Born on May 18, 1920, in a small town in Poland, Karol Wojtyla’s early life was marked by tragedy — he lost his mother, father, and only brother before turning 22. Yet, God had great plans, and Karol trusted Him.
After high school, he began studying at a university before the Nazi occupation forced the school to close. During this time, Karol worked in a quarry and a factory in order to make a living.
In 1942, Karol began studying at an underground seminary (because of Nazi suppression of the Church) and continued his studies after World War II. Four years later, he was ordained a priest in Kraków, Poland.
After rising to become a bishop, Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978 — the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years. Under this new title, he delivered this message to the world: “Be not afraid! Open up, no; swing wide the gates to Christ. Open up to His saving power the confines of the State, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization, and development… Be not afraid!”
His papal motto was Totus Tuus, or “Totally Yours.”
During his pontificate, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals, more than 20 apostolic exhortations and apostolic constitutions, 42 apostolic letters, and three books. Additionally, he made more than 90 pastoral visits outside of Italy and led nearly 50 canonization ceremonies for 469 saints.
He is known for his Letter to Women, his love of the outdoors, for maintaining lifelong friendships with the people from his parish in Kraków, his devotion to Mary, solidarity with union workers, and his Theology of the Body.
John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2014. His feast day is October 22, and he is the patron saint of World Youth Day, young Catholics, and families.
Get to know this saint and pope through our Spotify playlist inspired by his life — featuring artists Aaron Strumpel and The Ballroom Thieves, and themes of refuge and peace.