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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Comiskey

Dignify and Deploy 7: Rough Starts

Hardships in childhood hinder and help. Much seems to depend on the person experiencing them. For John Wimber and Karol Wojtyla, gaps in the plan resulted in an independent thoughtfulness that remains focused under fire. Call it a lonely confidence that Jesus uses to form trailblazers.

Wimber was born in ‘34 to Midwest farmers (Kirksville, Missouri) who had lost their farm. Like many in the Great Depression, financial losers became fighters and drinkers, good-natured (usually) Robin Hoods who championed the little guy and worked hard for little. Better to not romance poverty: John’s family was bitterly divided between Mom ‘Genevieve’ Martin and Dad ‘Basil’ Wimber. Farm still intact and proud of it, the Wimbers hated the Martins who returned the favor. Basil’s cruelty fueled bad blood; Genevieve split from Basil after a month and raised John with a tribe of Martin rowdies that rivalled any movie cast assembled by John Ford or Robert Altman.

Not one big happy family: Genevieve’s parents feuded constantly but Grandpa Charley escaped by riding the rails, sometimes taking John with him. Raised fatherless, John came to know stepdad Earl years later. The posse moved in the spirit of Steinbeck’s Joad family (The Grapes of Wrath) to California in ’46. As for many in need of a break, California was kind to the Martins and to John Wimber.

Born 14 years earlier, Karol Wojtyla was a son of newly liberated Poland who had just become an independent state after 150 years. The proud nation suffered still from the warring nations around her. Karol’s early life in Wadowice near Krakow was marked by Leninist Russia fighting to make Poland its gate to Western Europe. Miraculously, the fiercely Catholic nation fended off Trotsky’s Red Army. Poland’s freedom was short-lived. In ’39, the Third Reich metastasized in Poland and initiated WWII.

Karol must have been proud of his father who was a lieutenant in the Polish army. His dad was the one constant in a family life marked more by death than life. His younger sister lived only a few days, his mother died before he was 10, and his brother, 14 years his senior and his closest ally, passed quickly from disease when Karol was 12.

I have had the privilege of praying a few times in Karol’s home parish, just a few feet from his family’s apartment. He doubtless drew strength in quiet from the God-Man and His mother. Church became home.

Love competed with loss for Wimber and Wojtyla. God saw, God sustained, God deepened His way in them as they experienced home and world east of Eden.

“Jesus, free us from viewing our lives from the ‘misses.’ Show us what we gained through hardship. Even when we didn’t know You, You knew us and used everything for our good and Your glory.

Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”


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