The parents of St. John Paul II raised him with deep devotion to Mary from the moment of his birth so that he knew she was truly his mother.
On May 7, 2020, the cause for beatification of the parents of the Pope Saint John Paul II — Karol Wojtyła Sr. and Emilia Kaczorowska, who died 80 and 92 years ago respectively — was opened. This fact is highlighted by an article by Antonio Tarallo in a recent issue of the weekly Italian magazine Maria con te.
St. John Paul II’s mother was born in 1884, the daughter of a modest family of artisans; his father, originally a tailor, became a professional soldier. They married in 1906, and had three children. The eldest, Edmund, a doctor, died at the age of 26 after falling ill with scarlet fever contracted in a hospital in Bielsko where he was dealing with an epidemic going at the time. The couple’s second daughter, Olga, died shortly after coming into the world.
At 9 years of age Karol lost his mother
In addition to the premature death of his two siblings, Karol Jr., born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920, had to deal with the death of his mother from nephritis when he was just 9 years old.
The process of canonization of the saintly pontiff’s parents, which began in Wadowice on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Holy Father, has revealed many unpublished details of the devotion to the Virgin Mary cultivated by the entire family.
Beatification of Karol Wojtyła Sr. and Emilia Kaczorowska
The postulator of the cause of beatification, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, who previously played this role for the Polish pope himself, is quoted in the Maria con te article explaining that “despite the fact that there are now only a few people left who knew John Paul II’s parents, the documentation collected is copious.” This is so much to the case that it bodes well for achieving the goal of proving that both Wojtyła spouses practiced the Christian virtues heroically.
“I want the first thing my child hears to be a hymn to Our Lady”
According to the article, Emilia’s midwife left written testimony that during labor, the mother of the future pope wanted to have the windows opened. It wasn’t about getting fresh air, but rather because at that moment the singing of a Marian litany was audibly coming from the nearby church. “I want the first thing my child hears to be a hymn to Our Lady,” Emilia explained to the midwife.
In fact, the couple had entrusted themselves to the Virgin Mary during the pregnancy of the future pope, when they refused the doctor’s advice to have an abortion in order to protect Emilia’s already sick heart.
The pilgrimage of Karol Wojtyła Sr. together with little Karol
Immediately after Emilia’s funeral, celebrated at the Church of Our Lady in Krakow—according to a childhood friend of Wojtyla—father and son went on a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska to implore Divine Mercy on behalf of their beloved wife and mother.
Over the years, this shrine remained a special place for the pope to visit out of love for Virgin and to honor the memory of his mother. The Maria con te journalist heard from an exceptional witness, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the Pope’s secretary from October 1966 to October 1978, while he was Archbishop of Krakow:
The Holy Father John Paul II, speaking of his birth, recalled the date and the evening hour when the traditional Marian service is celebrated in May in every Polish church. It is an ancient tradition, often accompanied by the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. … John Paul II recalled several times what he had been told: his midwife, at the moment of birth, had opened the window of the room where Emilia was giving birth. From there the litany of the Mother of God could be heard in the room: during the celebrations in May, the most important moment is precisely the Litany of Loreto.
The cardinal adds that in the parish church of Wadowice there’s a side chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose image was venerated by the future pope’s parents and by young Karol himself. Even as pontiff he never forgot this icon of the Virgin, similar to the one present in the sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
In fact, the article reports, after Emilia’s death, the elder Karol entrusted his young son to Our Lady of Kalwaria, telling the boy in front of the image of Our Lady, “From today on, she will be your mother.”
The Wojtyła family and the rosary
When Cardinal Dziwisz was asked by the Italian reporter what message this married couple—who devoutly prayed the Rosary every evening as a family—offers to today’s world, the answer was simple but inspiring:
They would undoubtedly encourage modern parents to bring up their children in a religious spirit by setting an example in maintaining religious practices, attending Mass on Sundays and holy days. They would ask them to practice frequent confession. To pray, to pray a lot. Especially to Mary. To her, who is our Mother, always and forever.