John Paul II

The year 1949 is an exceptional date in the history of the parish. It is then that a young vicar, Fr. Karol Wojtyła, is transferred to the parish dedicated to St. Florian from the rural parish in Niegowić.

The Holy Father himself recalls this period in his book “Gift and Mystery”:

After a year, I was transferred to St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków. The parish priest, Monsignor Tadeusz Kurowski, entrusted me with teaching catechism to the senior classes of the secondary school and providing pastoral care to the students at the university. At that time, the university chaplaincy in Kraków was centred at St. Anne’s Church, but with the addition of new faculties of study it became necessary to create a new centre in St. Florian’s Parish. There I began to give talks to the young people at the university; every Thursday I would speak to them about fundamental problems concerning the existence of God and the spiritual nature of the human soul. These were extremely important issues, given the militant atheism being promoted by the communist regime.

After two years of work in St. Florian’s Parish, during the holidays of 1951, Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, who had taken over the Archdiocese after the death of Cardinal Sapieha, directed Fr. Wojtyła towards scholarly work. The Basilica holds many memorabilia from the vicariate of Fr. Wojtyła. One of the most interesting ones is the confessional where the later Holy Father John Paul II heard confessions. In 1982, parishioners funded a plaque commemorating the Pope’s work in St. Florian’s Parish. It is placed on one of the right-side pillars in the nave of the church.

Our parish has a special gift – a souvenir from the Holy Father John Paul II. It is a chasuble in which the Pope celebrated Holy Mass on 13 May 1981. On that memorable day, in the private chapel of the Holy Father, parishioners from St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków, together with their parish priest, Fr. Kostek, participated in the morning Holy Mass. After the end of the Holy Mass, the Holy Father handed over the chasuble along with all the “altar linens” (purificator, corporal, pall, veil) to our parish. No one expected that this day would be so important in the life of the Holy Father and our community. The chasuble is used only during the largest ceremonies, such as the Resurrection or during Holy Mass on the Holy Father’s name day.

In 2002, in the vicar’s house, under the window of the room where Fr. Dr. Karol Wojtyła lived as a vicar, a commemorative plaque was placed.

Chronology of the Pope’s time in our parish (1949-1951)

Around 17 August 1949, he was transferred from Niegowić to St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków. Saint Florian’s Parish (report by Fr. Czesław Obtułowicz, then vicar in the same parish): in May 1945, the parish was taken over by Monsignor Tadeusz Kurowski, former academic chaplain at St. Anne’s Church. A group of students went there with him. Fr. Wojtyła started visiting the dormitories, establishing numerous contacts. This resulted in a students’ group gathering young people studying St. Thomas (Summa), and a Gregorian chant group (Mr. Joachim Gudel and an excellent organist, Mr. Franciszek Przystań) were established. The parish priest himself took care of the parents, Fr. Obtułowicz looked after the younger altar boys, and Fr. Karol Wojtyła took care of the older ones. Liturgical education was based on the German edition of Pius Parsch. The work with parents and self-education activities were characterized by removing the distinction between the intelligentsia and common people.

Living Rosary – on Marian feast days, a feast of one of the “Roses” was celebrated. People from various social backgrounds would gather in the apartment of one of the members of the “Rose”, with all three priests present. It created a great sense of closeness to people.

Pastoral visits – the homes throughout the parish were visited selflessly, and the sick seen to. Previously, the sick had been afraid to call a priest, but at that time they were in regular close contact, enjoying frequent visits from priests. The Day of the Sick was celebrated very solemnly. Fr. Wojtyła participated in one of the walking pilgrimages to Kalwaria (10 September 1950). Afterwards he said: there is actually nothing for the priest to do there, everything is perfectly organised by the lay people themselves. During this period, he welcomed into his (two-room) apartment a priest from the Lviv Diocese, Zdzisław Skrzyński, who had nowhere to live; it was only a gesture of good will. He was known for easily giving away money and things to those in need. Sometimes he would give his money to Fr. Obtułowicz for safekeeping.

August 20. He administers the sacrament of baptism for the first time in St. Florian’s Parish. He baptises Barbara Anna; daughter of Tadeusz Pyłko and Anna Matuszyńska (by the end of his vicariate, i.e., August 1951, he had baptised 229 children).

August 21. He blesses his first marriage as the vicar of St. Florian’s Parish – between Zygmunt Stanisław Szymoniak and Janina Gębica (as a vicar, he blessed 160 marriages in the parish).

During the summer, Fr. Wojtyła, as the vicar of the collegiate church of St. Florian in Kraków, organised the archives of the collegiate church, which contained many valuable materials. At the suggestion of the provost, Fr. Tadeusz Kurowski, he consulted with me several times since I was a professional historian with experience in archival work. (Prof. Dr. Józef Mitkowski)


Speaking of the Holy Father, I have nice memories from the beginning of my priesthood. The Holy Father, then already a vicar, after arriving from Rome with a doctorate on St. John of the Cross, was appointed by the late Cardinal Adam Sapieha as vicar of St. Florian’s Church. It was there that he organised a pioneering spiritual retreat for the sick from the parish. It was as if the church had turned into a hospital room, there were nurses, patients with beds, doctors, and paramedics. At that time, it was under the patronage of Karol Wojtyła, who would walk among them with a smile. He came to Carmel (the monastery on Rakowicka Street) as a devotee of Our Lady of the Holy Scapular with an invitation to accept these sick people into the family of Our Lady’s Holy Scapular. I was lucky to be sent there. On the last day, to say goodbye to the sick, after the conference on Our Lady of the Scapular and the graces of the Holy Scapular, together with the Holy Father, we walked among the sick and, amidst joy and tears, we welcomed the sick to the Holy Scapular. After this admission, all the sick were taken out (it was in September, so it was a warm morning) and placed in the shade of the trees of that church. At the end of the retreat, the sick were given breakfast. They gave thanks as best they could, and those thanksgivings would often end in emotion and tears. (Dzień Pański. Sunday guide of the Transfiguration of the Lord Parish in Radocza, 23 August 1998, pp. 5-6. Interview with the late Fr. Rudolf Warzecha OCD) [The retreat took place in September 1949 or 1950. At that time, Fr. Rudolf Warzecha was the master of seminarians at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Kraków. This information was sent by Fr. Honorat Gil OCD]

November 20. From the parish announcement logs:

The academic youth asked us to allow them to participate in religious conferences dedicated to such people. To fulfil their wish, there will be conferences for the academic youth held every Thursday at 8 p.m. They will consist of a systematic lecture on the doctrine of faith.

[the conferences were led by Fr. Kurowski and Fr. Wojtyła].

An entry in St Florian’s Parish book about the beginning of conferences for the academic youth given by Fr. Karol Wojtyła. “From Thursday, a systematic lecture on science and faith.” The first lecture “Reflection on the essence of man”. These conferences, based on the notes, were later prepared in the form of a typescript entitled “Reflection on the essence of man. …In our image and likeness”, Kraków 1951. (Teresa Skawińska, On rozda miłość, published by Polska Misja Katolicka in France, Paris 1997, p. 26)

December 18. On Thursday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., an “evening of recollection” for male youths. On Friday, the dialogue (recited) mass at 6.30 am (said by Fr. Karol Wojtyła).

In the academic year 1948-49 – Prof. Stefan Szuman conducted a seminar on characterology (in Kraków, at 13 Manifestu Lipcowego Street, 2nd floor). It was attended by Fr. Karol Wojtyła and Fr. Józef Rozwadowski. (from a seminar participant’s account). While working at St. Florian’s Church, he learns English with Mrs. Adela Dunin (on Pijarska Street, ground floor of the Czartoryski Museum).

As a young priest (vicar in St. Florian’s Parish), he would sometimes go to the theatre (then at 5 Warszawska Street) and stay for a discussion after the performance. He married our friends in St. Florian’s Church. He celebrated masses for the team on anniversaries important for the Theatre. In 1950, he participated (silently praying) in the act of placing a box with the documents of the Rhapsodic Theatre into the foundation of the axis under the revolving stage of the theatre under construction at 21 Bohaterów Stalingradu Street (currently the Chamber Theatre). The entire Theatre team and the construction workers were present (an official consecration was impossible in those days). He wrote a review of the performance of Król-Duch, which debuted under the title Legendy złote i błękitne, inaugurating a new period of work of the Rhapsodic Theatre after its restoration in 1957.

(“TP” of 19 11958, signed by Andrzej Jawień) (Danuta Michałowska)

Year 1950

He serves as a vicar in St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków, deals with the academic youth, and does scholarly work.

January 1. He becomes an ordinary member of the Theological Society in Kraków.

Winter 1950. He organises courses for engaged couples in St. Florian’s Church. It was a complete novelty at that time. The courses were mainly attended by student couples (University of Technology). Lectures were given by various invited speakers. (According to H. Trojanowska’s account)

13 111. He conducts academic spiritual retreats. In May, the poem “Song of the Brightness of Water” appears in “Tygodnik Powszechny”, signed for the first time by one of the three poetic pseudonyms of Fr. Karol Wojtyła – Andrzej Jawień. The author borrowed the surname Jawień from his first pastoral post, the Niegowić Parish, as it was a popular name there. By coincidence, this is what Jan Parandowski called the hero of his book Return to Life, which, however, Fr. Wojtyła was not aware of at the time. (According to Anna Turowiczowa’s account)

June 29 – July 2. He organises closed retreats for male students at the Camaldolese Monastery in Bielany. The topics included, in particular, ideological issues. At the same time, on the initiative of Fr. Wojtyła, similar retreats for female students of the same community are held in Czerna at the Carmelites Monastery and in Trzebinia.

October 4. He attends the funeral of Kazimierz Rumian, former head of the school in Raciborowice, who he had met during the summer holidays of 1945-46. As he told the deceased’s children, he learnt about his death from an obituary in a newspaper.

From the chronicle of St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków: On 10 May 1945, Monsignor Tadeusz Kurowski became the administrator of St. Florian’s Parish. The first vicar was Fr. Czesław Obtułowicz, from 29 September 1944. When organising work, the main emphasis was placed on cooperation between priests and parishioners, and on the apostolate of lay people. The organisation is concentrated in the Living Rosary, with sections taking care of the church, the poor, and the sick, etc. From 1948, three-day retreats for the sick are organised. The sick are provided with constant pastoral care. The meetings of the Living Rosary are gradually turning into conferences where Gasparri’s The Catholic Catechism is discussed. They are attended by about 500 people. During smaller meetings, the Holy Bible is read (interest in the Bible is the result of pastoral visits). There are nearly one hundred altar boys in 1952, compared to around 10 in 1946. The task of the Club is to systematically educate boys in the Eucharistic spirit. Admission to the Club is a real ceremony taking place on the day of the patrons: St. Stanislaus and Aloysius, preceded by days of reflection for older altar boys and their parents. The priests’ desire was to involve parents in their work, so conferences were systematically organised for the parents of altar boys, where they would learn about the main principles of educational psychology and the liturgy of the Holy Mass. Fr. Karol Wojtyła made a great contribution here as he, following the prelate’s instructions, coordinated the cooperation. Groups of 5-6 boys were created. Meetings and trips, etc. were organised. Parish catechesis dates back to 1949-50. From the beginning, it included older and younger children as well as the academic youth. The students volunteered themselves. Conferences for the latter were sometimes held by the prelate of Fr. Dr. Karol Wojtyła (parish catechism was introduced despite religion being taught in schools). Catechesis: young people were divided into three groups: introductory, standard, and supplementary. Each of the groups consisted of smaller ones – so there were 12 catechetical groups in total; not including catechesis for students and catechesis for adults. Catechesis for adults was conducted by all parish priests in turn. It was based on Gasparri’s catechism. Catechesis for students was led by Fr. Wojtyła.

Curriculum Vitae (submitted to Jagiellonian University)

I was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice (Kraków Province) as the son of Karol Wojtyła and Emilia née Kaczorowska. I attended primary school and general secondary school (neoclassical type) in my place of birth. There, in May 1938, I passed the secondary school leaving examination and, taking advantage of the deferral of military service granted to me, I began studies at the Faculty of Humanities of Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Polish philology). The war of 1939 prevented me from continuing the studies, and the living conditions during the occupation meant that in the years 1940-44 I worked as a manual labourer at the “Solvay” plant in Borek Fałęcki near Kraków. The job saved me from being deported to Germany as a forced labourer, and at the same time allowed me to come into contact with secret teaching at the Faculty of Theology of Jagiellonian University in Kraków from October 1942. In this way, I spent the first two years of my theological studies working as a labourer. In August 1944, thanks to the hasty retreat of the occupier, clandestine theology students could gather at the Princely-Metropolitan Seminary in Kraków, where, after liberation, I was able to continue my studies at the Faculty of Theology of Jagiellonian University until 1946. In October and November of the same year, at the beginning of the last year of my studies, I received higher orders (priestly ordination on 1 November 1946), and after that, at the request of Prince Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha, Archbishop of Kraków, and on the basis of a passport issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I left for Rome to continue my theological studies. I studied in the years 1946-48 at the “Angelicum” University and, after returning, I presented a thesis entitled Issues of Faith in the Works of St. John of the Cross as my doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Theology of Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Based on it, I graduated in December 1948 and obtained the title of Doctor of Sacred Theology at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. At the same time, from 30 July 1948 to 17 August 1949, I stayed in the Niegowić Parish near Bochnia, performing the function of a vicar, and on 17 August 1949 I was transferred to the same position in St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków, where I remain to this day.

[Fr. Karol Wojtyła, together with his entire biography]
Kraków, 8 April 1951
(Jagiellonian University Archives)

May 4. After a month of preparations, the first Missa de Angelis in Gregorian chants was sung in St. Florian’s Church. The men’s choir (students of the Technical University and Jagiellonian University), and the female choir (students, mostly residents of the academic house of the Sisters of Nazareth) participated. The choir was conducted by Mr. J. Gudel. The initiator was Fr. Wojtyła, who was also involved in the preparations.

June. He leads a retreat day for the Congregation of the Children of Mary. The congregation founded by Róża Łubieńska was dissolved in 1960. The day of retreat took place in the Monastery of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Kraków. On the eve of Corpus Christi – Participation in the funeral of Emilia de Laveaux Karcz (one of the first seven women admitted to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków). Report of the deceased’s daughter: I asked [the priest] to celebrate a funeral mass at the cemetery and conduct the funeral. Father Wojtyła regretfully declined, because the day of the funeral was the day before the feast of Corpus Christi, which required a lot of time to prepare everything (…) Father Wojtyła got lost in thought, but he could not promise for sure he would fulfil my request (…) The Carmelites from Rakowicka agreed to conduct the funeral in the end. When I was kneeling (…) with my family in the church during the Holy Mass, I suddenly saw Fr. Wojtyła, pushing through the gathered people (…) with a surplice under his arm (…) He took part in the service, and then led the procession to the grave. (Józefina Pochwalska)

July 23. Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha dies.

July 26. The body of Prince Cardinal is transferred to Wawel Cathedral with the participation of the entire Kraków clergy.

July 27. Funeral of Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha at Wawel. The Liturgy is celebrated by the Primate (cf. speech of 17 April 1976).

August 26. Wedding of Stanisław Świątek and Zofia Zorek. The last person Fr. Wojtyła blesses as a vicar.

August 27. He baptises Danuta Mordel – this is the last baptism he performs as the vicar of St. Florian’s Parish.

September 1. Archbishop E. Baziak grants Fr. Wojtyła a sabbatical leave to prepare for his habilitation (until 1953). From that moment on, he is to consult all of his pastoral work with the archbishop. At the latter’s express request, he moves to the house on Kanonicza street, where he shares an apartment with Fr. prof. Ignacy Różycki. For the next two years, he celebrates Holy Masses in St. Catherine’s Church. Then in St. Mary’s Church. He still works in academic chaplaincy at St. Florian’s and is involved in pastoral care of health services (the pastoral care of health services was entrusted to Fr. Wojtyla by Archbishop Baziak during his vicarship at St. Florian’s. The exact date of this appointment is not established). The Gregorian choir moves to St. Catherine’s Church. After leaving the position of vicar in St. Florian’s Parish in Kraków, he remained an academic chaplain at the church until 1958. Throughout the academic year, lectures and discussions on ethics were held every Wednesday from 8:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Throughout the years, he led annual academic retreats at St. Florian’s (in the 4th week of Lent). Every first Friday, he celebrated 8 a.m. Holy Mass with a homily for St. Florian’s academic pastoral group in St. Anne’s Collegiate Church. In addition to regular meetings, he was happy to attend meetings and individual consultations. (Account of Fr. T. Matras, participant of the meetings, then a student)

September 25. He is entered in the registration book of the house at 19 Kanonicza Street (line 2).

Text from the book “Kalendarium życia Karola Wojtyły”
Edited by Fr. A. Boniecki
Visit of the Holy Father – 18 August 2002

The long-awaited day of the Holy Father’s visit to our parish has arrived. The meeting with the Pope has become a reality! The invitation sent by the parish priest on behalf of the entire parish was accepted and the pilgrimage program included a special “5 minutes” for us. The news that the Holy Father would definitely be “in his parish” where he worked as a vicar was confirmed on August 5. Since then, our preparations have doubled! We formed the Parish Committee Preparing the Holy Father’s Visit. The first meeting, the first plans, resolutions, tasks to be performed – setting up sectors, sewing flags, decorations, preparing the program while waiting for the Guest, sound system, tickets… There was no shortage of enthusiasm, willingness, and good will. First meeting with the Government Protection Bureau and the Police. The Holy Father will definitely come! More and more representatives of the press and television. Do they want to know why the Pope is to be here? What connects him with St. Florian’s Parish? Do they want to know where he lived? Who remembers him as a vicar?… Renovation works around the Basilica are in full swing, Wiesiek’s team is bending over backwards. Will they make it in time? Certainly, the manager assures us. Saturday, August 11, is a special time. With the evening Mass, we begin a series of events preparing us and our guests for the Pope’s arrival. Academic Chaplaincy, which is a continuation of the one founded by Fr. Wojtyła 52 years ago, has prepared a meeting of former students and altar boys Fr. Karol worked with. After the meeting, an exhibition in the Bracka Chapel is opened: photos and memorabilia showing the relationships of Fr. K. Wojtyła with our parish as vicar, bishop, and pope. The parishioners responded to our appeal and brought photos from that time, and the parish archive was “dusted off”. The next day (Sunday) you could see memorabilia and resources of the parish treasury (rarely open to the public) – reliquaries (of St. Florian, St. Valentine, Apostles – of Henryk von Bode), paxes, and monstrances. Time has passed quickly. Friday – we are all at the airport in Balice, welcoming the Distinguished Guest. Young people hang flags and decorations. Everyone gets involved: sisters, priests, firefighters. We wait! Sunday. After Holy Masses celebrated for the few who did not go to the Błonia, security staff prepare the sectors, sound system, and VIP areas. All the i’s are dotted. From 4 p.m., the faithful begin to fill in their designated sectors. The waiting time for the Holy Father’s arrival is filled with prayers prepared by sisters, songs performed by children from Arka Noego, Antonina Krzysztoń, Jacek Dewódzki z Przyjaciółmi, and Krakowskie Promyki. Fr. Jacek and Fr. Czesław give us wonderful commentary. The tension grows and the Guest “is late”. On TVP 1’s preview, we see the Holy Father praying in Wawel Cathedral. 10, 20, 30 minutes… he’s coming. Joyful singing: “Florian welcomes you, Florian loves you, Florian greets you” welcomes the Holy Father to his parish. He’s here! Joy! Parish Priest Jan Czyrek approaches and greets him – unfortunately, the text, prepared so painstakingly over so many days, is “confiscated” by Bishop Dziwisz. There is no time. The Holy Father kisses the relics of St. Florian, which have been bravely held by Fr. Leszek. The Pope recalls his stay in St. Florian’s Parish: “I am moved to find myself in St. Florian’s Parish, where I once was a vicar in the years 1948, 1949, 1950, and where I began my academic pastoral work. I remember the priests, Monsignor Tadeusz Kurowski, my parish priest, my beloved late Fr. Czesław Obtułowicz, who shared the vicar’s service with me, and many others: Fr. Józef Rozwadowski, Fr. Sadlik, Fr. Matyszkiewicz, and many other priests who participated in the pastoral work of this parish. And to all of you contemporary parishioners of St. Florian, I ask you for prayers, for the living and for the dead, and for the Pope, during life and after death. Praised be Jesus Christ.” He once again kisses the relics of the holy Protector of the City of Kraków. “Holy Father, bless the image of St. Sister Faustina, bless us”, asks the parish priest. The apostolic blessing rests upon us, on the image, on the vicar’s house, where the Vicar lived, and where we now can find his bust. We love you… Now again the children from Arka Noego, camera flashes, disturbing the prayer visit full of memories, and the popemobile starts moving, slowly circling the church… And the gift! The Holy Father left a gift for the parish – a golden chalice with a paten. “Thank you…., Florian loves you…. I am not afraid, the Father leads me by the hand…”, the songs of joy continue. He was here! He remembers us! And we?…”pray for me now and after my death…” What remains are memories, pride, gratitude… and the feeling that God is rich in mercy.