Background and Demographics

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Pope John Paul II was born on May 18, 1920 as Karol Jozef Wojty — a in Wadowice, a small Polish city that lay 50 kilometers from Krakow. He had two siblings, and his parents were Karol Wojty — a and Emilia Kaczorowska. The future pope became well-acquainted with loss at an early age. His mother died in 1929, his brother Edmund died in 1932, and his father 1941. Perhaps this played a role in his search for comfort in faith. Young Karol Jozef took his First Holy Communion at 9 and was confirmed at the age of 18 (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

He attended high school at Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, after which he began his studies at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University in 1938. At this time, he also enrolled in a school for drama. His plans for tertiary education, however, were derailed by Nazi occupation. The University was closed only a year after Karol enrolled and he was forced to work in a quarry and a chemical factory respectively, not only to earn a living, but also to avoid deportation to Germany.

Karol’s knack for leadership and his commitment to the Catholic Church became evident in 1942, when he felt himself called to the priesthood and enrolled in the clandestine seminary of Krakow. He was also involved in the “Rhapsodic Theater,” which was also clandestine and where he acted as one of the pioneers. During these early stages of his life, already, he showed a particular passion for social issues even while deeply committed to his faith (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

Karol was able to complete his studies after the Second World War and was ordained to priesthood in 1946. After this, he was sent to Rome to work under the guidance of Garrigou-Lagrange, a French Dominican. In 1948 Karol received a doctorate in theology. During this time, he was also busy with practical work in the form of pastoral ministry for Polish immigrants. He continued this work in 1948, when he returned to Poland. Here he served as vicar and chaplain to university students. In 1951 he reentered the university to study philosophy and theology. Again, his passion for both social issues and faith became evident when he became a professor of moral theology and social ethics in Krakow at the major seminary.

These efforts resulted in his appointment as titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary of Krakow on July 4, 1958. Karol was consecrated in September of the same year by Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. Karol became archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and cardinal in 1967. His title in this capacity was the S. Cesareo in Palatio of the order of deacons. He was later elevated to pro-illa vice to the order of priests (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

As seen above, the young future pope showed very early signs of leadership and pioneering work among his colleagues and peers. One example of this is his part in Vatican Council II from 1962 to 1965. Here he made a significant contribution to the Constitution of Gaudium et spes. He also participated in all the assemblies called by the Synod of Bishops.

On 16 October 1978, Karol was elected Pope at the Conclave of that year. This is then also where he took the name John Paul II. He inaugurated his Petrine ministry on 22 October. He was the 263rd successor to the Apostle. His pontificate lasted nearly 27 years, making it one of the longest in the history of the Church (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

2.0- Life Changing Moments

As seen above, many of the events in Pope John Paul’s life could be regarded as “life changing.” The many deaths in his family, for example, can be seen as one of the drivers for his faith and his life. Another is his calling to the priesthood, while a third is certainly his election to the papacy. These important moments created the foundation of a life not only in the service of others, but also for pioneering and important work in the service of others and to his God.

One such service was the Pope’s tireless missionary spirit, driven by openness and charity towards the entire human race. In this capacity, he made no less than 104 pastoral visits outside Italy and 146 within the country. In his status as bishop of rome, he visited 317 of the 333 parishes in Rome itself (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

He also surpassed all his predecessors by having more meetings with the People of God and leaders of nations than any before him. The Pope was therefore not only a servant to his parishioners and those he brought to faith, but was also did well in political circles. He encountered many government entities during his 38 official visits to government offices. He held 738 audiences and meetings with Heads of State and 246 with Prime Ministers.

Other pioneering work the Pope did includes his establishment of the World Youth Days. During his pontificate, 19 of these were celebrated, with millions of young people coming from all over the world to celebrate together. As such, the Pope manifested both his love for young people and his care for the family. As such, he initiated the World Meetings of Families in 1994 (Holy See Press Office, 2005).

When examining Pope John Paul’s life, it becomes clear that he was far more than merely an instrument for furthering the interests and responsibilities of the Roman Catholic Church (Leadership Theory and Behavior, 2010). Instead, he has established himself as a kind of hero, who has challenged the traditional ways of thinking and doing by establishing, according to the expanse of his compassion but within the boundaries of his faith, new and important institutions that brought the importance of the Church into closer contact with its social charges.

As such, the Pope can be considered a charismatic leader, since he displays the characteristics of “humility, heart, forgiveness, and responsibility (Leadership Theory and Behavior, 2010). He also established a clear vision for his papacy and the things he wanted to achieve during his period in office. As such, he established a close and strong relationship with his followers, so that they wanted to help him in the establishment of his ideals and visions. His charisma created in his followers a passion for the things he considered important. Much of his charisma also stems from the fact that he acted, in many ways, as servant to his followers and to the church rather than the more traditional and symbolic role of the pope as supreme authority (Leadership Theory and Behavior, 2010).

3.0- Societal Impact-

Furthermore Pope John Paul II was a highly effective leader because he established bonds with political, religious and social figures that were somewhat less than orthodox. He is, for example, the first Pope to ever enter a mosque. He also visited Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, while praying for the reconciliation between Christians and Jews. As such, the Pope was more concerned with people and their needs than the religion they practiced. This is highly unusual for a Pope, and John Paul II showed his pioneering spirit in this.

One of his most important accomplishments was establishing open communications between the Church and the Jews. He was, for example, the first pope to visit Auschwitz in Poland in 1979 to commemorate the victims of the concentration camps here (Leadership Theory and Behavior, 2010).

He helped to establish Solidarity in Poland, for example. He forgave the man who almost assassinated him. He even met with figures like Arafat and Castro. In all this, the Pope chose a servant leadership role by serving people on their terms rather than his own or even those of the Church. He focused on open communication and a solid relationship with everyone within his contact. As such, he was able to rise above all those before him and become a global figurehead. As such, he was able to become not only a religious icon, but also one that promoted social and human values rather than purely religious ones (Leadership Theory and Behavior, 2010).

In this, the Pope truly followed the servant leadership style of Christ; while being devoted to his deity, the Pope used Christ’s humanity to inform his own leadership style as human first and religious icon second. Because he could communicate equally effectively with political leaders, young people, the poor, the rich, and everyone he came into contact with, the Pope became the most popular among all who have held the position to date.

In terms of accomplishments, the Pope organized 15 Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops (Holy See Press Office, 2005). Within the Church, he also made several changes, including reforming the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law, new Institutions, and the recorganization of the Roman Curia.

Independently, the Pope publish five books, including “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” and “Roman Triptych” poetic meditations. He continued to work on and publish books until his death in 2005.

In his leadership as Pope, John Paul II’s most significant strength was his supreme confidence, not only in himself, but also in his faith and his God (The Tablet, 2011). He believed absolutely in following Christ’s example in his relationships with others. The pope did, however, have his critics.

He was, for example, criticized for being “out of step” with the times due to his teaching on sexual morality. He preached consistently against abortion and contraception. He also insisted on maintaining the requirement for celibacy for Catholic priests and was against the ordaining of women as priests. He was also criticized for his centralized leadership style. Furthermore, many of Pope John Paul II’s critics felt that he occasionally either intervened too much or not enough, where the bishops’ affairs should have been off limits, while issues like the sex scandal involving the American Catholic Church should have received more intervention (Shaw, 2014).

Nevertheless, despite the criticism, few can deny the charismatic nature of the pope’s leadership, or the fact that he has accomplish changes and reforms that few before him have. He was the servant to all, because this is what he believed to be his job. It is for this that he has established himself as one of the longest-serving and most popular Popes to date.

4.0- Personal Analysis and Qualitative Assessment-

With all of the above taken into account, it is clear that Pope John Paul II had significant leadership competencies. His focus was on charismatic leadership, transformational leadership, and servant-leadership. He adhered strictly to the values he considered as important in terms of his church and his personal value system. He never let the institution dictate what his values should be, but maintained those values he felt remained valid.

As such, the Pope had a high sense of integrity and leadership effectiveness. He accomplished many changes in the Church and for those in need. The Youth Days and Family Days he established, for example, created a focus on the values of family and the energy of youth that the Pope valued. He also preached the value of forgiveness, himself setting the example by forgiving a would-be assassin. Like Christ, he affiliated equally comfortably with politicians, representatives of other religions, his peers, and those in need. The most important to him was always what need could be filled by his actions.

While his leadership was extremely effective, some might question his emotional intelligence, especially when it comes to women’s rights and equality, both within the confines of the Church and in their personal and professional lives.

As mentioned, the pope was strongly opposed to abortion. He clashed with both the Clinton administration and other leaders and prominent persons on the subject. This, along with his opposition to contraception, let his critics to accuse him of insensitivity to women. In apparent contradiction, however, the pope seemed greatly appreciative of women in his published writings. In addition to poetic works that celebrate married love, he also devoted some of his major writings to women’s rights and digniticy, as in his apostolic letter “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” in 1988 (Shaw, 2014).

The pope’s ethical stance was also called into question with his apparent silence on the issue of abused children in the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, in all his actions, the pope appears to have attempted to maintain a center of emotional control that was in keeping with his own sense of morality.

In conclusion, then, Pope John Paul II can be said to be an effective leader for various reasons. First, he established a close relationship with his followers. He did this by communicating effectively with everyone he met, from the highest and most powerful political dignitaries to the most humble servants of God and humanity. He assessed the needs of people before concerning himself with the specific premises of their religion. He worked tirelessly to promote the tenets of his faith on the basis of forgiveness and care for those less fortunate than himself.

At the same time, the Pope succeeded in establishing the changes he regarded as necessary in the Church as institution. He made many reforms for what he regarded the improvement of the institution for a world that is also changing.

In these matters then, Pope John Paul II was a highly effective leader and missed by the many people whose lives he touched.


Holy See Press Office (2005, Jun. 30). His Holiness John Paul II. Retrieved from: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/documentazione/documents/santopadre_biografie/giovanni_paolo_ii_biografia_breve_en.html

Leadership Theory and Behavior. (2010, Sept. 22). Retrieved from: http://leadershiptheory3450.blogspot..html

Shaw, R. (2014). Centered on the Savior: A biography of Pope John Paul II. Our Sunday Visitor. Retrieved from: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Article/TabId/535/artmid/13567/articleid/14208/Default.aspx

The Tablet (2011). Strengths and Weaknesses of a Pope. Retrieved from: http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/15th-october-1983/3/strengths-and-weaknesses-of-a-pope