‘You will not survive this childbirth, you should have abortion done’ – Emilia Wojtyłowa heard these words from her doctor when it turned out that she was expecting her baby. Despite that, she decided to give birth to him. She still lived nine years after the birth of Karol – the future pope.

It was autumn 1919. Emilia and her husband, an officer, Karol Wojtyła and son Edmund had lived in Wadowice for 6 years, and had been renting a flat in Kościelna Street for only a year. She was over the moon when she found out that she had been expecting her another child. She was not waiting long. Son Mundek had already been 13. Her little daughter Olga, whom she had given birth to three years before, lived only for 16 hours. Emilia experienced her death very badly. She started getting worried if she would be able to get pregnant again, especially that she had already reached the age of 30. And she wanted Edmund to have a brother or a sister. Finally, her hopes were fulfilled. Finally, her family would get bigger. She was happy. But the idyll was not lasting long.

She really wanted to live

Emilie heard a diagnosis from a doctor, a famous gynecologist and an obstetrician in Wadowice Jan Moskała, which was like a verdict: that pregnancy was endangered; that she would not keep it till the end and she would not have a chance to give birth to an alive baby.

And if a baby was born, it would be at the cost of the mother’s life, she should abort the conceived baby – the doctor told her.

‘You will not survive this childbirth. You should have abortion done’ – he explained. Emilia was shocked. She was to kill her baby whom she had under her heart? Was her life more important than her child’s? After all, each life has the same value. And each life is holy – she believed strongly. But she was also aware that her life was also necessary. After all, she had a son Edmund who was only 13. He was only a child. How will he manage to live without his mother? She remembered that she had been at the same age as him when her mother had died. She knew how hard it was to be a half – orphan and she did not want to expose her child to such a fate. But if she and her baby did not survive the childbirth, what would happen? Edmund would not have either his mother or his brother. And what would happen with her husband? Would she expose him to a life as a widow? They had so many common plans. The war finished, Poland became independent, Edmund was with her now, after two years of his school in Upper Austria, he was good and sound, and was a good student. Her husband rented a new bigger flat. Their life started getting stabilized. Emily wanted to live. She really wanted to live.

At their responsibility

However, she made a quick decision. She did not have any doubts after her first talk with her husband: she would give birth to this child! After all, he had a right to live. As it was necessary, he would manage to live but she would have to make it possible for him. And whatever would happen, it meant that God’s will was such.

Emilia really wanted to fulfill her destination. In this way, she understood what it meant to be a wife and a mother. She could not escape from it now or resign from it.

- She must have been very aware of her role as a mother, extremely mature, because only this kind of person can say: I prefer to die than get rid of my child – a psychologist Maria Król – Fijewska comments today; whereas a psychologist Anna Zabrodzka adds that behavior of Wojtyłowa mother also proves her great humility. – Not her plans were important, but her life was featured by her consent to what it was. She knew that it was not her on whom everything depended. She had a clearly defined system of values.

- Another doctor, who ran Emilia’s pregnancy, came from a barracks in Wadowice, where her husband, a sub-officer – Karol Wojtyła, worked – a historian from Wadowice, Michał Siwiec – Cielebon reports who learnt his story from a midwife taking Emily’s childbirth. – The midwife told me that Emilia Wojtyłowa had been depressed because her doctor suggested her abortion. She was fully aware of her endangered life – hers and her baby’s, especially that the diagnosis had been given by a famous obstetrician in Wadowice at that time. But she became quickly trustful towards a doctor, whom her husband had found in his workplace. It was a doctor Taub who was famous for the effectiveness of his treatment of even difficult and hopeless cases. Doctor Taub was aware that keeping an alive conceived child might finish tragically. But he did not insist on abortion. He undertook the risk of running the pregnancy of Emilia to the clear request of the both spouses. At their responsibility.

Pope knew this story

Another son of Emilia was born on 18 May 1920 at about 5pm. On that day it was unusually hot as for that season. The temperature was even 30 Celsius degrees. It was also very stuffy. Emilia was lying on her bed at home. When the contractions were getting stronger, she asked a midwife to open a window. She needed more fresh air and more strength. When it was nearly 5 pm, the sounding church bell was heard and later there was heard a singing of Loretto litany to Blessed Mary the Virgin. Inhabitants of Wadowice were participating in the May Divine Service as usually in May at that time.

A coincidence? A presage of a miracle? Because just at that moment, the child of Emily was being born. She was giving birth to him, while listening to the singing of the litany to Our Lady. As if Somebody in the Heaven was helping with that childbirth.

A wonderful little boy was born. And just the boy. For he was extremely big, strong and health. And he was crying loudly, as if he wanted to outshout people singing the litany in the nearby church.

When the midwife laid the baby on the mother’s breasts, she saw tears flowing down Emilia’s cheeks, and a wide smile on her face. The mother was feeling joy, emotions and happiness that the miracle happened. Because both the baby and her were alive. Moreover, instead of a thin and weak baby, whom she had expected, she gave birth to a big and strong little boy.

Impossible became possible.

- The midwife remembered this childbirth for the whole life! She had never delivered such an unusual childbirth during singing of Loretto Litany – Michał Siwiec – Cielebon says.

- The Holy Father knew this story, because he had talked with this midwife one day and recalled later that he was being born during the singing of the litany to our Lady – says Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz. There were also other convergences. The pope said once on the anniversary of his birth, when he was in one of the Italian parishes. ‘I was born between 5 pm and 6 pm, that is, at the same time, at which I was elected pope fifty-eight years later’.

This child will be somebody great

After the birth of Karol, Emilia seemed to have become lively again, younger and stronger. In one of the remained photos, she smiles at last, holding her a few-month-old son. Wearing a dark dress, with her hair done into a bun, with long earrings. Wearing smart clothes, being elegant and joyful.

She was nearly crazy about her child – emphasized the neighbours of the Wojtyła family. She was constantly rocking him in a cradle, singing him songs at bedtime, carrying him in on a pillow, holding him on her knees. She did not call him Karol, but only - by a diminutive – Loluś. And when he was older – she called him Lolek. It was the most official name of her son.

The everyday care about her child gave her a pleasure. Although it was not easy for her. Conditions were quite difficult: water – in a well, so she had to carry it in buckets upstairs into her house. In order to bathe her child, she had to heat water and pour it into a tub. She used a stove to boil water – and first, she had to make a fire in the stove. At that time, nappies were from tetra and did not need ironing or constant washing – and there was no bathroom in the house in Kościelna street. Emilia did not have any possibility to dry underwear either. She did ironing on the table in the kitchen. Prosaic, domestic activities, including shopping, preparing meals, tidying up, took her many hours, made her exhausted and weaker.

- Mrs. Wołtyjowa brought a pram with her child outside – says the neighbor Helena Szczepańska. – In front of our tenement house there was a bit of green. There was a well in the middle. So, Mrs. Wojtyłowa brought her baby, sat at the well, and I was used to go out to a porch. She often asked me to go downstairs and look after Loluś, because she had to keep an eye on dinner or go out to do errand. So, I went downstairs and I looked after her son.

- In June 1920, when the school year finished, the another son of Emilia, Edmund, had more time and he helped her with Lolek, when her husband was at work.

- Emilia’s older son helped her with carrying the pram downstairs on the steep and curving stairs – says the neighbor Helena Szczepańska. – Moreover, his mother sent him to buy nappies and clothes. Poor Mundek used to run upstairs and I was sometimes even sorry for him! I thought then – who will grow out of this baby! They are running around him like around a prince.

Emilia loved Karol a lot, it was obvious. He was so miraculously born, it could be said, that he was saved miraculously, given by the fate and God, and now he became a an apple of the eye of mother.

Helena Szczepańska: - One day I was talking with Emilia, and she bent over the pram in which little Lolek was lying and she said: ‘This child will be somebody great’. She said it with such an inner emotion, with such certainty, which I had never met in anybody. It seems to me that the belief of Mrs. Wojtyła was shared by her husband and her older son.

Mother’s intuition of Emilia did not fail.

He learnt to suffer from his mother

However, in fact, since the birth, the everyday life of Emilia was various. Because there often such days when she was feeling very bad. In fact, since the birth of her third child, she was not well, her life had been full of illnesses and more sufferings, weakness.

However, she knew that her husband had to work in his profession and she organized activities in such a way that the house was kept in good condition, that there was always dinner and children were under care.

- It confirms the fact that she must have been a psychically strong and well-organized woman – says the psychologist Anna Zabrodzka. – It is seen that in every situation, she was active, which proves that she did not fall into depression or discouragement – adds the psychologist EwaOsóbka – Zielińska.

She also had strength thanks to her faith and prayer. Nobody remembered her complaining about her fate or speaking badly. And when it was necessary, she could ask for help. Besides Helena Szczepańska, in urgent situations, she also asked one of other neighbours for help, ZofiaPukło. When Lolek had already started to walk, she used to take him to her house, and as she had her own children, the boy could play with them. Later, when the health condition of Emilia was slowly getting worse, Mrs. Pukłowa came to the house of the Wojtyła family regularly, every Sunday, after the Holy Mass in the morning, in order to look after their matters at home. Also Emilia’s husband had to engage in them. And it must be said that he was extremely devoted to his wife and children, he practically never went anywhere after work, he spent every free moment at home. He also helped Edmund with his homework in the junior high school.

As the neighbor Maria Janina Kaczorowa recalls, in the year 1927, the illness of Emilia became very severe.

- It looked like heart illness and a kind of rheumatism. She was worried that she was so weak. I remember Mrs. Emilia being taken for treatment. I do not remember where to. She was suffering from leg disorder. And other illnesses. In Wadowice, people used to say that there was something wrong with her backbone or liver.

Other neighbours shared this opinion. They also remembered that on sunny days her husband used to bring Emilia out on a deckchair onto a balcony. She was busy with sewing and darning then.

Her son, John Paul II, also had this image of his mother.

Andre Frossard wrote: ‘In fact, he knew his mother as a person who was very ill. (…) His memories about the mother are quite vague; however, he remembers that he was very sad when once she went to Cracow without him, probably for a medical advice’.

Marta Burghardt, the author of the book ‘Roots of Wadowice of Karol Wojtyła’: - His words are extremely meaningful, in which he states that he learnt to suffer from his mother.

However, what illness Emilia had and why she was suffering so much, is not known. Even nobody of her family can explain it.

- No information on it remained – says Maria Wiadrowska today, a great – granddaughter of Emilia’s sister.

A similar opinion is expressed by other relatives coming from Kaczorowscy and Wojtyła families. There is no information about the illness details of Emilia. There is no medical documentation either, nor a single prescription.

She accepted her life as it was

In 1927 she was feeling so bad that consequences became really serious: her husband Karol decided to go on the early military retirement. He had to take care of his wife and his seven-year-old son. Emilia was not able to keep house any longer, she was not able to do the simplest duties. What is more – she was depended on others’ help. She found it difficult to do prosaic activities. What is more, there were days which she had to spend in bed, away from all matters. She was lying in a closed room for whole weeks and Lolek rarely entered her room – because his mother did not want him to look at her suffering.

So, Karol Wojtyła senior took over the management of household. He did shopping, prepared meals, did washing-up, cleaned the house, did washing. At that time, he also recalled himself the craft brought from his family home – tailoring. Lolek’s friends often saw Lolek’s father doing such activities like: sewing, remaking old clothes, darning socks, when they visited Lolek. He also found time, to tell Lolek and his friend about the history of homeland, he told them various events of the history of Poland, taught them a German language. He also taught them to swim – because he loved sport. Sometimes he wandered with Lolek and his friends in the mountains. And when Edmund came home, he (was studying medicine in Cracow at that time), joined them. He played football match with his younger brother, went for walks with him at Skawa or they played ping-pong together.

Emilia was glad that brothers had such a good contact with each other. Despite her illness, she did not make them concentrate on her, she was not complaining, although her older son, an excellent student of medicine, was interested in his mother’s health and was engaged in the process of her treatment. He checked in her medications, gave advice, consulted with doctors. Maybe it gave hope for her recovery?

As much as she could, she joined the preparations of Lolek for his First Holy Communion. It was her who taught him first prayers, explained how important faith is in the human life. Emilia observed religious life of her son with her motherly eyes, she saw how much he wanted to become an altar-boy. She was trying to support him in his decision. But she did not impose her vision on him. She understood that it had to be his choice; that each child had to experience his life according to his idea, not the mother’s. And, even if he was to regret it later.

However, when Lolek’s Communion day was approaching, in the beginning of the year 1929, the health state of Emilia got so bad that she had no strength to look after her son. Not saying about shopping for his Holy Communion: a white shirt or shoes. She was worried about it a lot and she told one of her neighbours that she was neglecting Lolek due to her illness. But, as her neighbours of those years emphasized on many occasions, Emilia, a realist by nature, could agree with God’s will in every situation. It was the most important motif of opinions of Mrs Wojtyłowa’s neighbours.

‘Time is running, eternity is waiting’

On Saturday 13 April 1929, the temperature in Wadowice was plus fifteen Celsius degrees. It was very warm especially that in Germany frosts were registered at that time. Northern-eastern wind was blowing. In the air spring was felt. The green was the presage of slow rebirth of the nature, according to the permanent rhythm of nature. The eternal order of things.

But nobody noticed it at home of the Wojtyła family. In the living room, Emilia was lying in bed in her suffering. It was cold. In the air the approaching end was felt. Irreversible passing of life. And silence around, was a presage of the preparation for leaving. For the longest journey. For the most important journey. For another side of existence. Everything according to the permanent eternal rhythm, the natural order. Because if there is life, there must be death. There is not any other possibility.

Emilia’s husband was sitting by her from the morning. He saw his wife was getting weaker and weaker hour by hour. But she was still conscious. She asked him to bring a priest from their parish, with the Holy Communion. She also wanted to receive the Sacrament of the Sick.

When the priest came, after saying the prayer ‘Our Father’, he anointed hands and forehead of Emilia with the blessed oil, and later he gave her the Holy Communion. She was lying in pains. But there was a slight smile on her face. Her eyes enlivened clearly. She was calm. In silence. She was passing away, being aware that the sacrament which she had received, unites with Christ’s Passion and prepares for passing into the eternity.

Was she afraid of death? Surely, she was, as everyone. Maybe with this difference that death was an inseparable companion of Emilia’s life, it came to take away her relatives and now it claimed for her. So, many it was an occasion to get used to it?

But is it possible to get used to death?

Whereas, it was certain, as neighbours said, Emilia trusted in God’s Mercifulness and God’s Care till the end. She did not doubt that ‘life is only changing but is not ending’. She heard these words at funerals of other people so many times, and now she was referring them to herself.

And, again, as it happened in important moments, when her earthly life was slowly finishing, she was looking at the window, at the clock with the significant writing: ‘Time is running, the eternity is waiting’. The eternity – was becoming so real. It was nearly at the hand’s reach.

What was Emilia saying before her death? – it is not known. It is good that her husband was sitting by her till the very end. It was him who brought her into this most important journey. She was passing away, with the beloved person close to her. According to the old tradition of passing away. Not behind a hospital screen, but at home, in her family.

The end of Emilia’s earthly life was on 13 April 1929.

She passed away as quietly and peacefully as she had lived.

Why did her death arrive just at that moment? Why did God need forty-five-year-old Emilia Wojtyłowa in Heaven, if she left behind her nine-year-old son at home in Wadowice, who still needed the mother so much?

At that moment it seemed so understandable and illogical. Only, from the perspective of nearly a hundred years, when this orphaned child is the most famous saint man in the world, one can find a deeper sense of this – undoubtedly too early – death. Although it is a mystery in the human sense, it is inscribed in God’s plan towards the future pope.


"Niedziela" 40/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl