“It all began here in Wadowice – the life, the school, the university, the theater, and the way of a priest.”
One story my friend Henry Zguda always told his friends and family was that he went to high school with the Pope. He never claimed to be friends but that they knew each other “we ran in different crowds.’ Henry even said he remembered roll call in his Latin class ‘because Wotyla came before Zguda.’
It’s a great story – especially if it can be proved. In fact proving or disproving Henry’s claim was a key motivator to coming to Poland – to verify once and for all whether it was just a great story, or was true.
To this extent Piotr Malarek, the guide and translator I’m working with had set up an appointment a month ago with the director of Karol Wytyla’s high school in Wadowice. We met on October 1; since I’m traveling I wasn’t even aware of the big announcement the day prior for the date set for sainthood – there was a certain excitement in the air. Janina Turek, Dyrektor of the school was extremely gracious; she had not committed much time for the appointment; yet we were there almost two hours.
In every which way we tried to verify whether Henry and Karol Wotyla could have shared a Latin teacher as Henry said. Janina even ushered us into the ‘Pope’s classroom’ – a newer school addition dedicated to the Pope. On the wall there was a list of every instructor in the history of the school; we had a list of every Latin instructor since the school opened in 1866. And, well, sorry to Henry fans – there is no indication they actually went to school together in high school.
There were many similarities between Henry and Karol Wotyla: Henry was born 1917 in Krakow; Wotyla was born 1920 in Wadowice. However Wadowice is approximately one hour from Krakow – not a close commute to share teachers, as Henry indicated. They both were athletes, both attended the underground school in Krakow after WWII began. Actually they both worked in quarries though Henry’s work was as a prisoner at K.L. Buchenwald later in the war. However – if there was a correlation it was not in high school. Afterwards Rick and I sampled the cream cake known as ‘Pope’s cake’ with our guide Piotr.