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St. John Paul II: patron saint of the family Print
Guest column
Thursday, Jul. 23, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Veronica Arntz

St. John Paul II -- the beloved pope and now saint -- contributed a vast amount of knowledge and wisdom to the Church's teachings on marriage and family.

Born on May 18, 1920, and ordained a priest in 1946, Karol Wojtyla's adolescent years were marked by the reign and violence of the Third Reich.

Philosophy of personalism

Due largely to his devout Catholic parents, Wojtyla, rather than turning to violence himself, cultivated his mind through poetry and plays, eventually turning to philosophical inquiries, particularly in personalism.

Wojtyla's personalism values the human person as a unique being created by God with a free will, intellect, and the ability to reason. As pope, he would call for a "theological renewal based on the personalistic nature of man."

We see this philosophical basis prominent in many of his writings as a priest and later as pope. Before his election to Supreme Pontiff in 1978, Wojtyla wrote two major works about the human person: Love and Responsibility (1960) and The Acting Person (1962).

Theology of the Body

These would be foundational for his larger, more developed work composed while he was pope, now under the title Theology of the Body, which encompasses 129 Wednesday audiences. This work is perhaps the greatest contribution to the Church's teachings on marriage, focusing primarily on the meaning of the body in Genesis, the new meaning given by Christ, and the sacramental significance of marriage.

Why is St. John Paul II considered a patron saint of the family and thus of the World Meeting of Families? His emphasis on the value of the human person led him to say in his 1994 Letter to Families: "The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum" (7).

Thus, St. John Paul II understood that respecting the person also meant respecting the family, and with his many encyclicals and letters written about the family -- not just Theology of the Body -- he makes for a fitting patron saint.

Given that St. John Paul II is a philosopher and a circular writer, his meaning is not always easy to comprehend. Thus, there are many resources that can be used to dive deeper into this saint's writings and theological and philosophical thought, including the Theology of the Body page on the Diocese of Madison website: www.madisondiocese.org/Ministry/EvangelizationandCatechesis/ProgramsandEvents/TheologyoftheBody.aspx

Works by St. John Paul II

Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (2011, Pauline Press)
Familiaris consortio (encyclical letter, 1981)
Letter to Families (1994)
Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla (translated 2013)

Resources for reference

An Introduction to the Theology of the Body (DVD series by Christopher West, 2008)
Men and Women are from Eden: A Study Guide to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Mary Healy (2005)
Theology of the Body In Context: Genesis and Growth by William E. May (2010)
Theology of His Body/Theology of Her Body by Jason Evert (2009)


Veronica Arntz is an intern in the Marriage & Family Program in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison. She will be a junior at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., and is pursuing a degree in liberal arts.