Professor Stanisław Grygiel, Longtime Friend of John Paul II, Dies at 89

The Polish academic and married father of two passed away Feb. 20 in Rome where he had lived since 1980.

Stanisław Grygiel
Stanisław Grygiel (photo: Courtesy Photo)

VATICAN CITY — Stanisław Grygiel, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II and a respected professor who was an authoritative interpreter of the late pontiff’s teaching on marriage and the family, has died at the age of 89.

The Polish academic and married father of two passed away Feb. 20 in Rome where he had lived since 1980. He had been in poor health for some months but was lecturing as recently as January 2022.

A scholar of high academic achievement, the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences where he taught for many years remembered him as someone “endowed with great intellectual curiosity” who knew how to “transmit to students a liking for research and reflection through a kind, open, friendly and paternal manner.”

The Veritas Amoris Project, an organization Grygiel co-founded that promotes John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s teaching on the “truth of love,” paid tribute to the late Polish professor for being a “passionate guide to the truth of love in the communio personarum [communion of persons].” 

“A disciple and friend of St. John Paul II, he introduced us to the life and wisdom of the great Pope, witnessing to us and passing on his love for the Church and the family,” the organization said in a statement. “Rest in peace, father, teacher, friend! And from Heaven bless our path!”

Unafraid to speak out in defense of the Church’s moral teaching on marriage and the family, Grygiel became especially vocal in recent years when attacks on that doctrine entered the highest levels of the Church. Drawing on his expertise in philosophical anthropology and his experience of communist Poland, he was well aware of the dangers and extent of the damage caused by flawed theology and philosophy. 

“Marxism,” he wrote in 2018, “has crept into the mentality of Western intellectuals and of many men of the Church, so as to induce them in their practice to modify the doctrine of the Church, that is, the Person of Christ. 

“The confusion that follows,” he added “constitutes the greatest danger for the Church.” 

Born in 1934 in Zembrzyce, southwest of Kraków, Stanisław Grygiel graduated in philosophy from the Pontifical Faculty of Philosophy of the Society of Jesus in Kraków in 1956. He obtained a degree in philology five years later, and in 1965 he earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin in 1965. His dissertation supervisor was the then-archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, 

In the years 1966-1967 he was awarded a scholarship at the University of Louvain in Belgium, and from 1962 to 1980 he lectured in philosophy at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Kraków.

Grygiel moved to Rome in 1980 with his wife Ludmiła and children Monika and Jakub. The following year, he founded the Polish Institute of Christian Culture at the Foundation and began teaching philosophical anthropology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies. For more than 20 years he taught philosophy of man at the Pontifical Institute of John Paul II in Washington, DC. In the 1990s he taught philosophy in Lugano, Switzerland.

Over the course of his life, Grygiel wrote many books and articles translated into various languages, and edited a number of publications. He also participated in two synods of European bishops, organized congresses and activities related to marriage and the family, and was awarded numerous decorations and awards. These included the Golden Cross of Merit in 1974 and the Grand Cross of Merit of the Knights of Malta with Star in 2014. He became a papal knight of the Order of St. Gregory in 2008. Most recently, he received the Totus Tuus award in Warsaw in 2021 and the same year was given an honorary doctorate by the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. 

Resistance to ‘Illegitimate Theology’

In recent years, Grygiel publicly resisted theologians who wished to recast the Church’s moral teaching. He recognized early on during the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family that those assemblies would promote changing pastoral practice as a means of undermining doctrine — an approach he likened to a key and flawed tenet of Marxism whereby “praxis decides what is true at any cost, leading to what is not true.” 

But he reminded the faithful that the Church “is not about politics but about salvation in Christ — in the Word of the Living God,” and that in the Church “there is no place to preach empty words and for mindlessness.” 

When attempts were made in 2018 by some Church leaders to undermine Humanae Vitae on its 50th anniversary, Grygiel criticized what he called “pragmatic theology,” which he preferred to term “illegitimate theology.” 

Humanae Vitae, he asserted, is a “bulwark of freedom” that liberates the human person from being objectified and exploited — a consequence of artificial contraception that separates the unitive and procreative meaning of sexual relations, leading to degeneration and the destruction of conjugal communion.

“The Evil One, who is afraid of love and therefore does not love [conjugal communion], causes chaos in people’s hearts,” he said, which leads to “psychological and sociological digressions” among pastors and prelates who then “raise man’s weakness to the dignity of the principle of life.” 

He saw what happened to the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in the late 2010s as a fruit of such flawed thinking, and vociferously opposed the changes that ensued after Pope Francis refounded it in 2017. 

He believed the institute had become a victim of postmodernist tendencies that replaced moral theology and John Paul II’s anthropology with “opinion polls” and “sociological and psychological meanderings.” The academic body, founded in 1981 by John Paul II and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, was not being renewed but “destroyed,” he warned. 


Fond Memories

Grygiel leaves behind many students and colleagues who remember him fondly. One of them is Oana Maria Gotia, associate professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, who co-edited a book with him on John Paul II in 2021.

“Professor Grygiel was both a teacher and a friend to me,” Gotia told the Register, and she especially recalled his lessons on the communio personarum that, she said, “were filled with beauty and wisdom: We are made for another/Another and this communion is life-giving (while everything else is sterile).”

A former student and teacher at the John Paul II Institute in Rome, Gotia also remembers Grygiel as “a great storyteller” who loved to share “both humorous and deep” stories from the life of John Paul II. 

“They were both two great intellectuals who sought to understand the human person in the ultimate light of Christ, without compromises or ambiguities,” she said, “and to share this truth even when the Communist persecution made it dangerous to do so, or when the politically-correct environment afterwards proliferated the opposite.”

She also remembers “his great love for his wife Ludmila,” and said his book on women, Dolce guida e cara (‘Sweet and Dear Guide’ taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy) was “one of the best books on women I have ever read: women and men, in their reciprocal and complementary relationship, help each other discover the deep vocation to love and know the Truth — and this was something that I could see every time I saw him and Mrs. Grygiel together.”

“I am also very grateful for his precious guidance and friendship,” Gotia said. “Thank you, very much, our very dear Professor Grygiel!”