Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) Feast Day: October 22
Modeling extraordinary perseverance and courage, Karol Wojtyła endured the loss of his mother at age eight, the invasion of his country by the Nazis, the occupation of his country by the Russians in 1945, and at the end of his life, as pope, a personal struggle with Parkinson's Disease. He was born in Poland in 1920, where as an energetic young man he enjoyed playing sports and performing in plays. (Sometimes writing them.) At the university, he studied languages—he learned fifteen! But in 1939, Germany invaded Poland and the Nazi party closed his university, requiring all able-bodied young men to forced labor camps. Karol went to work in a limestone quarry. As World War II raged, he began to think more seriously about becoming a priest. On All Saints' Day, November 1, 1946, he was ordained, and went to Rome to study for a doctorate degree in theology. While he was kayaking on vacation in northern Poland, big news came: he had been appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow. As a bishop, he participated in Vatican II from 1962 to 1965. On October 16, 1978, when he was 58, he was elected pope - the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. As pope, he worked hard (and successfully) with Western leaders to end the grip of the Soviet Union (which had stifled freedom in Eastern Europe). He had a special devotion to youth and their evangelization. And he used his language skills in numerous pastoral visits to other countries. His writing emphasized the beauty and holiness of married love, he urged an end to capital punishment, and he forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him. His final battle was with Parkinson's disease in 2001, but he continued to travel and speak to his flock as he was able. He passed away on April 2, 2005; his last words were, "Allow me to depart to the house of the Father."
Image by Gregorini Demetrio via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0
This book tells the story of young Karol, who would eventually become Pope, going on a pilgrimage with his family before his first Communion. A fun insight into the childhood life of Karol (age 7); a little heavy on the words, but with fun details on the real-life childhood of John Paul II.
A graphic novel about the life of John Paul II covering the entirety of his life: from the death of his mother when he was nine years old, to his election as Pope, to forgiving his would-be assassin. Covers the basics of John Paul II's life in an accessible way, with lots of pictures. Some of the intense material about John Paul II's life is more appropriate for older children.
Lolek: The Boy Who Became John Paul II. Mary Hrameic Hoffman. Illustrated by Mark Hoffman. Hrameic Hoffman Publishing, 2008. (2-4) Courage, Perseverance, Patience, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Schools of Faith.
The story of John Paul II's life from child to Pope, placing the emphasis on the thread of faith throughout his life.
A winsomely-illustrated rendition of John Paul II's life, with lots of historical and biographical detail. The theme of the book, "Who do you love most?", will prompt interesting conversations with children on what it means to give one's life for God.
Pope John Paul II: Young Man of the Church. George E. Stanley. Aladdin, 2010. (4-6) Courage, Perseverance, Schools of Faith. A thorough biography of John Paul II for older children, written in a novelistic style with realistic episodes from young Karol's life.
This is a collection of John Paul II's speeches at World Youth Day, in a weekly (52-chapter) format. Older children and adults alike will gather wisdom from the weekly reflections, which include a relevant Scripture passage, a reading directly from John Paul II, and prompts for further reflection. The "Did You Know?" section in each reflection offers facts about John Paul II's life.