St. Pope John Paul II’s Legacy: Faith leads us beyond ourselves
Father Nonso Ohanaka

In last Sunday's Gospel reading at Mass, the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask if it was legal to pay the census tax. Jesus' answer was, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” This scripture speaks to two of our basic responsibilities: our duty to our community and our duty to God. When we look at the life of Saint John Paul II, we see these two aspects of our lives in full display. He was a man of great faith and deep prayer, but he was also animated in his preaching for the sake of the world, especially for the poor and marginalized.

Considered the first globally oriented pope, Saint John Paul II truly sought change and peace. His preaching style drew many to him and he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. It was an encounter with him that helped lay the foundation of our school as the words outside the auditorium relate: “A papal audience in September of 1997 inspired Ann and Monroe Carell, Jr. to endow this high school with its principal gift. May this school always serve as a field for young people to exercise their talents that they may later enlist those talents in the service of this world that God has made.”

Following the Gospel passage, Pope John Paul II believed that young people have a vital role to play in the Church and in society, and he called on them to be a sign of hope and to proclaim the Gospel to their peers. When Christ speaks of civic duties and religious duties, he uses the conjunction and, not or. He shows us that our duty to God is as essential as our duty to one another. Likewise, the two complement and strengthen each other. Religious affiliation correlates with our participation in the community and social life of our nation.1  Pope John Paul encouraged all Christians to participate in the life of the community, because the defense of human dignity is an area in which we must all be involved.2 This was evident in his travels around the world, preaching against the abuses and exploitation that were taking place. He sought to mobilize people, especially young people, to work for the alleviation of suffering.

Of course, social justice is not an end in itself. Our ultimate goal is heaven and holiness. Our work on earth merely points us toward our ultimate goal. St. John Paul II urged young people to cling to Christ and his cross. Recognizing the fear and confusion they face, he said in the inaugural homily of his pontificate, “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.” After all, Christ is the light in the darkness of our lives. He is our source of hope. As members of his body, we bring that hope to the world. Young people have a special role to play, precisely because they are young. In them we see hope for the future. As our school's mission statement says: "Inspired by faith, Pope John Paul II Preparatory School prepares students . . . for lives of learning and service according to the Gospel.”

The Gospel, Christ himself, is the source of our action in the world. Pope John Paul II saw his role as pope in the same light. His mission was animated by his faith, and he would spend countless hours in prayer. He would sneak away to pray, so much so that one of his attendants once found him praying in a broom closet. This is perhaps the greatest takeaway from his life: to be truly fruitful, we must put Christ at the center of everything. Everything we do must begin and end with prayer. 

This relationship with God is what gives meaning to everything we do. JPII tells us, “Faith leads us beyond ourselves.” For our students, as they grow in their faith, their educational pursuits can flourish. They can be challenged to address the problems of the world in real ways that lead to human flourishing, just as we pray in the Lord's Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Although we cannot bring about a utopia on earth, we seek to make God's will present on earth. That will is for all humanity to come to know His truth and freedom. Together with our patron, we hope to instill this in the hearts and minds of all the students entrusted to our care.

Pew Research Center, “Religion’s Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement and Health Around the World,” January 31, 2019, Accessed 25 October 2023.

Blakemore, William B.. "St. John Paul II". Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Oct. 2023, Accessed 25 October 2023.

photo of Fr. Nonso Ohanaka

Father Nonso Ohanaka, School Chaplain

Father Ohanaka is the eldest of five children. He was born in Nigeria, and his family moved to the United States when he was five. Fr. Ohanaka has always been Catholic, and faith played a big part in his life growing up. He attended a boarding school in Nigeria for middle school and returned to the U.S. after his sophomore year. He attended Stratford STEM Magnet for his junior year and graduated from MNPS Middle College High School. Before starting the seminary application process, he attended Austin Peay for a year as a physics major. Fr. Ohanaka graduated from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH in 2018 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree. He then earned a Master of Divinity degree from Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, IN, in 2022.