St. Pope John Paul II feast day is just around the corner on October 22. To remember his passionate and steady devotion to God’s love, we’re reflecting on John Paul II’s life and papacy, as well as noting ways in which you might celebrate the beloved pope and saint on his feast day.
Life and Papacy
St. John Paul II was born Karol J. Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, located just outside of Krakow, on May 18, 1920. The second of two sons born to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska, young Karol had a difficult childhood. He lost his mother when he was nine years old, and his older brother passed away when Karol was 12. He was then raised by his father, who passed along a sense of self-discipline and strong Catholic faith. He lost his father in 1941, prior to his entering into the priesthood.
Before hearing his vocational call, Karol studied drama and the arts at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. However, just one year later in 1939, the Nazi occupation of Krakow forced the university to close. Karol made ends meet and avoided deportation by working in a quarry and later a chemical factory throughout the war.
Called to the Priesthood
He decided to follow his vocational call to the priesthood and began courses in 1942 at an underground seminary in Krakow, run by the archbishop at the time. He later said this about discerning his vocational calling:
“How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: ‘Come, follow me!’ There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest… Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church.”
During the war, he witnessed countless horrors, including the deportation and murder of priests who spoke out against the Nazi regime. He later recalled that the examples set by these priests showed him the real meaning of the priesthood. His was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946, once World War II had ended and the seminary had reopened.
As a priest, Karol focused heavily on intellectual studies, earning his first doctorate with a thesis on the theology of St. John of the Cross. He later earned a second doctorate focused on Christian ethics. Karol was also a chaplain for university students and later a professor of moral philosophy and social ethics. He became the spiritual leader and mentor of a group of young adults, whom he often joined on kayaking or camping trips.
He moved through the hierarchy of the Church with a fierce commitment to the power of Christianity and moral ethics to lift up the vulnerable—all while living and working in a communist Poland where freedom of speech and religion were not easy to come by. He remained dedicated to the laity and youth, working with them on a personal level to deepen relationships with God.
Karol Wojtyła was elected pope on October 16, 1978, and took the name Pope John Paul II. St. Pope John Paul II’s feast day marks his installation Mass on October 22, 1978. In his homily, he called for Catholics to “Be not afraid!” He began a rigorous travel schedule to visit and reinvigorate as many countries and communities as he could, as well as spread a message of courageous nonviolent protests for religious freedom and human rights.
St. John Paul II urged us all to “Open wide the doors to Christ” as the year 2000 approached, and the third Christian millennium began. His papacy was a long preparation for and encouragement for the Church to be renewed in its mission to bring Christ to the world of today.
Until his last years, he maintained that same rigorous schedule to spread the good news, lift up the vulnerable and offer blessings. When asked to slow down to protect his health, he responded simply:
“Si crollo, crollo.” which translates to “If I collapse, I collapse.”
Pope John Paul II was canonized in 2014 after two miracles were attributed to him. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand prayed to Pope John Paul II to overcome her battle with Parkinson’s disease (which the late pope had also suffered from), and Floribeth Mora Diaz was cured of a brain aneurysm after praying to him.
St. Pope John Paul II Feast Day Celebrations
To celebrate the life and legacy of this modern-day saint, let October 22 be a day of prayer and passion for the Lord. If you live near Boston, consider joining the Oblates in celebration at St. Francis Chapel, located in the Back Bay’s Prudential Center.
Visit his First-Class Relic
Our ministry at St. Francis Chapel in Boston hosts a first-class relic of St. Pope John Paul II. A bit of his hair resides in a papal reliquary within the Chapel, bearing the symbols of papal authority:
- The papal tiara, which is a crown with three levels demonstrating the pope’s responsibilities
- The keys of the Kingdom that St. Peter received from Christ
Visit his relic on his feast day to pray for God’s love and mercy, remembering the saint’s legacy of courage, resilience and a rekindling of spirituality in the youth and laity of the Church. When we venerate a saint’s relic, we recognize and reflect on what God accomplished through this saint and ask for the saint to pray to God with and for us. What more powerful way is there to celebrate the St. Pope John Paul II feast day than to venerate his relic?
Join Us for a Novena
Novenas include nine consecutive days of prayers or Masses to celebrate important holy days and feast days within the Catholic faith. Beginning on October 14, 2019, and leading up to the feast of St. Pope John Paul II on October 22, St. Francis Chapel is hosting a Novena of Masses in the saint’s honor.
For each of our seasonal Novenas, we invite you to honor your loved ones, both living and deceased, or submit any special intentions.
St. Pope John Paul II emphasized a message of putting your love and faith in God above all else. He let that love radiate into his papacy, as well as his daily actions. On his feast day, remember his life and reflect on his words of spiritual conviction:
“What really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love Him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless.”
Do the life and words of St. Pope John Paul II strengthen or move your faith? Do you have a favorite quote or memory of him? Will you be attending any St. Pope John Paul II feast day celebrations? Join us in the comments to remember his life and pray for his intercession.