When he was nearly fatally shot during his papacy he credited the intercession of the Virgin Mary, specifically Our Lady of Fatima, with the miraculous save of his life.
Pope St. John Paul II with an Our Lady of Fatima statue after the assasination attempt on his life
But how did he develop this life-long devotion to Mary?
In his book, Gift and Mystery, Blessed Pope John Paul II credits his home parish and the nearby Carmelites for their early influence on him. He also had a very devout father who regularly took him on pilgrimages to local Marian shrines.
However, as he matured in his faith as a young adult, he singles out one overwhelming influence which changed his life. He gleaned his profound devotion to Mary largely through the writings of one man: St. Louis de Montfort.
The book that changed Karol Wojtyla's life was True Devotion to Mary The Pope relates that,
"At one point I began to question my devotion to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ. At that time, I was greatly helped by a book by Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort...
There I found the answers to my questions, Yes, Mary does bring us closer to Christ; she does lead us to him, provided that we live her mystery in Christ... The author was an outstanding theologian. His Mariological thought is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity and in the truth of the Incarnation of the Word of God".
Pope John Paul II thought so highly of the writing of St. Louis De Montfort that he spoke about the saint on many occasions. In addition, on December 8, 2003, he wrote a special letter on the occasion of the 160th Anniversary of De Montfort's publication. In this letter he wrote: "I myself, in the years of my youth, found reading this book a great help."
True Devotion to Mary had such a lasting influence on him that when he was elected Supreme Pontiff in 1978, he chose his papal motto, Totus Tuus, from words written by St. Louis De Montfort, as he describes below:
"As is well known, (in) my episcopal coat of arms ... the motto Totus tuus is inspired by the teaching of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. These two words express total belonging to Jesus through Mary: "Tuus totus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt." ("I am all Yours, and all that I have is Yours.") . . . "This Saint's teaching has had a profound influence on the Marian devotion of many of the faithful and on my own life."
There is no better way to advance quickly in holiness, no better way to please God, and no better way to guarantee one's present sanctity and eternal salvation than with a true devotion to Mary. Pope John Paul II learned this and demonstrated this truth in his life, proven now that he has been raised to the altars and numbered with the saints in heaven.
QUOTES FROM TRUE DEVOTION TO MARY BY ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
"Pray with great confidence, with confidence based on the goodness and infinite generosity of God and upon the promises of Jesus Christ. God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray."
"If you put all the love of all the mothers into one heart it still would not equal the love of the Heart of Mary for her children."
"Mary is the fruitful Virgin, and in all the souls in which she comes to dwell she causes to flourish purity of heart and body, rightness of intention and abundance of good works. Do not imagine that Mary, the most fruitful of creatures who gave birth to a God, remains barren in a faithful soul. It will be she who makes the soul live incessantly for Jesus Christ, and will make Jesus live in the soul."
"All our perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ; and therefore the most perfect of all devotions is, without any doubt, that which the most perfectly conforms, unites, and consecrates us to Jesus Christ. Now Mary being the most conformed of all creatures to Jesus Christ, it follows that, of all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms the soul to Our Lord is devotion to his holy Mother, and the more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it is consecrated to Jesus. Hence it comes to pass that the most perfect consecration to Jesus Christ is nothing else than a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin."
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
St. Louis De Montfort was a French priest who was born in 1673 and ordained at the age of 27. Recognizing his calling to be a missionary preacher, he traveled from diocese to diocese giving parish missions and preaching renewal and reform in the spiritual life, as well as devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He encountered great resistance in his apostolic work, and after being silenced by his bishop, he walked one thousand miles to Rome to seek council from the Pope as to his mission. Pope Clement XI named him a Missionary Apostolic and asked him to continue traveling and ministering to the people. He then spent the rest of his life traveling through western France preaching, teaching, hearing confessions, rebuilding churches, and opening schools.
St. Louis De Montfort wrote other profound books on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, most notably The Secret of the Rosary and The Secret of Mary which you can find here. His feast day is April 28th.
This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2013. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.