18, 1920. He was the second of two sons born to
Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska. His
mother died in 1929. His eldest brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932 and his
father, a non-commissioned army officer died in 1941.
He made his First Holy
Communion at age 9 and was confirmed at 18. Upon graduation from Marcin
Wadowita high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in Cracow's Jagiellonian
University in 1938 and in a school for drama.
The Nazi occupation forces
closed the university in 1939 and young Karol had to work in a quarry
(1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living
and to avoid being deported to Germany.
In 1942, aware of his call to
the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Cracow, run by
Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Cracow. At the same time, Karol
Wojtyła was one of the pioneers of the
"Rhapsodic Theatre," also clandestine.
After the Second World War, he
continued his studies in the major seminary of Cracow, once it had re-opened,
and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University, until his
priestly ordination in Cracow on November 1, 1946.
Soon after, Cardinal Sapieha
sent him to Rome where he worked under the guidance of the French Dominican,
Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948 with a thesis
on the topic of faith in the works of St. John of the Cross. At that time,
during his vacations, he exercised his pastoral ministry among the Polish
immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland.
In 1948 he returned to Poland
and was vicar of various parishes in Cracow as well as chaplain for the
university students until 1951, when he took up again his studies on philosophy
and theology. In 1953 he defended a thesis on "evaluation of the possibility of
founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler" at Lublin
Catholic University. Later he became professor of moral theology and social
ethics in the major seminary of Cracow and in the Faculty of Theology of Lublin.
On July 4, 1958, he was
appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated
September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow, by Archbishop Baziak.
On January 13, 1964, he was
nominated Archbishop of Cracow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26,
Besides taking part in Vatican
Council II with an important contribution to the elaboration of the Constitution
Gaudium et spes, Cardinal Wojtyła
participated in all the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.
His principal documents
include 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions
and 44 apostolic letters. The Pope's books include: "Crossing the Threshold of
Hope" (October 1994); "Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly
Ordination" (November 1996); "Roman Triptych - Meditations", a book of poems
(March 2003); "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" (May 2004) and "Memory and Identity"
(publication spring 2005).
John Paul II has presided at
147 beatification ceremonies (1,338 Blesseds proclaimed) and 51 canonization
ceremonies (482 Saints) during his pontificate. He has held 9 consistories in
which he created 231 (+ 1 in pectore) cardinals. He has also convened six
plenary meetings of the College of Cardinals.
From 1978 to today the Holy
Father has presided at 15 Synods of Bishops: six ordinary (1980, 1983, 1987,
1990, 1994, 2001), one extraordinary (1985) and eight special (1980, 1991, 1994,
1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999).