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