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A Memoir I Never Expected to Write

When the second volume of my John Paul II biography, The End and the Beginning, was published in 2010, I thought I was finished with John Paul book-making. I hoped I’d done my best in bringing to a global audience the full story of a rich, complex life that had bent the curve of history in a more humane direction. I had tried to make a modest contribution to contemporary history by using once-classified documents from communist secret police files to illustrate previously hidden facets of the communist war against the Catholic Church. I had kept the promise I made to John Paul at our last meeting on December 15, 2004: “Holy Father, if you don’t bury me, I promise to finish your story.”

But as I traveled the world speaking about The End and the Beginning and the legacy of John Paul II, I discovered that many people were less interested in the book’s analyses than in stories: stories that would bring a beloved figure alive again; stories that would help keep John Paul II close, rather than having him drift away into the remote intangibility of the canonized. And it struck me, on reflection, that this yearning was the twenty-first-century equivalent of the love for stories than once inspired the popular medieval lives of the saints. Thus perhaps there was more to be done, in fulfilling my last promise to John Paul II.

And here, too, there was a curious symmetry.

John Paul thought he was finished with poetry when, en route to the conclave that elected him pope in 1978, he wrote “Stanislas,” his poetic valedictory to Cracow. Then, at the end of his life, he discovered there were things he wanted to say that could only be said in a poem; the result was Roman Triptych. So like the man whose life changed my own and to whose story I had already devoted two large books, I am now happy to make a triptych: to publish a third panel in my account of the emblematic figure of the second half of the twentieth century.

Read more at EPPC.

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