Vatican City - Personal background
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla (pronounced "voy-TEE-wah") in Wadowice, Poland, on 18 May 1920. He was the third of three children born to a strict Roman Catholic family. A sister, Olga, died in infancy before Karol was born. His mother Emilia (Kaczorowska) Wojtyla, who was of Lithuanian descent, died when he was only nine. His brother Edmund, who was much older than Karol, died four years later. His father, Karol Wojtyla, Sr., was a pensioned army sergeant; he died in 1942.
In school, the young Karol Wojtyla excelled in sports, dramatics, and academics. He enrolled in Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland in 1938 to study literature. There he acted with an amateur theatrical troupe and participated in poetry readings and literary discussions. He began his seminary studies in secret while earning a living as a manual laborer, first in a quarry and later in a chemical factory during Poland's occupation by the Nazis in World War II (1939–45).
Wojtyla was ordained in Krakow in 1946, after which he worked in France as a pastor to French working-class youth and Polish refugees. He then went on to further his studies at the Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome. After graduating, he returned to Poland to serve a parish for some years, later becoming a professor of ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin.
In addition to his native Polish, the pope speaks fluent Italian and Latin. He is also conversant in English, French, German, and Spanish. He is the first non-Italian pope since the year 1522 and the first Slavic pope ever.