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John Paul II Timeline: from Boyhood to Sainthood

Compiled by Robert Strybel

Polish American Journal, April 2014

MAY18, 1920: Emilia née Kaczorowska Wojtyła gives birth to a baby boy against the advice of her doctor who said the infant didn't have a chance to survive and should be aborted.

JUNE 20, 1920: The Wojtyła baby is baptized at the Wadowice parish church and receives the name Karol (the Polish equivalent of Carl or Charles).

APRIL 19, 1929: Karol suffered his first major tragedy at the age of nine, when his mother died. Right after the funeral, his father Lieutenant Karol Wojtyła senior, an army administrative official and devout Catholic, took him and his elder brother to the Marian shrine in nearby Kalwaria Zebrzydowska to pray for the repose of her soul.

SEPTEMBER 1930: Karol, known to his friends and classmates as Lolek, enrolled in the Wadowice middle school. He did well in his studies, was good at sports and was goalkeeper in school soccer matches between Catholic and Jewish students. It was there that his literary and acting inclinations began emerging. He also stood out for his piety and served as an altar boy.

DECEMBER 5, 1932: A mere three years after his mother's death, tragedy struck again, when his 26-year-old brother Edmund, an MD, died of the scarlet fever he had contracted from a patient he was treating.

MAY 14, 1938: Karol Wojtyła passed his secondary-school-leaving exam with flying colors and decided to study Polish Language and Literature at Kraków's Jagiellonian University. He and his father moved to Kraków to facilitate his academic studies and lived in a two-room rented basement apartment.

1939: Karol readily absorbs the intellectual and artistic climate of the Jagiellonian and the city of Kraków in general. He makes new friends and joins a student theater group.

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939: World War II begins with Hitler's attack on Poland.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1939: German troops march into Kraków. Nazi Governor General sets up his headquarters in Poland's historic Wawel Castle.

NOVEMBER 6, 1939: The Germans close down Jagiellonian University and sends its professors to a concentration camp. To help shore up his and his father's deteriorating financial situation, Karol finds work in the limestone quarry of the Solvay Chemical Works.

FEBRUARY 18, 1941: One day, when he brings home dinner, Karol finds his father dead. The loss of his last family member comes as a devastating blow to the 20-year-old who moves in with the friendly and supportive Kydryński family.

SPRING 1941: Karol is promoted to the job of blaster's assistant at the quarry under head blaster Franciszek Łabuś, a devout Catholic. Łabuś is believed to have suggested that Karol study for the priesthood. Karol attends a religious retreat where he meets tailor Jan Tyranowski, an expert on the teachings of st John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila, who helps him find his religious vocation. Karol takes part in the activities of the now underground Rhapsodic Theater.

1942: Karol surprises his fellow student actors when he decides to enter a clandestine seminary to study for the priesthood. In the early morning he serves mass for Metropolitan Archbishop Prince Adam Sapieha before going to work at the Solvay; at night he studies.

FEBRUARY 29, 1944: Karol is struck by a German truck, but a German officer stops a car and orders its driver to drive to Pole to hospital. He is treated for a brain concussion and lacerations to the head.

AUGUST 6, 1944: Startled by Warsaw Uprising on August 1, the Germans seek to prevent a similar outbreak in Kraków by rounding up all young males. Karol and other seminarians take refuge at the Episcopal Palace.

JANUARY 18, 1945: Soviet troops march into Kraków – a sign that World War II is winding down. Like people all over Poland, Karol is not sure whether Poland is being liberated or whether one totalitarian occupation will be replaced by another.

NOVEMBER 1, 1946: After successfully completing his studies, on All Saints Day Karol Wojtyła is ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Sapieha and celebrates his first mass at St Leonard's Crypt in Wawel Cathedral.

NOVEMBER 15, 1946: Father Wojtyła is sent to Rome to study at Angelicum, the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas . While in Rome, he gets to meet the famous mystic Father Pio who, according to some accounts, predicts that the Polish priest is destined for the papacy.

JULY 1948: Father Wojtyła's first assignment is that of vicar at the parish in Niegowić, a village not far from Kraków, where he serves 13 months.

AUGUST 1949: Cardinal Sapieha re-assigns Father Wojtyła as vicar to St Florian parish in Kraków. There he has good rapport with the parish youth for whom he organizes excursions, theater outings, discussion circles and Gregorian Chant practice. He also attracts throngs of faithful to the his religious retreat.

1950: Father Wojtyła begins publishing his poetry in Kraków's Catholic weekly “Tygodnik Powszechny” under the pen-name Andrzej Jawień.

JULY 1951: Following the death of Cardinal Sapieha, who had looked after Father Wojtyła. Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, serving as archdiocesan administrator, urges him to continue his post-graduate studies.

DECEMBER 12, 1953: His dissertation is unanimously accepted by the council of the Jagiellonian's Theology Department, but the communist education authorities do not approve the subject until 1957, when he is given the title of docent (assistant professor). He begins lecturing at the Kraków Theological Seminary and Jagiellonian University as well as the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), 170 miles away.

JULY 28, 1958: At the age of 38, Father Wojtyła becomes Poland's youngest bishop and is given the post of auxiliary bishop of the Kraków Archdiocese.

1959: Bishop Wojtyła heads KUL's Ethics Chair, where his lectures attract crowds of students. He shows he has a way with young people who affectionately call him “Wujek” (uncle) and whom he takes on mountain hikes and canoe trips. During that period he publishes extensively in the Catholic journal “Znak” and “Tygodnik Powszechny”.

1960: Bishop Wojtyła begins petitioning the communist authorities for permission to build a church in Kraków's new industrial suburb of Nowa Huta; the regime regards it as a model socialist workers' community which should be devoid of religion. His book on marriage “Love and Responsibility” triggers controversy in conservative Catholic circles for its treatment of sexuality.

1962: Bishop Wojtyła becomes actively involved in preparations for the Second Vatican Council ordered by Pope John XXIII . He deals with media issues and favors replacing Latin with national languages in the liturgy.

DECEMBER 30, 1963: Pope Paul VI appoints Bishop Wojtyła the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kraków, a post that has been vacant since the death of Cardinal Sapieha in 1951.
1964: Archbishop Wojtyła helps convince Polish Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński to approve a crucial letter to the German Episcopate containing the words: “We forgive you and ask for forgiveness.”

1965: The letter sent to the German Episcopate infuriates Poland's communsit rulers who accuse the Church of meddling in Poland's international affairs; the regime penalizes bishops by denying them passports for travel to Rome and by drafting their seminarians into the army.

1966: The communist regime celebrating the Thousand Years of Polish throws obstacles in the path of the Church celebrating the Millennium of Christian Poland.

MAY 1967: Pope Paul VI announces Archbishop Wojtyła's elevation to the rank of cardinal.

AUTUMN 1967: Cardinal Wojtyła declines an invitation to attend the First Bishops' Synod in Rome to express his solidarity with Primate Wyszyński, barred by the regime from traveling outside Poland. But the cardinal does take part in subsequent synods.

JULY 1968: Many of Cardinal Wojtyła's views, including his opposition to abortion and contraceptives , are reflected in Pope Paul VI's encyclical “Humane vitae”.

AUGUST 12, 1978: Polish Cardinals Wyszyński and Wojtyła travel to Rome to attend the funeral of Pope Paul VI and elect his successor.

AUGUST 26, 1978: The Archbishop of Venice Albino Luciani is elected pope, but dies on September 28.

OCTOBER 4, 1978: The funeral of Pope John Paul I is held, followed by preparations for the next conclave.

OCTOBER 16, 1978: Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyła is elected pope and takes the name John Paul II. He is the first non -Italian elected to the papacy in 455 years. Church bells ring out and a wave of euphoria sweeps Poland and Polonia in cerebration of the unprecedented event. Alarm bells ring at the Kremlin and other Soviet bloc capitals as communist leaders deliberate how to react to this new challenge.

OCTOBER 22, 1978: The official inauguration of John Paul II is held. It is memorable for the historic embrace of the new people and his mentor, Cardinal Wyszyński, as well as the words “Do not be afraid”, due to become a key element of the Wojtyła pontificate.

JANUARY 25, 1979: The new pope visits Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas in his first apostolic trip abroad . The most traveled pontiff in history, John Paul visited 129 countries and logged 725,000 miles during his 27-year pontificate, earning the title of “Pilgrim Pope”.

JUNE 2, 1979: John Paul II arrived in Poland for his first papal homecoming, and some 10 million Poles turned out to meet him as the toured the country. The rest watched the live TV coverage of his pilgrimage. The highpoint of the trip was the pope's farewell address in Warsaw, when he said: “Let your Spirit descend and renew the land....this land!” Those words instilled new hope in his countrymen. A year later, a strike wave erupted which would snowball into the Solidarity movement, the Soviet bloc's first free labor union. This is the first of his nine visits to his native land.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1979: The Polish-born Pontiff makes his first pilgrimage to the United States, drawing record crowds wherever the visits. In New York, he addresses the United Nations General Assembly, appealing for world-wide peace.

MAY 13, 1981: John Paul survives an assassination attempt in St Peter's Square, where he is shot in the abdomen and hand by a young Muslim Turk, Mehmet Ali Ağca. His life is saved by prompt medical attention at Rome's Gemelli Clinic, but he will never fully regain his former robust state of health.

MAY 28, 1981: In Poland, Cardinal Wyszyński dies following a long and debilitating bout with cancer. He is succeeded as primate by Archbishop Józef Glemp.

MAY 12, 1982: On the first day of the Holy Father's visit to Fatima, Portugal, a deranged Spanish monk lunges at him with a bayonet, but the pope escapes unhurt.

MAY 28, 1982: In an attempt to prevent future assassination attempts, an enclosed bullet-proof vehicle known as the Popemobile makes its appearance for John Paul's visit to Great Britain.

DECEMBER 27, 1983: The pope meets and forgives his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca, in a Roman prison.

MARCH 1983: The pope visits a Nicaragua torn by civil strife between the communist Sandanista government and US -backed contra rebels. The regime buses in people for all over the country to heckle John Paul and drown out his sermons about “godless communism” with their revolutionary chants and songs.

AUGUST 16, 1983: The Polish Pontiff arrives in his homeland for his second papal pilgrimage and uplifts the spirits of his downtrodden countrymen following the regime's 1981 crackdown to crush Solidarity. The pope persuades communist strongman General Wojciech Jaruzelski to lift martial law, a move announced the following month.

APRIL 13, 1986: John Paul pays a visit to and prays at Rome's main Synagogue, the first pope since St Peter ever to cross the threshold of a Jewish temple.

OCTOBER 27, 1986: John Paul holds the first World Day of Prayer for Peace by inviting 160 Christian and non-Christian religious leaders from around the globe to Assisi, Italy

JUNE 8, 1987: The Holy Father arrives for this third pilgrimage to his homeland and takes part in a National Eucharistic Congress.

DECEMBER 1, 1989: Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is received by the Pope at the Vatican. Their discussion includes the question of religious freedom in the USSR.

JANUARY 15, 1991: In separate letters to US President Bush and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the pope seeks do avert a war in the Persian Gulf.

JUNE 1, 1991: During his first papal pilgrimage to free Poland, John Paul elaborates on the subject of freedom and expresses alarm at the “anything goes” interpretation of that concept. He urges people to guide themselves by the ethical concepts of Christianity and not use the notion of freedom as an excuse to violate the moral order.

JULY 15, 1992: The pope is hospitalized for 11 days in connection with a surgical procedure to remove a benign intestinal tumor.

APRIL 28, 1994: The Holy Father slips and falls at the Vatican, injuring his hip. Following hip-replacement surgery, he has to walk with a cane and appears visibly weakened by the experience.

MAY 30, 1994: In a letter to bishops, John Paul reaffirms the Church's opposition to the ordination of priestesses, saying that the Church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” That statement predictably infuriates radical feminists.

MARCH 25, 1995: John Paul II issues an encyclical titled “Gospel of Life” containing his strongest denunciation of the “spreading culture of death” which includes abortion, euthanasia and experimentation on human embryos.

OCTOBER. 20, 1994: The pope's autobiographical book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” is published.

MAY 22, 1995: During an Apostolic Visit to the Czech Republic, the pope pays a brief several-hour visit to the neighboring Polish town of Skoczków, where he canonizes St John Sarkander.

OCTOBER 8, 1996: The Holy Father undergoes an appendectomy.

MAY 31, 1997: The Polish Pontiff makes another pilgrimage to his homeland, whose theme is “Christ yesterday, today and forever.” It includes celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of St Adalbert's (Wojciech's) martyrdom. Although his age and infirmities have slowed him down, but he still displays much of his former verve and enthusiasm.

JANUARY 21, 1998: John Paul II brings hope to the religiously persecuted Catholics of Cuba during a six-day pilgrimage and meets communist leader Fidel Castro.

JUNE 5, 1999: Apparently fearing it may be his last, John Paul II begins what will be his longest pilgrimage to his homeland due to last until June 17. Health issues prevent him from celebrating mass at Kraków's grassy commons, but he manages to visit his hometown of Wadowice.

MARCH 20, 2000: Papa Wojtyła, as he is known in many places (“papa” means pope), arrives for a six-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He celebrates mass in Bethlehem and prays at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, where he inserts a note asking God's forgiveness for Christian persecution of Jews.

MAY 13: 2000: On his third pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, John Paul beatifies two of the shepherd children who had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. The Vatican reveals that the Third Secret of Fatima foretold the 1981 attempt on the pope's life.

AUGUST 16, 2002: John Paul II manages to make his ninth and last trip to Poland. Its highpoint is the consecration of Kraków's Church of Divine Providence, a major religious center. The three-day visit to his homeland is also a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the aging and ailing Pontiff.

MARCH 2003: “Roman Triptych,” John Paul's first book of poetry since becoming pope, is published; it is a three-part meditation on nature, life, and death.

MAY 17, 2003: The pope's trembling hand and slurred speech has been noticeable for quite some time, but now for the first time a senior Vatican official announces that the Pontiff suffers from Parkinson's disease.

AUGUST 15, 2004: The pope breathes heavily and gasps for air during an open-air mass in Lourdes, France, one of just two foreign pilgrimages in 2004.

FEBRUARY 1, 2005: The Holy Father is rushed to a Rome hospital with breathing problems, but released nine days later when his situation stabilizes.

FEBRARY 25, 2005: The pope agrees to a tracheotomy after doctors assure him he will be able to address the faithful following the procedure. Catholics around the globe hold prayer vigils in his intention.

MARCH 21, 2005: Recovering from throat surgery John Paul II is unable to address the faithful from his balcony window. He presses his hand to his head and pounds the lectern in apparent frustration at not being able to respond to his congregation in St Peter's Square.

MARCH 25, 2005: For the first time in his 27-year papacy a dying 84-year-old John Paul passively participates in the Good Friday Way of the Cross around Rome's ancient Colosseum; he is shown watching the procession on a video link in his apartment while embracing a large crucifix.

MARCH 27, 2005: Although his doctors assured him he would be able to speak following his tracheotomy, John Paul, once known as the Great Communicator, is unable to utter the seven Latin words of an Easter Sunday blessing from his window overlooking St Peter's Square. Instead, he blesses the crowds with the Sign of the Cross made with an unsteady hand.

MARCH 31, 2005: The Holy Father's health continues to deteriorate. The medical team attending him at his Vatican apartment issues daily communiqués on his condition to the media.

APRIL 28, 2005: For days, thousands of worshipers have been witnessing the dying pope's agony and taking part in prayer vigils below his apartment. At exactly 9:37 PM, the pope's personal physician Dr Renato Buzzonetti announces the death of John Paul II. It turns out that the pope did not want any exceptional methods to keep him artificially alive and said: “Let me go to the Home of the Father.”

APRIL 8, 2005: Numerous heads of state and other foreign dignitaries as well as some 3,000,000 worshipers attend the papal funeral in St Peter's Square. Two billion viewers across the globe watch the live televised proceedings. The remains of John Paul II are laid to rest in the crypts of St Peter's Basilica. During the funeral banners and chants of “Santo subito” (immediate sainthood) go up.

MAY 13, 2005: The beatification process of John Paul II is officially launched when his successor, German-born Benedict XVI, waives the five-year waiting period normally required after a candidate's death.

MAY 28, 2006: During his visit to Poland, Pope Benedict XVI encourages prayers for the early canonization of his predecessor and expresses the hope it will occur “in the near future”.

DECEMBER 19, 2009: John Paul II is proclaimed venerable by his successor Benedict XVI – the initial pre-beatification stage in a candidate's road to sainthood.

MAY 1, 2011: Following several years of investigation into the life and work of John Paul II as well as the validation of a cure attributed to his intervention, the late Pontiff is beatified and given the title of Blessed. The ceremony is attended by 87 international delegations, including 22 world leaders. Beatification is the penultimate step leading to Catholic sainthood.

APRIL 27, 2014: The “fast-track” canonization of a man many have called “John Paul the Great” is set for Mercy Sunday, a feast day introduced by the Polish-born Pontiff. He is co-canonized with Pope John XXIII.


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