Karol Josef Wojtyla was born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, a town located about 35 miles from Krakow. His father was a former military officer who worked as a tailor and his mother, of Lithuanian ancestry, taught school. His mother died when he was only nine years old. In 1938, he and his father moved to Krakow so that he could enroll in Jagiellonian University where he studied literature and philosophy and developed a strong interest in drama.
After the German occupation of Poland in at the start of World War II, young men were pressed into military or other service. To escape that, Karol Wojtyla took a job as a stone cutter. By 1943, he enrolled in the seminary in Krakow, but to support himself, worked as a boiler operator at a chemical plant. In 1946, he completed studies and was ordained a priest. Although he did some pastoral work at St. Florian's Church in Krakow, he devoted himself to advanced studies and eventually earned two doctorates from Jagiellonian University, one in philosophy and the other in theology. By 1954, he was teaching at the seminary in Krakow and at the Catholic University in Lublin. In 1958, he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Krakow beginning his service in the church hierarchy. He continued to teach and write extensively about theological and moral issues. In 1967, he was appointed Cardinal of Krakow.
Karol Wojtyla frequently traveled from Poland to theological centers in the West and to the numerous Polonias of Europe and America. In doing so, he became quite well known to Roman Catholic leaders throughout the world, making him a long-shot candidate for the papal throne. Pope Paul VI died in August of 1978 and the College of Cardinals selected Albino Luciani to serve as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He took the name Pope John Paul I, but died suddenly and mysteriously after just 34 days in office. The College of Cardinals met once again but there was no clear favorite. In the eighth round of voting, Karol Wojtyla was selected pope. He chose the name John Paul II and became the youngest man to head the Roman Catholic Church since 1866, and the first non-Italian pope since the Dutchman, Adriaan Dedel (Pope Adrian VI), completed his term in 1543.
This small park and the statue commemorate a visit Karol Wojtyla made to Hamtramck when he was Cardinal of Krakow. His cousin, John Wojtylo, served on Hamtramck's city council for many years in the 1940s and 1950s. As Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla returned to Hamtramck in 1982. .
Sculptor: Ferenc Varga
Date of installation: 1982
Use in 2008: Modest statue in a small public park
State of Michigan Historic Site: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; March 21, 2008
Description Prepared: January 17, 2009
Return to Public Art and Sculpture
Return to Home Page