Pope John XXIII Lesson Plan


Pope John XXIII
Enjoy this lesson about Pope John XXIII, from Finding God, Grade 8. © Loyola Press.

Download a PDF of the student pages.

Learning Outcomes

The students will be able to

  • identify the contributions Saint Pope John XXIII made to the Church.
  • state that John XXIII lived a life of devout prayer that helped him recognize the voice of God in his life.

Key Terms

secular— not overtly or specifically religious
sacred— dedicated or set apart for the worship of God


  • Boxes with both secular and religious items

Before You Begin

Before the session, prepare boxes with both secular and religious items, such as baseball cards, cereal bars, rosaries, and prayer cards.

Opening Prayer: Daily Examen (optional)

Have young people close their eyes. Then guide them through these steps.

  • Still your mind and quiet your body. For a moment or two, just breathe. Feel the air pass into you and out of you.
  • Rewind your mind to yesterday at this time and then move forward hour by hour. Ask yourself, “Where did I go, and what did I do? Did I stay conscious of God’s presence, or did I forget about God?”
  • Choose one moment when you forgot about God or when your actions did not reflect God. Ask yourself, “How would this ‘everyday moment’ have been different if I had seen God in the situation? What might God have been trying to say or do through me?”
  • Be open to God’s voice now. What is God saying to you in this moment? What might God be nudging you to do today?
  • Ask God to help you carry him into your everyday life. Thank God for giving you the gift of himself.
  • Pray Amen silently when you are ready.

1. Begin

During the session, arrange young people into small groups and give a box to each group. Have young people organize the items in the boxes into logical categories. Invite volunteers to explain what categories they used and why. Write on the board the words secular and sacred. Ask young people to define the words. Say: Today’s lesson will teach us that there is no distinction between sacred and secular because we will explore how the Church calls us to live out our faith in our daily lives.

2. Introduce the Saint

Invite a volunteer to read aloud the paragraph titled We Are Sent. Ask: What tradition did John XXIII change after he became pope? (He hired a cook and began inviting people over for dinner.) What did the meals he shared with others help him do? (remain close to the people he served as pope) Why is it important for the pope to remain close to the people he serves? (Possible answer: so that he can better respond to their needs)

How the Saint Relates

Read aloud the feature titled How the Saint Relates. Ask: What did John XXIII’s spirituality enable him to do? (serve God’s people) Encourage young people to develop their own spirituality by praying often.

3. Connect

Invite volunteers to read aloud the section titled Elected Pope. Ask: What else did John XXIII do after he was elected pope to help him remain close to the people he served? (He visited people in prisons and children in hospitals.) Point out that during the time John XXIII was pope, people often worked long hours for little pay. Say: By standing up for social justice and the rights of workers, Pope John XXIII reminded people that we all have inherent dignity as human beings because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Remind young people that an encyclical is a letter written by the pope that is meant for the whole Church.

Invite a volunteer to read aloud the section Prayer and Reflection. Say: Pope John XXIII’s strong prayer life helped him hear God’s voice in his life. Remind young people that an active prayer life helps us hear God’s voice in our own lives so that we can better respond to his call. Point out that keeping a journal is one form of prayer.

Invite a volunteer to read aloud the section Calling a Council. Say: At the Second Vatican Council, Church leaders worked together to discern how God’s Spirit was calling the Church to respond to changes in society. Explain that the council demonstrated the Church’s ability to find a balance between remaining faithful to Tradition while also remaining open to God’s ongoing Revelation.

4. Close

Say: Pope John XXIII spent time nurturing his prayer life. This gave him the strength and passion to respond to the needs of the People of God. Point out that when we nurture our own prayer life, we receive the strength and passion to live out our vocation.

If Time Allows: Papal Themes

Point out that a “theme” often emerges during a man’s time as pope. Say: The importance of social justice was a theme that emerged during Pope John XXIII’s time as pope. Have young people research the writings and accomplishments of various popes from the 19th and 20th centuries. Ask young people to identify any themes they find. Then invite young people to imagine that they have been elected pope. Have them decide what they would most like to accomplish while holding the office and why. After young people write a few sentences describing the theme of their papacy, invite them to share their ideas.

Image credit: Vatican [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons