Pope St. John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla, in the polish town of Wadowice, on May 18, 1920. He was the youngest of three children. His mother died when he was 9, his brother Edmund, when St. John Paul was 12, and his father 9 years later. His sister Olga had died before John Paul was born. 

After graduation, St. John Paul enrolled in Jagiellonian University, and a school for drama. When the Nazis closed the university the following year, St. John Paul had to work in a quarry and factories to earn a living. He became aware that God was calling him to be a priest, and started studying in the clandestine seminary of Krakow. 

Once World War II was over, he continued his studies, and was ordained on November 1, 1946. He went to Rome for a time, finishing a doctorate in theology with a thesis on the faith in the works of St. John of the Cross. From there, he returned to Poland, as vicar of several parishes, and chaplain to the university students there. 

He was made bishop of Ombi and auxiliary of Krakow in 1958, and in 1964, archbishop of Krakow. Pope St. Paul VI made him a cardinal in 1967. As Cardinal Wojtyla, he participated in the second Vatican Council, and the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. 

On Oct. 16, 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected Pope. He took the name of John Paul II, and on Oct. 22, he became the 263rd pope in the Church. His pontificate is one of the longest in Church history, lasting almost 27 years. 

Pope St. John Paul II made 104 visits outside Italy, and 146 within Italy. He visited 317 of Rome’s 333 parishes. He held hundreds of meetings with leaders of nations, pilgrims, and faithful. He established World Youth Days as a way to connect with young people, and the 19 celebrated during his time as pope brought together millions of young Catholics around the world. 

He promoted spiritual renewal within the Church, through the Year of Redemption, the Marian Year, and the Year of the Eucharist. He proclaimed 1,338 blesseds and 51 saints, and made St. Therese of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church. His writings are many, and have informed Church teachings throughout his pontificate and into the present day.  

On April 2, 2005, Pope St. John Paul II died. More than three million pilgrims came to Rome to pay homage to his remains, some waiting in line for 24 hours to enter the Basilica. 

On April 28, Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period before beginning the cause for beatification, and Pope John Paul II was beatified on May 1, 2011. He was canonized on April 27, 2014, by Pope Francis. 


Start your day with Always Forward, our award-winning e-newsletter. Get this smart, handpicked selection of the day’s top news, analysis, and opinion, delivered to your inbox. Sign up absolutely free today!