Early life of Pope John Paul II

The early life of Pope John Paul II covers the period in his life from his birth in 1920 to his ordination to the priesthood in 1946.


Wedding portrait, parents.

Karol Józef Wojtyła (junior) was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice near the city of Kraków in southern Poland, the youngest of three children.[1]

His father was Karol Józef Wojtyła (senior), born 18 July 1879 in Lipnik (now part of Bielsko-Biała). He was a non-commissioned officer of the Austro-Hungarian Army and a captain in the Polish Army. Wojtyła (senior) died, from what is believed to be a heart attack, on 18 February 1941 (Kraków, Poland) while his son was away, and the fact is considered to have influenced his son's decision to join the seminary. Wojtyła's (senior) parents were Anna (Przeczek) and Maciej Wojtyła.[2]

His mother was Emilia Wojtyła, née Kaczorowska. She was born 26 March 1884 in Biała, Poland. Her parents were Anna Maria (Scholz) and Feliks Kaczorowski. Her name would later be bestowed to a road tunnel built in Silesia, in March 2010 (Tunnel Emilia).[3] His mother died of heart and kidney problems on 13 April 1929 in Wadowice, Poland. His only sister, Olga, died in infancy before Karol was born.

After Emilia's death, his father, an intensely religious man who did most of the housework, brought up Karol so that he could study. As a child Karol was called Lolek by friends and family. He grew close to his brother Edmund, whom Karol had nicknamed Mundek. Edmund graduated from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and practised as a doctor in Wadowice. There was an epidemic of scarlet fever in the winter of 1932, and he contracted the disease from one of his patients.[4] Edmund died four days later, on 5 December,[5] aged 26; Karol, now 12, was profoundly affected.[4] He reflected on this fifty years later, in a speech he made at the Jagiellonian University: "These are events that became deeply engraved in my memory, my brother's death perhaps even deeper than my mother's death—equally because of the special circumstances, one may say tragic ones, and in view of my greater maturity at the time."[4]

Karol's youth was influenced by numerous contacts with the vibrant and prospering Jewish community of Wadowice. He often played football, as a goalkeeper, and was a supporter of Polish club Cracovia.[6][7] School football games were often organised between teams of Jews and Catholics, and due to the anti-Jewish feelings of the time, there was a potential for events to sometimes turn "nasty". Karol, however, cheerfully offered himself as a substitute goalkeeper on the Jewish side if they were short of players.[8]

It was around this time that the young Karol had his first serious relationship with a girl. He became close to a girl called Ginka Beer, described as "a Jewish beauty, with stupendous eyes and jet black hair, slender, a superb actress."[9]

In high school, he joined and soon became president of The Society of Mary (a lay society, not to be confused with the Marianists).[10]

Papal biographer George Weigel recalls that when Karol was around 15 years old, a young person playfully pointed a gun at him not realising that it was loaded. On pressing the trigger, the gun fired and narrowly missed the target. He would escape from other near-death incidents as a young seminarian and later as Pope.[11]

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