Family Home of John Paul II

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Wadowice of Karol Wojtyła

wadowice 1909

Always closely connected with the town of my childhood and early youth, with the town which gave me [so] much. I have the impression it was more than Kraków could have given to me. The rhythm of urban life and that of the earth, some kind of natural honesty in the way people think as well as the unquestionable foundation of culture” – wrote Karol Wojtyła in his letter to Mieczysław Kotlarczyk, a friend and initiator of the theatre of the word, in October 1940, two years after leaving Wadowice. These impressions of the future Pope were probably correct: the foundations of his life were undeniably laid here, in the town of Wadowice.

It was a great gift of the Divine Love that Karol Wojtyła could spend here the years of his childhood and youth, the most important time in the life of every man. In the town with only a few thousand inhabitants, which had a rich and proud history, dating back to the 14th c., where life was slow but, by no means, sleepy. In the Second Republic, the town of Wadowice, located far from the political centres, protected from economic disruption, distinguished itself by its cultural and spiritual wealth.

The life of a town in the Second Republic, like centuries before and years after, was focused around the market place, surrounded by the town houses, offering numerous shops, services and offices. The square was dominated by the harmonious, baroque silhouette of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowned with its onion tower. On one side of the church stood the Town Hall, and on the other – the house of Chiel Bałamuth, today the Museum of the Holy Father John Paul II Family Home.

The character of the pre-war Wadowice was influenced by the three, then quite numerous, professional groups: office clerks, teachers and servicemen. The town, located at the crossroads between Silesia and Kraków, with a railway line, was an administrative centre for the local county, which included a few neighbouring towns and villages. There was also the office of the local governor, the seat of the County Council and of the Regional Court. Moreover, the town had a prison, tax and revenue office, state police station, municipal hospital and some other important municipal offices.

There were also several, state and private, single-sex schools, with two outstanding ones: “Michalina Mościcka” High Girls’ School and “Marcin Wadowita” High Boys’ School. Another important presence in the life of the town was that of the 12th Infantry Regiment, quartered in the former Austrian army barracks, where first lieutenant Karol Wojtyła Sr. used to work. The office clerks, freelancers, teachers and professional servicemen were the elite of the pre-war Wadowice. They were educated, had cultural aspirations, strong sense of patriotism and of civic duty. They initiated numerous societies, groups and organizations of cultural, artistic, educational, sport, tourist and religious profile, making up the rich fabric of the civic society. In the pre-war Republic of Poland, the town was phenomenal inasmuch as it had a few amateur theatre groups, with the most outstanding troupe of Mieczysław Kotlarczyk, present on many stages, including the biggest and most professional stage in the building of the Polish Gymnastics Society “Falcon”.

It staged the works of the Polish romantic playwrights and poets as well as authors of Young Poland, a modernist trend in Polish art and literature. Wadowice also hosted professional actors, poets and renowned pianists. The spiritual atmosphere of the town had its source not only at the parish church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also at two monastries, i.e. the Carmelite Monks at “Górka”, where father Rafał Kalinowski died in 1907, the Pallottines at Kopiec and a convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, who ran a nursery.

This atmosphere was also influenced by the nearby Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, with its unique paths devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Passion of Jesus Christ. The organizations, institutions and societies based in Wadowice, apart from their individual missions, were all united in their aspiration to educate young people in the spirit of love of their Homeland, civic responsibility and Catholic faith. This unity of ideals, represented by the family, school and the Church, contributed to the harmonious development of the young people and helped to engender a sense of honesty in the way of thinking, Karol Wojtyła wrote about.

The pre-war Wadowice – which lived a life of a city rather than town – gave Karol Wojtyła a chance to experience this “rhythm of urban life”. What is important, there was also a Jewish community. The Poles and the Jews, who accounted for over 10 per cent of the population of pre-war Wadowice, lived together, mutually respecting their identities.

A young person, to develop fully, also needs to be close to nature and have contact with it, to feel “the rhythm of earth”. Wadowice, located upon the Skawa River, at the foot of the Beskid Mały mountain chain, offered a wonderful view from the town, attracting hikers and walkers. The character of the pre-war Wadowice and its atmosphere created favourable conditions for discovering and developing the talents which God gave to Karol Wojtyła. Although, with time, the whole world became home to Wojtyła, it all started here, in Wadowice.