The First JPII Institute
Pope John Paul II established the Pontifical Institute for the study of Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome in 1981. John Paul II’s interest in the theology and pastoral care of marriages and families goes back at least to his days as a young priest and university chaplain. As an academic he wrote extensively on these matters; as pope he often taught in this area, including his great Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which followed upon the 1980 Synod of Bishops, devoted to the Family.
In response to needs identified by that Synod, John Paul II created the Pontifical Council for the Family and planned the establishment of a new ‘Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family’. He intended to announce this in the course of his Wednesday general audience in St Peter’s Square on 13 May 1981. Just before he could do so, however, the Holy Father was shot in an assassination attempt.
As a result, the promulgation of the Institute was delayed, and its Apostolic Constitution, Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum, was not issued until the Feast of the Rosary in the following year. On that occasion the Pope entrusted the Institute to the care of Our Lady of Fatima, to whose intercession he attributed his miraculous survival on the day the Institute was to have been born, the anniversary of her first apparition.
The Pope empowered the Institute to grant postgraduate degrees and diplomas and to direct research in its own right. At the same time, the Institute enjoys a special relationship with the Pontifical Lateran University. The President of the Institute, who is directly appointed by the Pope, is Monsignor Livio Melina.
The JPII Institute Worldwide
“The Institute has ... a unique status among the Church’s academic institutions. In fact, it is one ... and at the same time, it is juridically organised into branches on the various continents.”
(Pope John Paul II in his address to the Faculty of the Institute, 27 August 1999)
By the 1990s, full sessions of the Institute had been established or were evolving in Washington DC (USA), in Valencia (Spain), in Mexico City and Guadalajara (Mexico), in Cotonou (Benin), in Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) and in Changanacherry (India).
However, as the Holy Father had noted on a number of occasions, the last region of the world without a campus of the Institute was South East Asia and Oceania. It is widely recognised that married couples and families in Australia and neighbouring regions labour under ever-increasing pressures. Individuals and local communities look to the Church for renewed leadership and pastoral care for marriages and families, confident that the Church has a particular wisdom to offer in these areas.
In response to the Holy Father’s expressed desire that the Institute be present on all continents and in all parts of the world, the feasibility of an Australian campus was investigated.
The JPII Institute in Melbourne
Following a visit in 1999 by the then President of the Institute, Bishop Angelo Scola (now Archbishop of Milan), the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference unanimously resolved the following:
"Conference shares the Holy Father’s express desire to see a branch of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family established in Australia to serve the needs of Church and society in our region in this vital area. Conference wishes to convey to the Holy Father, the Chancellor, and the President of the Institute our support for the proposal that the Institute be established in Melbourne in the near future."
The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family was opened in Melbourne in July 2001 under the auspices of the Melbourne Archdiocese. It was accredited as a higher education provider authorised to conduct its several graduate diploma and degree courses by the Minister for Education and Training (Victoria).
In addition to addressing the theological and pastoral issues of marital and family life, the Melbourne campus of the Institute also offer courses of study in bioethics—especially as it relates to respect for the dignity of the human person, for marriage and for the natural family.
The JPII Institute in Melbourne works in close collaboration with the worldwide Pontifical Institute. Together these campuses have now offered the Institute’s program to thousands of students from almost every nation.