As the young people of the world visit the many holy sites of Poland for World Youth Day, one can not help but notice the profound impact Saint John Paul II had on the country. Everywhere you turn there are commemorations to the Polish hero, making it seem that there is not one inch of Poland that the saint hasn’t influenced.
It can be a bit overwhelming and no doubt many of the young people (and adults) who walked the streets of Kraków these past few days will want to deepen their knowledge of the beloved pontiff.
Thankfully there are a host of great books devoted to the man who inspired the world and each highlight different aspects of his life. While preparing to write my own book on John Paul II (In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin), I poured into numerous biographies to find the best material available. What I would like to present to you are five of the best biographies that I found and which I believe will help you foster a devotion to of one of the greatest saints of our times.
1. Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. This popular biography by the sought-after chastity speaker Jason Evert, is an attempt to summarize his life through his “five loves:” Young People, Human Love, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross. Evert writes in an accessible way that captures the essence of John Paul II and truly gives you a sense of who he was and how he impacted the world.
2. Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II by George Weigel. Often called the “definitive biography of John Paul II,” Weigel went to great lengths to relate a detailed timeline of the saint’s life. No stone is left unturned in this 1000 page biography and fills in any gaps that other biographies might have. If you want to know almost everything about John Paul II, this is the place to start.
3. A Life with Karol: My Forty-Year Friendship with the Man Who Became Pope by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. Written by the man who knew him the most during his time as cardinal and pope, it relates numerous memories of his personal secretary and gives the reader an intimate portrait of the saint.
4. Stories of Karol: The Unknown Life of John Paul II by Gian Franco Svidercoschi. While most biographies focus on John Paul II’s life as pope, Vatican insider Svidercoschi delves into the early life of Karol Wojtyła, exploring stories of his youth. It includes stories of his family life, vocation and details into his life up until he was elected pope.
5. The Making of the Pope of the Millennium: Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyła by Adam Boniecki. Written not as a biography but more like a daily diary, Boniecki goes through each year, month and day of Karol Wojtyła up until his papal election. It is the go-to resource for biographers and anyone interested in his activities before becoming pope.
There are certainly many other great books about Saint John Paul II, (including George Weigel’s latest book, City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II's Kraków) but these are the ones I found the most helpful and insightful into the life of the Polish pope.
If you have your own book suggestions please leave them in the comments below, as I am sure they will help others get to know the saint many have grown to love.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us!