Born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, Pope John Paul II’s early life was marked by great loss. His mother died when he was nine years old, and his older brother Edmund died when he was 12.

Growing up, Karol Wojtyla was athletic and enjoyed skiing and swimming. He went to Krakow’s Jagiellonian University in 1938 where he showed interest in theatre and poetry. The school however was closed the following year by Nazi troops during the German occupation of Poland. Wanting to become a priest, he began studying at a secret seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow. After World War II ended, he finished his religious studies at the Krakow seminary and was ordained in 1946.

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