It all began 100 years ago! Wadowice of John Paul II (1920–2020)

Obraz przedstawiajacy Jana Pawła II przy klęczniku, obok otwartego okna, przez które widoczna jest bazylika w Wadowicach
Karol Wojtyła spent the first 18 years of his life in Wadowice. As he said himself, it all began here, in the city of Wadowice! We invite you to the city where you can walk in the footsteps of the Saint!

Wadowice is located at the intersection of two important national roads – No. 52 (Kraków – Bielsko-Biała) and 28 (Silesia – Podhale), 50 km from Kraków. The history of the city was changed by one event – on 16 October 1978, Karol Wojtyła from Wadowice was elected pope. Today, Wadowice is an important place on the tourist map of Europe and the world. The main purpose of the visit is the modern John Paul II Family Home Museum. In its heart, there is the apartment of the Wojtyła family, where the future Pope was born.

And where it all began! In the Wadowice footsteps of John Paul II

In Karol Wojtyła’s hometown we will find many places not only related to the future Pope, but which also still remember his presence! The most important of them is listed on the Karol Wojtyła Trail, which leads us along the paths of Pope John Paul II. The route includes family home, then church, where he received all his first sacraments and finally the school where he passed his high school diploma. The trail also includes “the” confectionery, where the famous competitions in eating cream cakes, mentioned by John Paul II, took place. Today, only the building remains of the former Viennese café, but the cake itself has survived in the culinary tradition and can be eaten in any Wadowice confectionary. Every year, in May and October, Wadowice host events commemorating Saint John Paul II.

1.    Family House of Karol Wojtyła – Saint John Paul II

At the beginning of the 20th century, Emilia and Karol Wojtyła and their son Edmund moved into one of the apartments on the first floor of a tenement house next to the church. A year later, on 18 May 1920, Karol Józef Wojtyła, the later Pope and Saint John Paul II, was born here. Currently, the building houses the modern biographical John Paul II Family Home Museum.

2.    Former “Mleczarnia Hygieniczna”

After Emilia’s death, father used to take Karol to the nearby diner “Mleczarnia Hygieniczna”. They were eating traditional Wadowice specialties such as “flaczki” meat stew, and cottage cheese-stuffed (“ruskie”) dumplings, especially appreciated by both of them. The building of the former diner currently houses the City Museum and the Tourist Information Centre.

3.    The parish church of the Offering of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary

In this church at the baptismal font in the chapel of the Holy Family, on 20 June 1920, the future Saint was given the names Karol Józef. In this church (which is now a Minor Basilica) he received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. He also served here as an altar boy. In 2011, six years after the death of John Paul II, his relics were deposited in the chapel dedicated to him.

4.    Catholic House 

Starting from 1936, theatre plays were staged under the direction of a junior high school teacher, Fr. Edward Zacher. The stage at the presbytery was characterized by an ambitious repertoire that attracted local theatre lovers. In 1936, Karol Wojtyła made his debut on this stage as a co-director of the play “Non-Divine Comedy”, in which he played one of the main roles – Count Henryk. Currently, the theatre room is used by the John Paul II Family Home Museum as a conference room, as well as cinema and exhibition hall.

5.    Former Marcin Wadowita Common School

Karol Wojtyła began his education at the Marcin Wadowita Common School for Boys on 15 September 1926. The school was located in the town hall building on the market square in Wadowice. The ground floor was occupied by the offices of the town hall, the restaurant and confectionery “Oaza” run by Jan Hyłka, while the school occupied the upper floors. Currently, the building houses the Municipal Office.

6.     Former Marshal Józef Piłsudski Square – the market square

The heart of Wadowice was and is up to this day the market square, which was also the centre of Karol Wojtyła’s life. It was here that were situated his family home, parish church and common school. It was also here that he met his schoolmates to spent some time on having fun and playing football. After cardinal K. Wojtyła was elected pope, the market became for him a meeting place with the inhabitants of Wadowice (1979, 1991, 1999). In 1995, on the 75th anniversary of the birth of John Paul II, the main square in the city was given his name.

7.    Former Karol Hagenhuber Confectionery

In 1936, Karol Hagenhuber, who brought from Vienna the secret of baking cream cakes, opened a confectionery at the corner of the market (No. 15). There was a custom among junior high school students to celebrate their final exams in the confectionery. Also the graduates from the “papal” class went there for cream cakes when their time came. In the confectionery a bet was made: who would eat more of them. John Paul II later recalled this fierce competition in 1999 with a famous smile on his face. The famous confectionery ceased to operate in 1945, but now in every Wadowice confectionery you can try the papal delicacy.

8.    Former Marcin Wadowita Junior High School

In 1930 Karol Wojtyła became a student at the Junior High School, where teaching was of a high standard. His older brother Edmund graduated from the same school. Karol was a distinguished but at the same time modest student. When no one in the class could answer the professor’s question, Wojtyła was always ready to respond. Eight years of education resulted in long-lasting friendships, which Karol continued later as a bishop, cardinal and then as Pope John Paul II. Currently, the building is occupied by M. Wadowita High School No. 1, which continues the traditions of the former Junior High School.

9.    Synagogue in Wadowice

Along with the increase of the Jewish population in Wadowice, the Jewish community built a synagogue (1885–1889). Karol Wojtyła was brought up in the atmosphere of two cultures and two religions. Among his school friends, there were Jews, and one of them, namely Jerzy Kluger, was among his close friends. In 1936, Karol was invited by Jerzy’s father to the synagogue for a concert. It was probably the first time that the future pope walked into a temple of another religion. Today, there is no trace left of the synagogue. It was burned by the Germans in 1939. In the 1950s, a public kindergarten was built on the site of the synagogue, then, in 1989, a plaque commemorating the Jewish community of Wadowice was put.

10.    Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites

The Discalced Carmelites came to Wadowice in 1892, and with them the later Saint Rafał Kalinowski. The monastery on “Górka” was built in 1897–1899. It currently includes a church, a monastery and a retreat house. Karol Wojtyła had strong connections with the monastery, because it was here, that he received his first scapular after the First Communion. As he himself mentioned, he used to meet Carmelites since he was a child and he knew their characteristic habit. He often went with his father to the church of St Joseph, where he received spiritual formation, used the sacrament of penance and participated in services.

11.    Church of St Peter the Apostle

The new church was a vote of gratitude for the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as Pope and the subsequent rescue of the Holy Father from assassination attack. Construction of the temple according to the concept of prof. T. Szafer lasted from 1984 to 1991 and was implemented by the efforts of the inhabitants of Wadowice. The organisational effort was undertaken by Fr. M. Piosek, later priest of the new parish. Blessed by John Paul II during his second visit to Wadowice (1991), the sacred complex of St Peter the Apostle symbolises his path from Wadowice, through the cathedral in Wawel to the Holy See. It consists of a church, the Chapel of Christ the King, a catechetical house with a presbytery and a free-standing tower. In 2003, a path modelled on Golgotha was built on the hill behind the church.

12.    Military barracks

The city’s military advantages were noticed already at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The impressive barracks building was built in the first half of the 19th century and it is a typical monument of military construction of the former Austrian partition. It was built on a square plan with an internal courtyard surrounded by arcaded corridors. Until the end of World War II, it served as a garrison facility, and in later years, it was used for various purposes. It was in these barracks, that Karol Wojtyła – the father of Saint John Paul II – began his military career.

13.    House of Divine Providence of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth

Nazareth sisters came to Wadowice in 1896 and soon after settling, they opened a daily care nursery for children. From the beginning of its existence, it was intended for the poorest children, many of whom attended it completely free of charge. When Edmund left family home for studies, little Karol stayed with his parents. The father, taking care of his sick wife, could not fully take care of his younger son, and therefore the boy was put under the care of the Nazareth Sisters. When wandering the streets of the city together with his friends, he was invited by the sisters to their nursery, where he participated in activities and games organised for the youngest

14.    Former building of the Polish Gymnastic Society “Sokół”

In 1887, Polish Gymnastic Society “Sokół” was founded in Wadowice. Very quickly a theatre group was created by the society. Already as a small boy, Karol came into contact with the theatre. First as a spectator of the performances of the “Jagiellonka” company, in which his older brother Edmund used to play. As a junior high school student, he got involved in the activity of a school theatre group together with female junior high school students. The first joint performance was an adaptation of J. Kochanowski’s “Sobótka”. Already after the first rehearsals it was known that Karol had extraordinary abilities and conditions, among which were good diction, freedom of movement on the stage, a beautiful and clear voice or the ability to empathise with the role. Currently, the former building of the society houses the Wadowice Cultural Centre.


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