Near the heart of Krakow, Poland, you can find a two-level basilica which houses all things related to the beloved St. John Paul II. Called the “Be Not Afraid — John Paul II Center,” it hosts a relic of his blood, the cassock he wore when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square, a museum, and a research center. Now, the center will also be the home to a new study abroad program called the JP2 Project.
The JP2 Project is a multi-faceted program that offers students and families ages 16-35 a unique educational experience in Poland. Rooted in the country’s rich culture, the program’s main pillars focus on academics, local culture, service to the church, community life, spirituality, and active life.
“John Paul II challenged young people to greatness: he gave them the truth, he believed in their capacity to give of themselves, to become great saints… In the JP2 Project, we do too,” stated Corinne MacDonald, founder and co-president of the endeavor, which was officially established this year. “The project is named after JPII because we honestly felt that he was asking us to start it, and because he is the perfect model for youth today,” MacDonald told CNA in a recent interview.
Rewind a few years to when MacDonald was the head of a different study abroad program in Rome, Italy. During this time, she brought students on pilgrimages to Poland and began to notice something amazing. “In the nine times that I brought American students on pilgrimage to Poland, every one of them was blown away by Poland’s dramatic history, the rich culture and people who have cultivated it, the ascetic beauty, and the inspiring legacies of modern saints such as St. Maximillian Kolbe, Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko, St. Faustina, and St. John Paul II,” MacDonald said. “We want to replicate that experience for as many students as possible” in the JP2 Program, she continued.
The study abroad experience holds a special place in MacDonald’s heart, most especially because it brought she and her husband, Joseph, together. “Since study abroad was a part of our marriage story, it never left us, even when we moved back to the U.S. to begin our family,” she continued.
Through a lot of prayer and a nudging that never left their hearts, the MacDonalds made the JP2 Project in Poland a reality. The couple and their two children are additionally joined by Erin Van de Voorde, the vice president, and Therese Reinhold, the administrative assistant. Throughout the startup process, they found that there was no existing study abroad program in Poland that really adhered to the academic schedule in the United States, so they created the program around the needs of U.S. students.
Student groups currently include three age ranges: high school, college, and young families. MacDonald said each group was founded with the aim of “cultivating virtue and forming the whole person, in the example of Karol Wojtyla.” The JP2 Project offers two 10-day pilgrimage programs for high school students starting in 2018, one in April and the other in July. This particular group will explore Poland’s culture, history, and key figures, and will also delve into dynamic discussions and daily community prayer, including Mass. The application process for the high school program is now open to students.
In addition, the JP2 Program will also offer a Family Enrichment Program in July that MacDonald said will focus on “living out spousal love in light of JPII’s teachings and is designed especially for families with small children.” College students aged 18-29 will also be involved with the JP2 Project through the three-and-a-half-month program, which offers up to six courses. Each course is the equivalent to about three credits in the U.S. academic system, and will be offered through a partnership with the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow. College students from any university are welcome to apply, and the courses are mainly focused on theology, philosophy, history, art, cultural studies and social sciences.
Outside of academics, all participants in the JP2 Program are also given the opportunity to connect with local families, learn the Polish language, serve the homeless in Krakow, attend daily Mass and adoration, and organize sporting activities. In the future, the JP2 Project is open to expanding to other countries and also hopes to open a seminarian formation program that will focus on building up priests through the culture and spirituality found in Poland.
“Krakow was the place Karol Wojtyla was formed as a seminarian, and the results were spectacular,” MacDonald noted. “Furthermore, the location of Krakow, Poland has particular significance: it is the city that shaped young Karol Wojtyla and that he in turn shaped as a priest, archbishop and even as Pope John Paul II,” she continued.
The program is already supported by Fr. Tomasz Szopa, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Krakow, who MacDonald describes as the “spiritual father” to the program and who also serves on the board. Ultimately, MacDonald said that she hopes the JP2 Project will reach young people through the beauty of Poland and the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II. “We desire that students of our programs become saints and build up a civilization of love and truth in our society today,” MacDonald said. “We believe that John Paul II shows them the way.”
Donations to aid the JP2 Project can be made here.