Today, we look at Karol Wojtyla's (JPII) life as a university student. This was by far some of his most formative and life changing years.
Karol Wojtyla enrolled at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland to pursue literature and theater and quickly continued his academic success. But, Karol's path would soon be disrupted by Germany's invasion of Poland and the start of WWII. For Karol, the war was not something out there. It intimately affected his own life and those around him. The German occupation brought fear, bloodshed, poverty, and death. 184 professors from Jagiellonian University were arrested. 3,646 Polish priests and 1,117 nuns were sent to concentration camps. One third of all Polish clergy were killed during the occupation.
Karol continued his studies in secret and was a part of a understand cultural movement to keep Polish culture alive. He also met a man who would have a deep impact on him, Jan Tyranowski. Through Living Rosary small groups, Jan helped Karol develop a deep prayer life and sent him out to lead other groups as well.
At this time, Karol was a manual laborer at a chemical plant. The work was difficult but the travel to his job was enough of a sacrifice. On his walk to the plant, Karol would put petroleum jelly on his face to keep it from freezing during the winter. This wouldn't be Karol's greatest struggle. Having already lost his mother and brother before, his father passed away during this time, leaving Karol the only remaining member of his family.
Amid the madness of the German occupation, many despaired, lost hope, or turned to violence. Karol had a different reaction. In the face of such tragedy and with the help of Jan Tyranowski, Karol slowly brought himself to a place of what he called "inner illumination." Karol became progressively detached from his earlier plans of acting and turned his thoughts towards the priesthood. While seminaries were underground and clergy were being arrested left and right, Karol still felt a calling to give his life in the face of such despair.
Tomorrow, we will look at what JPII was like as a priest.
Detachment from his earlier plans