The Genius Behind the Genesis of the JPII Institute

Karol Wojtyla’s philosophical thought is focused on man, on his being a person in relation to God and to other people.

Stanislaw and Ludmila Grygiel
Stanislaw and Ludmila Grygiel (photo:

If one wants to understand deeply the identity of the suppressed John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, one must know its origin and its history.

The Institute is the fruit of the concern of its holy founder for the destiny of marriage and the family — today and tomorrow. Its genealogy began at the end of the 1940s, when the young priest Karol Wojtyla, appointed vicar of the parish of St. Florian in Krakow, met some young people who asked him fundamental questions about the love between man and woman. Wojtyla, through talking and praying with them, learned to “love the human love” and thus fleshed out the answers to their questions — answers which can be found in the book Love and Responsibility, as well as in the book The Acting Person and then in his pontifical documents.

Karol Wojtyla’s philosophical thought is focused on man, on his being a person in relation to God and to other people. He himself said, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that the human person, in all its dimensions, was “the central theme of his pastoral activity.” In the introduction to Love and Responsibility, he emphasizes that this book is, “first of all, the fruit of a continuous encounter between doctrine and life.”

The pastoral care, born of this exchange, could be called “adequate pastoral work” (pastorale adeguata) by way of analogy with the definition of the adequate anthropology (antropologia adeguata). We will try to briefly explain this concept.

Adequate anthropology starts off from the experience of man, seeking within it the traces of the presence of God, in order to bring man back to the Lord. The starting point for adequate pastoral work is instead the Person of Christ and his teaching, in the light of whom man begins to understand himself and — consequently — strives to live as a disciple of Christ. Both are “adequate” for the human experience and teaching of Christ passed on by the Church. Both complement each other and thus help to carry out both the pastoral and the intellectual work.

Karol Wojtyla also made use of sciences, without, however, letting himself be conditioned by psychological research or sociological investigations. He did not allow himself to become involved in the casuistry of the communist ideologists, who tried to impose their model of marriage and family; rather he based his approach on the solid, immutable foundation of the Word of God and on the desire of the heart of man, who is restless until he meets someone to love and who is capable in turn of loving him.

Adequate pastoral care is not, therefore, the translation into practice of a project drawn up at a table, but the fruit of work with concrete people in the course of which the priest, together with couples who love one another, tries to understand what God’s plan is for their marriage and their family. Wojtyla’s adequate pastoral care was being formed from the encounter between the truth of the Gospel and the experience of married laypeople. It was they — as he himself acknowledges — who taught him to love the human love and convinced him that pure love, love forever, is possible. And we would also like to recall how John Paul II, until the end of his life, loved human love and witnessed with firm confidence to the fact that love forever is possible. This certainty of his was contagious for young people who were thirsty for love and who were disillusioned by the “masters of doubt,” who proclaimed the death of pure love, the death of marriage and the family.

As a priest, and then bishop and cardinal, Wojtyla took part in the entire life of the spouses and their families who entrusted themselves to his pastoral care, joining them in their prayer, liturgical celebrations and also in their trips to the mountains and family celebrations; he shared their joys and sufferings, including the moments of crisis that they experienced through in their marriages.

His pastoral work was therefore not a rigid program carried out mechanically, but rather a posture and a friendly communion of a pastor with the faithful. The adequate pastoral care could also be called an integral pastoral care, because it embraced all the events of married and family life: joys, difficulties, victories and defeats. This lived and meditated sharing and understanding was also reflected in the documents of the magisterium of the Holy Pontiff. It is enough to reread Familiaris Consortio, where all the current problems of the family are present, including that of so-called “irregular situations.”

The theological reflection of the cardinal and the Pope was always accompanied by his pastoral work. Only in this way, St. John Paul II taught, can we respond to the existential needs of the human person and of his love.

The holy founder of the John Paul II Institute wanted this academic reality so that, in times of crisis of marriage and family and attacks against them, he could help pastors and laypeople to fully live out the teaching of the Church. Today we know that for 39 years its professors and students have experienced the great “usefulness” of this academy.

Stanisław and Monika Grygiel are former professors at the John Paul II Institute in Rome.