Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of a truly brave and admirable Saint. I have included a photo of him above as well as some information which I hope you find interesting and inspiring.
I have a cousin named Max and he is named after Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I always tell him that I think he has one of the greatest patrons anyone could ever have. I will call him today and tell him the same thing. Saint Maximilian Kolbe is, I think, a Saint for the people of today and especially for the young people of today. Any young Christian man or woman could not help but be awestruck by the selflessness and love of this man. I hope that as you read this entry you might tell others about him and let his life death and faith inspire you and them.
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time. He was the second son of Julius Kolbe and Maria Dabrowska. His father was an ethnic German and his mother of Polish origins. He had four brothers, Francis, Joseph, Walenty (who lived a year) and Andrew (who lived four years).
His parents moved to Pabianice where they worked first as basket weavers. Later, his mother worked as a midwife (often donating her services), and owned a shop in part of her rented house which sold groceries and household goods. Julius Kolbe worked at the Krushe and Ender Mill and also worked on rented land where he grew vegetables. In 1914, Julius joined Józef Piłsudski‘s Polish Legions and was captured by the Russians and hanged for fighting for the independence of a partitioned Poland.
Kolbe’s life was strongly influenced by a childhood vision of the Virgin Mary that he later described:
That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.
In 1907, Kolbe and his elder brother Francis decided to join the Conventual Franciscans. They illegally crossed the border between Russia and Austria-Hungary and joined the Conventual Franciscan junior seminary in Lwów. In 1910, Kolbe was allowed to enter the novitiate. He professed his first vows in 1911, adopting the name Maximilian, and the final vows in 1914, in Rome, adopting the names Maximilian Maria, to show his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Kolbe would later sing hymns to the Virgin Mary in the concentration camp.
In 1918, Kolbe was ordained a priest. In 1919, he returned to the newly independent Poland, where he was very active in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, founding and supervising the monastery of Niepokalanów near Warsaw, a seminary, a radio station, and several other organizations and publications. Maximilian Kolbe founded the monthly periodical Rycerz Niepokalanej in 1922, and in 1927 founded a Conventual Franciscan monastery at Niepokalanow, which became a major publishing centre. Kolbe left Poland for Japan in 1930, spending six years there. The monastery at Niepokalanow began in his absence to publish the daily newspaper, Mały Dziennik, which became Poland’s top-seller. Kolbe was accused of anti-semitism based on the content of these newspapers, which allegedly included claims of a Zionist plot for world domination. Researchers seeking to rebut accusations of anti-Semitism often point to the fact that Kolbe sheltered Jewish refugees during the war, and, according to one person who worked close to him: “When Jews came to me asking for a piece of bread, I asked Father Maximilian if I could give it to them in good conscience, and he answered me, ‘Yes, it is necessary to do this because all men are our brothers.’” Between 1930 and 1936, he took a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a monastery at the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese paper, and a seminary. The monastery he founded remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan. Kolbe decided to build the monastery on a mountainside that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in harmony with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe’s monastery was saved because the other side of the mountain took the main force of the blast.
Stained glass depiction of Kolbe as prisoner in the Conventual Franciscan church of Szombathely, Hungary
During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów.
On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners.
He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The first monument to Maximilian Kolbe in Poland in Chrzanów
Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on 10 October 1982, with Franciszek Gajowniczek in attendance. Upon canonization, the Pope declared St. Maximilian Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr. St. Maximilian’s beatification miracle was the July 1948 cure of intestinal tuberculosis in Angela Testoni, and in August 1950, the cure of calcification of the arteries/sclerosis of Francis Ranier was attributed to the intercession of St. Maximilian.
After his canonization, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar used by many Catholic churches.
The statue of Kolbe (left) above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey.
He is one of ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.