A group of 26 students from the University of St. Thomas went to Poland last month to study St. John Paul II at The St. John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. The pope, who died in 2005, taught there for 25 years before being elected pope in 1978.
As they expected, students met some faculty members who had studied under the late pontiff. Unexpected, however, was the attention the UST students received from local and national media.
“We were basically minor celebrities in Poland, it seems,” said theology professor Paul Wojda, who led the 19 women and seven men on the Jan. 2-29 trip along with philosophy professor Kenneth Kemp. “We were constantly being interviewed. There were constantly camera crews in our classes and at our special events. It seemed like we were being followed by photographers and journalists all the time.”
Wojda said there were several contributing factors to the media blitz. First, there’s the fact that Poland is a predominantly Catholic country.
Then, there’s the surprise among Poles that people from the west would want to come to their country for almost a month to study their culture and the life of St. John Paul II.
Finally, there was the work of a staff member from the university, Anna Tarnowski-Waszak, to alert the media and grant them access to the UST group. Also paying attention was the Archdiocese of Lublin and Archbishop Stanislaw Budzik.
“We met with him personally in his residence and were given a formal reception,” Wojda said.
Students on the trip enjoyed the media attention, although it was a surprise.
“I was really taken aback in a fun way,” said Matthew Michels, a junior who is majoring in political science and minoring in Catholic studies and philosophy. “It was very exciting. I can’t deny that I was on a high horse for a little bit, thinking that I was a celebrity in Poland.”
One of the highlights of the trip was leaving campus to visit Wadowice, the small town where St. John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla in 1920, grew up. There is a museum located in his childhood home.
Senior Emily DeVos, a Catholic studies major and philosophy minor, said the trip was among her favorite parts of the January-term class.
“[By] going to Poland and taking this course, I was able to meet people he knew. It just made him a real person,” she said. “It’s not something I expected to feel when I was over there. I just expected to learn a lot about John Paul II and eat a lot of pierogis,” filled dumplings that are a common dish in Poland.
Now back in the Twin Cities and into the second semester of the school year, students believe their experience in Poland will continue to impact their lives.
“The knowledge and experience gained through this course, especially through John Paul’s saintly example, will prove invaluable and applicable throughout the rest of my life,” said sophomore Emily Dalsky, who is double majoring in Catholic studies and communications, and minoring in philosophy. “The holistic experience of this trip has enriched my life. It has taught me what it means to be a human person, that one’s personhood can never be diminished and that we were created to become fully alive in Christ.”
Wojda, who has Polish ancestry, said the trip will be offered again in 2018. Previous trips to Poland took place in 2010 and 2012.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it every year,” Wojda said. “It’s a really nice trip. We are treated extremely well by our local hosts, by the Catholic University of Lublin. They roll out the welcome mat for us.”
The group also visited Krakow, which is hosting World Youth Day 2016 July 25-31. In Krakow, St. John Paul II attended university, studied for the priesthood, and served as a priest and later a bishop and archbishop.
Category: Local News