Student Leadership in Poland's Capital
Just recently, we took a weekend pilgrimage to Warsaw. We invited another group of American students studying in Rome to join us. With growth in leadership being a theme of the John Paul II Project study abroad programs, we had the students lead parts of the pilgrimage and teach the group about different sites we were touring.
One of our students this semester, Bernadette, is an aspiring journalist and works as our social media intern. She is Polish-American with family in Warsaw and couldn’t wait to go on this pilgrimage and share her favorite city with us. She lead the main part of our tour, giving detailed historical information mixed in with some fun personal facts like what church her grandparents were married in!
Jacob, Peter, and Anna, our other American students who were less familiar with the city, had presented on specific sites they had researched.
Mixed in with the history, we had silence and reflections on homilies JP2 gave in various places. The most powerful was in Victory Square where JP2 called down the Holy Spirit on Poland. The people who actually witnessed this event say they truly could feel the Holy Spirit coming. When we read that homily out loud, standing in that very same square, we were all left in awe and silence as we felt the power of his words even to this day. From what I hear, the other JP2 Project alumni reading this must be reminiscing, “yes, I remember that happened to us too.''
POLISH PEOPLE AND CULTURE
The day of our long tour was ice cold and I found myself having to focus most on keeping my new baby warm, but I didn’t have to worry about the students: they had it covered and they loved leading, presenting, and receiving what Warsaw has to offer. In the evening we all dispersed among Polish host families who warmly welcomed us with traditional food, music, song, and stories of the old times in Poland. It was enlightening and refreshing to immerse ourselves more fully into the culture and learn more of the trials Poland has faced in the past on a more personal level.
IN OUR LADY’S HEART: FROM KOLBE TO CZĘSTOCHOWA
On Sunday, the last day of our pilgrimage, we went to where St. Maximillian Kolbe settled and worked. There is a special adoration chapel that we were all quite eager to visit. The chapel has a monstrance shaped like Our Lady, with the Host on her heart. It is considered one of the “Crowns of Mary” scattered throughout the world in places of suffering by a particular artist. Story has it that after this monstrance was made they found writings by St. Maximillian Kolbe about having a place like this, declaring it a chapel for people to come, kneel down, leave all their worries and petitions there and let Mary “take care of their business.” We couldn’t wait to spend time there in prayer, and to offer all our petitions to Mary. I felt this emphasis very fitting, knowing that just a semester ago the founders had consecrated The John Paul II Project to Our Lady in this very place. Just as John Paul was close to Mary’s Heart, so have we given her this project, along with our students.
We concluded the trip by visiting Jasna Gora, the place of the shrine of Our Lady of Czestechowa. Our time there felt so rapid, where hours felt like minutes. All felt drawn to participate in the pilgrim tradition of circling the altar of the Miraculous Image on one’s knees.Even my seven year old daughter, Felicity, felt compelled to share in this experience, insisting she wanted to do it with me. It was the perfect conclusion to our trip.
Back at the Sanctuary, just a few days later, I finished a 54 day rosary novena I had been praying for the Project and our student’s intentions, which had been written out and placed in an envelope before an icon of Our Lady in my living room. I think it’s safe to say Our Lady is close.
Krakow Program Director
NEW FAMILY ON BOARD
I’m writing this newsletter from the place we now call home in Michigan, USA! Our move has not lacked chaotic logistical maneuvering, given that we had to start completely from scratch (already 5 years into our marriage with 2 kids and zero wedding registry). What has also not lacked has been God’s overwhelming generosity of practical items, such as household donations from people we don’t know, a fantastic community with great new friends, and total peace about this decision.
Why? What’s happening to the program in Krakow while we’re gone? It is THRIVING. The Project has definitely upgraded with bringing in Megan and Josh to replace us, and they love their new mission and home. Meet them in this short video here:
OUR AMERICANS & EUROPEANS; SEMINARIAN & ATHEIST
We look forward to sharing the adventures of our Fall 2020 group, who have already started their semester with an exclusive international seminar on “Human Dignity and Rights” in Vienna, Austria run by World Youth Alliance (WYA). Our students received 4 of the 5 sponsored appointments for the Polish youth delegation.
Josh and Megan were living in Austria prior to joining the project, as Josh carried out further studies at the International Theological Institute (ITI), which was founded by Pope John Paul II himself! God’s timing was perfect in bringing in these Austria-savvy folk on board. Before the WYA seminar began, the Maddens took our students on a cultural and pilgrimage experience, which included off-the-beaten-path encounters at the ITI. They were enriched, had a blast, and set their journey abroad in the right direction.
Pray for our current students, that they may continue to be open for the life-transforming graces. We have a seminarian, Daniel from Slovakia, joining us, who is taking classes with our students at the Pontifical University of John Paul II through the Erasmus program for European study abroad. Through last Spring & Summer programs, another Erasmus student joined, Tereza from the Czech Republic. Far from Daniel’s position, she came to us as an atheist. Don’t miss out on reading her brief yet beautiful testimony here.
Know this little blog comes with prayers for our readers and JP2 Project family!
Co-Founder and President
Tereza came to Krakow from the Czech Republic through the European study abroad network called Erasmus. She would classify herself as a gamer, scholar of Medieval Church Archives, and atheist who was quite comfortable in her large apartment within her family home in the Czech Republic. When she saw an English-immersion housing opportunity with the JP2 Project, she was prompted to inquire...and then dared to join. Her time with us spanned the course of both the Spring and Summer terms of 2019. Here's the testimony of this woman we all fell in love with immediately and miss a lot.
“Over the last four months, thanks to JP2 Project, I've learned a lot of important information for my studies, but not just that. I went to the JP2 Project without expecting anything. All I needed at that time was a change. Change of my lifestyle and the way I look at it things that are happening around me all the time and in the whole world. I was probably the first non-Catholic person and, in fact, the first person with no faith at all, to join this project. I always thought that there is something beyond us, but I would never think about it the way I do now, without my adventure in Poland. Everyone who knew me thought I was crazy and maybe I was, but what I experienced with my new friends and my JP2 family showed me the opposite. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe I knew deep down that I needed it and maybe it was the will of God that showed me the way. The JP2 Project allowed me to visit many places and experience a lot of unforgettable moments. I am not a Catholic and before I arrived in Krakow I knew little about my faith. It was all new to me, just to go to Mass and just try to speak to God; to meet so many amazing people from different countries, share our stories together and through that, discover trust, and realize how amazing and full of love is my life...I don’t have to be afraid of who I am and I should embrace it. I can open my heart and be the best person I can be. Although my path of faith probably just started, thanks to the Project, I believe that I am going in the right direction and again I believe that people can be good. Thank you" - Tereza, 24 years old
I honestly have the urge to start every newsletter with an appeal to join me in crying out, “THANK YOU, JESUS!”, followed by an extension of gratitude to all those who participate in the Project’s mission, by deed or prayer.
Our readers are interested in a bit more content than that. So I’ll try to summarize how God has given us reasons to be thankful.
Second summer study abroad term: successful beyond expectations. Our previous blog post mentioned how their time together, pilgrimaging through the "City of Saints", has been blessed beyond belief. Watch Dan's testimony here and more to come later!
We realized that we were too busy telling you about our first ever full semester study abroad group this past Spring 2019, that we never let you hear from them. To make up for it, we’ve published the full testimony of Justin Read, who came abroad after completing his undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University and before starting graduate school at The Augustine Institute. It is worth the read to understand what a full semester abroad can do.
TOB & FAMILIES
While on the firsts, we launched our first young adult Theology of the Body Program and our first Young Families Pilgrimage. Overwhelmingly full of grace and once again, exceeded our expectations by far. A book wouldn't suffice to capture the power of their experiences, but you’ll get to hear from them too. Not to be cliche, but it’s true that “life-changing” and “best time of my life” were used by participants of both programs.
I cannot omit a giant THANK YOU to those vital team members who joined to make those pilgrimages a success: Dr. Houde, featured in our promo video, Fr. Zack Swantek, a TOB expert and incredible chaplain, and our beloved board member, Fr. Spencer Howe, who served our families.
We also try to live our work in the programs with an attitude of learning and in a spirit of pilgrimage. This participation was on another level in the Young Families Pilgrimage, since Joe and I, with our 2 toddlers, form part of the target group! We cannot believe how beautiful and uplifting that time was for our family. We felt that God gave us the grace to relive the experience of John Paul II’s “Środowisko”, with the profound sense of community and authentic friendship. That was a primary goal, but it’s one that was only achieved by grace.
If you missed out on these, don’t feel bad. We are definitely repeating these two new programs next summer!
-Corinne MacDonald, Co-Founder & President
My experience with the John Paul II Project was truly life-changing! Coming into the program, I was really excited but didn't really know exactly what to expect. I had been to Krakow in 2016 for World Youth Day, but I was about to spend an entire semester in Poland--my longest stay away from the United States to date.
I was greeted with a warm welcome upon my arrival in Krakow by JP2 Project co-founders Joe and Corinne MacDonald and their two young daughters, Marysia and Chiara. Their sense of hospitality, their love of St. John Paul II, and their missionary spirit immediately made me feel welcome and at home in Krakow. I knew I had come to the right place, and that participating in this program was God's will for me.
Over the next few months, I deepened my relationship with God and the Saints in ways and to an extent I never could have imagined beforehand. The first way I grew in my relationship with God was simply by being in such a holy city in a holy country. Krakow was St. John Paul II's home for forty years before he became pope. It also was the home and is the final resting place of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. Krakow also was graced by the presence of many other holy men and women, including St. Br. Albert Chmielowski and Servant of God Jan Tyranowski. Krakow is truly the City of Saints! Being able to follow in their footsteps and visit places meaningful in their lives made these Saints so much more palpable and real for me. Praying at places important to them brought a treasure of graces to me and inspired me to realize that I, too, can become like them if I say from the depths of my heart, "Jesus, I trust in You!"
Another amazing part of the program was the academic experience. We took classes at the Pontifical University of John Paul II (UPJPII). My courses included classes in philosophy, theology, Polish language, and Polish history. The philosophy and theology courses were specifically focused on the thought of John Paul II, and it was a really priceless experience taking them in Poland. The professors were organized and very competent at their material, and we students could tell that their faith guided their teaching and they truly believed what they were teaching from the depths of their hearts. Also, very importantly, because their native language was Polish, they could teach us nuances about the writings of John Paul II or discuss Polish-only works of John Paul II with us English-speaking students. The intellectual aspect of my faith will be forever influenced by my academic experiences in Krakow. Who knows - perhaps someday I will return again!
Joe and Corinne also did a wonderful job organizing trips for us students. We enjoyed a trip at the beginning of the semester to Warsaw and Niepokalanów to follow in the footsteps of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and to learn more about the difficulties that Poland faced in World War II. We also took other trips to Zakopane (to hike in the mountains that Karol Wojtyla would frequent for retreats and skiing trips), Rome (to experience the heart of the Catholic Church), Lviv (to learn about some of the Eastern Catholic Churches), Auschwitz (to pray for and pay respects to the people who passed away there and to visit St. Maximilian's cell), Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (where St. John Paul II frequently went on pilgrimage as a boy), and Wadowice (where St. John Paul II grew up). The John Paul II Project program also gave students ample time to go on individual trips. I enjoyed a few of these myself, such as going to Mesero in Italy where St. Gianna Molla is buried, Vienna to enjoy excellent classical music, and Osimo in Italy where St. Joseph of Cupertino (patron of my parish church) is buried. Each of these trips significantly enriched my experience and helped to deepen my understanding and experience of my faith.
Lastly, and very importantly, I wanted to also mention the amazing friendships I developed with fellow participants in the program and with the Erasmus students (European abroad students). One special friendship I developed was with a student at the Pontifical University of John Paul II who lived with the John Paul II Project students for the semester. Being a native Polish speaker, she even taught me to pray the Koronka Do Miłosierdzia Bożego (Chaplet of Divine Mercy) entirely in Polish! These Christ-centered friendships throughout the semester where we lived in community--like a big family--brought out the best in me through humor and laughter, shared adventures, deep moments in conversation and prayer, and a genuine and true sense of fellowship in Christ. I hope that these friends will remain lifelong friends.
I wholeheartedly recommend the John Paul II Project! The entire experience--spiritual, academic, communal--will bring out the best in you. You will develop truly personal friendships with the Saints you encounter, and grow in ways which will forever change your life for the better on the path towards Sainthood.
-Justin Read, CA
Spring semester, 2019
In the heart of Maximilian Kolbe’s “City of the Immaculata”, the John Paul II Project, along with 12 study abroad students, were formally consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It was simple, intimate, and quietly powerful. After Mass in the basilica, on the Feast of Pentecost, our little group gathered all the way in the sanctuary, kneeling before the tabernacle. Our host mother, Marta, who has been receiving groups I brought to her years before the JP2 Project was officially an organization, translated the words of consecration and the demanding encouragement of the elderly Franciscan priest who imparted his blessing. Everything, everything is Our Lady's now.
It has been clear from the beginning that this Project belonged to Our Lady. Now, with this formal consecration, I firmly believe that we have entered a new dawning of belonging to Our Lady. Every dimension of the Project, every person involved - students, families, board members, staff, mission partners - has been handed to Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
I expect big graces. I expect the Holy Spirit to work even more powerfully than before. I do not presume that the consecration is some magic button that releases the graces while we sit back and watch the show. The demand to work, the demand to give, is greater now.
I hope you’re all okay with the fact that we did that. You are a part of the project, you are part of this consecration and you are the vessels through which God can work. I know not every one of our partners is religious. This is John Paul II’s way, so we must follow. Totus Tuus: his papal motto that “everything is yours”, Mary, Mother of God and Our Mother. This was John Paul II’s secret to success, as measured by faith: to defend human dignity, to point out the way of salvation, to build the civilization of love and truth, amidst the most oppressing circumstances.
This Summer 2019 Study Abroad Group is a tremendous testimony to this work of the Holy Spirit, through Mary. I hope they do not feel offended when I say that this is probably the most wounded group I’ve had the privilege to serve, but perhaps one of the best. They managed to cultivate a supernaturally beautiful community life, marked with sincerity, understanding and joy. From the “normal” routine of impactful courses at the university, to opening up in community nights and on pilgrimage, to personal encounters with saints from Kolbe to Frassati, to serving each other in the residence, to dance parties over dishes, the mission is being accomplished in them and they are growing more than they realize.
Thank you for participating, whether you’re a professor teaching, one of the alumni who invited a student, a prayer warrior for the Project, a mission partner making this opportunity possible, a board member directing us to where the Spirit blows. You are the hands, the feet, the heart of Jesus.
With you under the mantle of Our Lady,
“In what does this life of the Spirit in Mary consist? He himself is uncreated Love in her...the very love of the Most Holy Trinity...the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.” - St. Maximillian Kolbe
In honor of their final 10 days here in Krakow, I’d like to share the top 10 gifts that God has given to our students these past months.
1. Our pilgrimage day in Czestochowa was a moving encounter with Our Lady for everyone present. One of our students who comes with no faith background shared with a joyful sense of mystery, “Even I could feel something powerful, something special there.”
2. Our mountain retreat was a much needed break from the everyday. During a gorgeous March weekend, we enjoyed authentic relaxation in nature with no devices and invigorating hikes through the trails of John Paul II. We experienced why JP2 retreated to the Tatras, and learned about it from an elderly Ursuline sister who knew him personally.
3. We discovered the Eastern Catholic Church and Ukrainian culture in our educational pilgrimage in Lviv. A whole day private tour of downtown, attending divine liturgies, and front row seats to a stunning ballet made for a great trip across the eastern border.
4. World Youth Alliance offered to fully sponsor three JP2 Project students to participate in their European Youth United Conference in Madrid, Spain. They had an incredible weekend with 40 other youth from around the globe as they drafted a policy that will be submitted to European Parliament in defense of human dignity.
5. Our 5-day pilgrimage in Rome was unforgettable! We didn't tour the Sistine Chapel, but rather experienced it for the purpose it was created: worship. After museum hours, we participated in a breathtaking Lenten Vespers ceremony within Michelangelo's masterpiece with only a few hundred select individuals. On the birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, we prayed the rosary and ate dinner with his niece Wanda Gawronska, who still at age 92 heads the Frassati Association to spread the legacy of this blessed who also influenced young Wojtyła! These were stars among the “ordinary” moments of historic basilicas, hidden gems, inspiring saints, great friends, each other, and delicious Italian cuisine.
6. We had plenty of opportunity to practice our own Polish hospitality with over 30 guests here at our residence, the JP2 Center/Sanctuary. In one very fun weekend, we hosted 18 students from 5 universities, and 8 more students from 5 universities over the course of the semester (in addition to other friends and family who have visited).
7. Easter Triduum: Wow. Everyone wanted to stay home in Krakow for Easter and thank God we did. Simply participating in the liturgical events was a retreat in itself. Chrism Mass at the Divine Mercy Shrine. Night adoration Holy Thursday and Good Friday in specially arranged chapels in the JP2 Sanctuary. Stations of the Cross and the Hour of Mercy together before the powerful Good Friday liturgy. Polish traditions of painting eggs and the blessing of the Easter foods. Magnificent Easter Vigil & Eucharistic Procession with Cardinal Dziwisz here. Our own late night feast and breakfast the next morning with the resident priests of the Sanctuary.
8. Divine Mercy Sunday happened last week! Yes, we were all there, with countless pilgrims in the pouring rain, to encounter God’s Mercy, in the heart of Mercy. Night adoration, reception of the sacraments, and meditating on the exhortations of John Paul II, Apostle of Mercy (check out this video).
9. Christ in the City! Every last Thursday of the month, this huge nightly gathering for Mass, adoration and confessions (even in English) in the heart of Krakow has the mission of putting the Eucharistic Christ at the center of our lives, as JP2 encouraged. The students absolutely love this event and have been uplifted spiritually through it.
10. The ordinary is good. The Theology of Christian Marriage according to Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II, taught by renowned Rev. Prof. Jarosław Kupczak, is the favorite course. The students are learning to cook a few times a week, and community life is filled with healthy joys and challenges. Fortunately, even among the challenges, life here is good. I can tell God is at work when a normal dinner, after months of being with the same people, is filled with hysterical laughter.
Thank you for being a part of this beautiful work of God.
“Like Mary, Joseph also believed in the Lord’s word and came to share in it. Like Mary, he believed that this divine plan would be fulfilled through their willing co-operation. And this is what happened: the eternal Son of God became man in the Virgin Mother’s womb.” - John Paul II
Last time I wrote it was the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Today too is another feast of St. Joseph- the Worker: a superb way to kick off the month dedicated to the Mother of God and Our Mother. Through the intercession of Jesus’ earthly family, that so heavily influenced the person of our patron, I pray for you and invite you once again to renew your participation in this work of God.
Personally, May brings mixed feelings, but overall hopeful anticipation.
I’d like to bring you all in the loop about where we stand with partnerships, what this small (but solid) Spring 2019 study abroad group is up to, and what opportunities lie ahead for summer and autumn.
We’re happy to announce our official affiliation with fantastic institutions on our new partnerships page. From volunteer organizations to home institutions in the US, such as Northeast Catholic College, who will be sending every sophomore class to Krakow as part of their core curriculum starting in 2021. We’re in conversation with faculty and staff from a handful of other universities, who are also working to get the program affiliated at their schools. If you’re interested in partnering with the JP2 Project in some way, either to offer our programs to your young people, or to have our young people benefit from your resources, please shoot me an email!
Spring 2019 Cohort
Until our affiliations with universities really begin to flourish, our full semester programs will be limited. To be honest, there was a point last year where we questioned whether it was too early to run a full semester program. We couldn’t be more grateful that we decided to launch this Spring 2019 semester! Had we not, our lives would never have been blessed by these individuals, hailing from Catholic University of America, Augustine Institute, Franciscan University, Augustana University. In addition, a Polish-Irish student, already here in Krakow, and a Czech student participating in UPJP2’s international program, joined our community this semester too! The students have already created a family atmosphere, not only for themselves, but one that welcomes the other international students here in Kraków. A number of them have joined in for the JP2 Project sponsored classes at the university and even our activities outside of the classroom. The “yes” of our students, and the JP2 Project team (yes, we mean you, mission partners) is bearing fruit in the lives of young people we weren’t even trying to reach.
Filling Our Upcoming Programs
High School Pilgrimage: Accepting applications until end of March! This is a powerful journey for young women that ought to be shared with your family, parish, or school community.
Young Families Pilgrimage: We’ve had a few families sign up and are able to welcome just a few more. If you have an inkling that your family should do this, BE NOT AFRAID. Let’s talk.
Fall Study Abroad: Accepting applications NOW. Remember, students from any university are welcome! "Your future starts today, not tomorrow!" -JP2
Young Adults Theology of the Body Program: Also accepting applications, but this program is filling up. More spots for men are available than for ladies right now.
Summer Study Abroad: Application period is officially closed, but we have space for two more men and women who may have just found out about the program. Email us if you’re interested.
Want to sponsor someone? Contact us!
Feel called to get more involved but not sure how you can help? Write me an email and let’s take it from there!
Please, please, please remember our team and young people in your prayers this Lent. This is how the mission bears fruit.
Totus Tuus Maria,
Hello again from Krakow! The MacDonald family has safely returned home to (as our 3-year old daughter calls it) “John Paul II’s house!”. The US Tour was amazing: thank you for being a part of that. We’ll be rolling out some of the big developments for 2019 that have sprung from that incredible journey. Stay tuned! This year is going to be momentous!
We have a BIG goal to start off the year: finally purchasing a van for our programs! We absolutely need your help, especially since we want to raise all the funds in less than 2 weeks, before our Spring Study Abroad group arrives!
Until now, we’ve been managing with Krakow’s public transportation. But as our programs grow and we hit all seasons, it is time to professionalize our operations here. The van will serve to cover basic needs of running errands, from groceries to laundry, to transporting our participants to and from the airport, and securing the safety measure of having our own wheels for when we need them most.
What are the dream wheels? A 9-passenger All-Wheel-Drive van. This will provide safe and efficient transportation for all our program’s operations, no matter what the weather.
Yes, the young Karol Wojtyla walked to work at night in the winter in wooden clogs; he didn’t have an AWD van! But he also lost his entire family, was hit by a nazi truck and suffered multiple assassination attempts, including being stabbed and shot. No need for literal imitation of the saints in every situation :)
To help us purchase this clutch van for our programs here in Krakow, we are asking for matching gift donors. If you would like to talk about this, please reach out to me at +1 407 906 0073, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the biggest fundraising campaign we are launching, and it is just one of our many needs this year (which include salaries for staff, travel for chaplains, and student sponsorships).
We want to thank all of you for your financial support, all your many prayers and your hospitality during 2018. We are so excited to have such a wonderful family of supporters to accompany us into 2019 as we accomplish this great work our Lord has set before us, together!
You and your families are in our prayers!
Co-Founder and VP Operations
The John Paul II Project
16. Atheist Testimony
15. Summer Success
14. My Time Abroad, by Justin Read
13. Officially Consecrated, in Mary's City
12. Top 10 Semester Highlights of Spring 2019
11. Looking Forward in May
10. Institutions & Individuals, and You?
9. We Need Your Help to Get Some Wheels
8. Merry Christmas with a Testimony
7. Not Because of the Turkey, but seriously
6. Mercy Made Real on the US Tour
5. "This is Awesome. Can I do Something?"
4. Carrying the Torch Back to the USA
3. First Program: Mission Accomplished!
2. Springtime is beginning to dawn
1. Build for the Builders