He was 58 years old when he took over the Catholic church.
Three years into the job, Monsignor Michael Schmitz of St. Mary's parish in Wausau met the pope, and says he'll never forget it.
Hunched over and not able to stand, Pope John Paul II delivered a mass in front of thousands, marking his 25th year as pontiff.
His frailty might be what pops into your mind first, but he has been known for his charisma and sense of humor.
"People once criticized him for having a swimming pool because he is a sportsman, as you know," Schmitz says. "And he would commend that by saying, first of all, it was a gift, and secondly, it would be more costly to have a new election than to have a swimming pool and a healthy pope."
In 1981, Schmitz and the pope baptized people at the Easter vigil mass at the Vatican.
A few years later, he and his parents met the pope again at a small reception in Rome.
There were 12 languages spoken at the gathering, and the pope spoke them all.
"It was kind of a pentecostal miracle, and my mother was very impressed by that, so much so that when pope spoke to her, she didn't find any words and only began to cry, and he very fatheredly consoled her and spoke to her. It was very impressive for my parents. They will never forget it."
Schmitz says he believes the pope has done a good job of leading the church through the sex abuse scandal, and for getting the world's youth more involved in the church.