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Memories from Belgian College, first residence of Karol Wojtyla in Rome

2011-04-30

Dirk Smet
Rector, Pontifical Belgian College (Rome)

“Karol Wojtyla was extremely integrated in the intellectual climate of the school. He lived there while working on his doctoral dissertation on the faith of St. John of the Cross at the Angelicum University.”
“At that time there were 22 students in the school and the rector was Maximilian De Turstenberg who was later named a cardinal.”

He would later describe these years as ones of intense study in his book "Gift and Mystery." Here he came into contact with the cradle of Christianity and thrived in an environment of intellectual activity. During these years he met Jozef Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers in Belgium.

Dirk Smet
Rector, Pontifical Belgian College (Rome)

“Karol Wojtyla was very interested in this pastoral movement aimed at young workers. He was very interested in bringing this experience to Poland, especially when he became a bishop.”

It was here that Wojtyla improved his French, as well as learning German, Italian, and English. Besides being remembered as a studious young man at the college, he is also remembered for his great piety.

Dirk Smet
Rector, Pontifical Belgian College (Rome)

“His roommates would say they were amazed at his devotion. Everyone remembers seeing him a lot at the chapel in time of prayer. He was a very active man, but also with a great contemplative spirit.”

It was a time when great friendships were forged that would last a lifetime. In 1979, when he was already pope, he invited all the students from the Belgian College to the Vatican where they held a Mass together. These encounters would repeat over the years.

Dirk Smet
Rector, Pontifical Belgian College 
(Rome)
“In 1986 the pope came to visit the new headquarters of the Belgian College. There he met current students and also with his former roommates from their days as students.”

In 1994 he returned to invite members of the College to the Vatican to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the institution.

This residence in Rome will be remembered for hosting a young Polish priest who would become one of the greatest popes in the history of the Church.


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