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St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar who established several monasteries in Poland, Japan, and India while evangelizing for the Immaculate Virgin Mary. He famously volunteered to die while in Auschwitz to save a fellow prisoner during World War II. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II for his many charitable contributions.

Youth and The Vision of St. Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe in Zduńska Wola, Kingdom of Poland on January 8, 1894. The Kingdom of Poland was a part of the Russian Empire at this time. Kolbe’s father, Julius Kolbe, was a German weaver and his mother, Maria Dabrowska, was a Polish midwife. He had three brothers, one older and two younger, but the two younger died within five years of their births. The family moved to nearby Pabianice.[1]

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s vision of the Virgin Mary convinced him of his fate as a martyr and this influenced all his future actions.

In 1906, when Max Kolbe was only 12 years old, the Virgin Mary supposedly visited him in a vision after being scolded by his mother for misbehaving. He later stated of the incident, “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. 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.”[2]

Franciscan Friar Beginnings

Max Kolbe joined his older brother, Francis, in entering the Franciscan seminary, close by in Lwow, in 1907. His teachers applauded his excellent understanding of physics, mathematics, and military strategy. His love of the military and extreme Polish patriotism changed his focus from the priesthood to joining the army. This changed when his parents decided to enter into religious life since their two children chose to do so, and St. Maximilian abandoned his military plans. In September 1910, Raymund Kolbe took the habit and received his new name Maximiliano Kolbe or Maximillian Kolbe. He moved to Rome in 1912. [3] He studied philosophy through the Pontifical Gregorian University until 1915, graduating with a doctorate. He then transferred to the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure to earn a doctorate in theology between 1915 and 1919.[4] Kolbe remained in Rome to be ordained as a priest on April 28, 1918.

Evangelizing and Converting

Maximillian Kolbe agreed with many other Catholics of the time that Freemasonry threatened the foundation of Catholicism in Europe. So on October 16, 1917, he cofounded the Militia Immaculatae, or the Crusade of Mary Immaculate, with the goal of converting heretics, most specifically freemasons, to Catholicism.[5] He returned to the recently sovereign Poland where he continued his Crusade of Mary Immaculate while firmly opposing communist and other leftist movements. Max Kolbe worked as a teacher in the Krakow seminary from 1919 to 1922.[6] He suffered a severe case of advanced tuberculosis during the same time and was forced to abandon teaching to recover.

Throughout his theological career, Maximilian Kolbe never wavered in his complete dedication to the Virgin Mary and his belief that faith in her could save the world.

Maximiliano Kolbe established a monthly review out of Krakow in January 1922 called the Knight of the Immaculate. He printed only 5,000 copies during that first publication. He changed to the Grodno Friary in 1922 and, by 1927, he printed 70,000 copies monthly. He could not produce enough copies as the review’s popularity grew and Prince Jan Drucko-Lubecki donated land in Teresin, near Warsaw, to expand his operations. Kolbe moved the Franciscans to Teresin on November 21, 1927, and they named the new city Niepokalanow, the City of the Immaculate, on December 8. They opened a junior seminary two years later and by 1939, Niepokalanow housed over 750 people, including priests, farmers, doctors, builders, mechanics, gardeners, tailors, and every other profession needed to make the seminary totally self-sustainable.[7] Kolbe journeyed to East Asia from 1930 to 1936 on evangelical missions. He began in Shanghai, China, but after little response from locals, moved on to Japan. He had more success there and settled outside Nagasaki in 1931 where he built a monastery, the second Niepokalanow, and began producing an edition of the Knight of the Immaculate in Japanese.[8] He moved on again in 1932 for Malabar, India where he founded a third, less successful Niepokalanow. Then in 1936, the first Niepokalanow requested his return to Poland.[9]

Auschwitz Imprisonment, Death, and Canonization

When the Germans invaded Poland at the start of World War II, Maximilian Kolbe refused to leave his monastery and established a temporary hospital within the grounds. The Germans arrested him on September 19,1939, after taking Teresin, but released him on December 8. He would not sign the Deutsche Volksliste that would grant him German rights based on his father’s ancestry.[10] Kolbe strongly opposed Nazism and he and the other monks at Niepokalanow hid more than 2,000 Jews from persecution. He used the printing powerhouse to publish anti-Nazi propaganda until the Germans forcibly closed Niepokalanow on February 17, 1941. The Gestapo arrested Kolbe and his compatriots on the same day and imprisoned them at Pawiak prison.

St. Maximilian Kolbe spent his life waiting to be a martyr and the sacrifice of his life to save another in Auschwitz allowed him to fulfill that destiny.

On May 28, the Gestapo transferred Maximilian Kolbe to Auschwitz, where he received a brand with the number 16670. He suffered much emotional and physical harassment for his faith and was beaten so badly, friendly prisoners smuggled him into the on-site hospital. When three inmates escaped in July 1941, the camp commander Karl Fritzsch chose 10 men to starve to death in order to deter future escapes. Franciszek Gajowniczek, one of the selected men, lamented for his wife and children and Kolbe immediately offered to take his place. He spent two weeks in Cell 18 with no food or water and the guards eventually gave him a carbolic acid lethal injection which he took calmly and willingly on August 14.[11] On August 15, the Assumption of Mary feast day, his remains were cremated and scattered at Auschwitz.[12] Pope Paul VI declared St. Maximilian venerable on January 30, 1969, and beatified him in 1971. Then on October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him as a saint and declared him a martyr. His feast day is August 14.[13]

References

Bibliography

Craig, M. (1973). Blessed Maximilian Kolbe: Priest Hero of a Death Camp. London: Catholic Truth Society.


Lechicki, C. (1968). Kolbe Rajmund. In W. Konopczyński (Ed.), Polski Słownik Biograficzny (XIII ed.). Poland: Nakł. Polskiej Akademii Umiejętności.

Footnotes

  1. Lechicki, 1968
  2. Armstrong, R. J., & Peterson, I. J. (2010). The Franciscan Tradition. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
  3. Craig, 1973
  4. Lechicki, 1968
  5. Craig, 1973
  6. Lechicki, 1968
  7. Craig, 1973
  8. Lechicki, 1968
  9. Craig, 1973
  10. Lechicki, 1968
  11. Craig, 1973
  12. Celestino, E. (2006, March 16). Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894 - 1941). Find A Grave Memorial.
  13. Catholic Online. (2016). St. Maximilian Kolbe. Catholic Online.