Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Saint of Auschwitz
Feastday: 14 August
Also known as: Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Martyr of Charity
Maximilian Kolbe was born on 7 January 1894 in Zdunska-Wola, near Lodz, in Poland. His name wasn't always Maximilian. He was born the second son of Juul Kolbe and Maria Dubrowska and was given the baptismal name of Raymond. About the time of his First Holy Communion, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him. In 1906, about the time of his First Holy Communion, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him; he was about 12 years of age. During the time the Blessed Virgin was appearing to him, she offered him the graces of virginity or martyrdom and asked him which he wanted. Filled with zeal, he begged for both, and was filled thereafter with the most ardent desire to love and serve the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1907, Raymond and his elder brother entered a junior Franciscan seminary in Lwow. He was recieved as a novice in September 1910 and with the habit he took the new name of Maximilian. From 1912 to 1915, he was in Rome studying philosophy at the Gregorian College, and from 1915 to 1919 theology at the Collegio Serafico.
On April 28, 1918, Maximilian was ordained a priest. The next day, he celebrated his first Mass in Rome, in the beautiful Basilica of S. Andrea delle Fratte at the "Altar of the Miracle," where the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to the Jew, Ratisbonne, who was instantly converted. At that altar of the Madonna, Maximilian stood as a living model of Mary's priest. Let us ponder the two of them - the Madonna and Saint Maximilian - Jesus' Mother, and the priest identified with the person of Christ the Priest. How lovingly must the Madonna have looked upon that first celebration and assisted at it! And how fondly must Maximilian have regarded her and glorified her, the Queen, the Mediatrix, the Immaculate Mother of his priesthood!
His brother, Joseph, also became a Franciscan and took the name of Friar Alphonse.
In January 1917, while at the Conventual Franciscan Friars' seminary in Rome, young Maximilian Kolbe heard the Miraculous Medal conversion story of Alphonse Ratisbonne. This wonderful account inspired him to recognize the powerful role that God had given Mary in the work of leading people to conversion and growth in holiness. He understood that the Miraculous Medal symbolized her active presence in the Church as Mediatrix of all the graces that flow from the Heart of Christ. For the next nine months, Maximilian meditated upon the Miraculous Medal, the apparition of Our Lady to St Catherine Laboure' and the marvel of Ratisbonne's conversion.
On the evening of October 16, 1917, the young seminarian was ready to put these Marian insights into a concrete plan of action. He gathered six Franciscan companions in a room at the seminary on Rome's Via San Teodoro to establish the Militia of the Immaculata. This movement, which now numbers millions of members worldwide, would bind people together around one compelling and fruitful spiritual union with Mary Immaculate. The MI would embrace all ages and all vocations in the church-clergy, religious, lay men and women--stirring each to form a person-to-person relationship with Mary by means of the "Act of Total Consecration." St Maximilian made the Miraculous Medal the insignia of the MI movement. He recommended that people wear it as an external sign of their life-consecration to Jesus Christ through his mother. Mindful of Mary's promise to St Catherine that "all who wear it will receive great graces," St Maximilian saw the medal as a means of safeguarding the consecration. It reminds the MI members that by their consecration they belong to Mary, work for her and become one with her, so that she might act through them as her instruments of evangelization.
Father Maximilian returned to Poland in 1919 and began spreading his Militia of the Immaculata movement of Marian consecration, which he founded on October 16, 1917, in the seminary of the Conventual Franciscan Friars in Rome, via San Teodoro 42. The “Militia of the Immaculata” is a worldwide evangelization movement. In 1922, the Movement was canonically established as a Pious Union of the Faithful and in 1926, Pope Pius XI elevated it to the status of a Primary Union. In 1927, he established an evangelization center near Warsaw called Niepokalanow, the "City of the Immaculata" (Marytown). Not content with his work in Poland, Maximilian and four brothers left for Japan in 1930. Within a month of their arrival, penniless and knowing no Japanese, Maximilian was printing a Japanese version of the Knight; the magazine, Seibo no Kishi grew to a circulation of 65,000 by 1936. In 1931, he founded a monastery in Nagasaki, Japan comparable to Niepokalanow. It survived the war, including the nuclear bombing, and serves today as a center of Franciscan work in Japan. In mid-1932, he left Japan for Malabar, India, where he founded a third Niepokalanow house. However, due to a lack of manpower, it did not survive. Poor health forced him to curtail his missionary work and return to Poland in 1936. On December 8, 1938, the monastery started its own radio station. By 1939, the monastery housed a religious community of nearly 800 men, the largest in the world in its day, and was completely self-sufficient including medical facilities and a fire brigade staffed by the religious brothers.
When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Saint Maximilian was ordered to cease his publishing. Niepokalanow then turned its attention to treating the war injured. Before long, the Gestapo arrested Father Kolbe and imprisoned him at Amtitz. He was released, but only to be arrested again on February 17, 1941. This time he was sent to the dreaded Auschwitz, and there under an inhuman monster of a commandant named Fritz, he became known as Prisoner Number 16670, just one more of the thousands of human statistics living in the terror of that vast horror chamber. Maximilian Kolbe would have been hated enough by his Nazi keepers just for being a Pole. But he was a Catholic priest as well, and his tormentors reserved their finest cruelty for that class of prisoner. In spite of his obviously wretched health, he was assigned the hardest and dirtiest tasks in the camp. Dogs were set upon him supposedly to make him work faster, but actually more to torture the poor man. And should he stumble or fall in his cruel work, as he did many times, he would be beaten and kicked till he lost consciousness. It was late in July 1941 that a prisoner in his own block escaped. By three o'clock the prisoner was still not found and Fritch selected his victims. One of them, Francis Gajowniczek, cried out, "My poor wife, my poor children! What will happen to my family!"
At that moment Maximilian stepped forward. Fritz bellowed, "What does this Polish pig want?" The reply came: "I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children." A witness recalls: "From astonishment, the commandant appeared unable to speak. After a moment, he gave a sign with his hand. He spoke but one word: 'Away!' Gajowniczek received the command to return to the row he had just left. In this manner, Father Maximilian took the place of the condemned man." He was then sent to the starvation chamber. The secretary and interpreter for this bunker was so impressed by Father Kolbe's heroic actions that he kept an exact record of his last days, more detailed than the job required. Each day the guards would remove the bodies of those who had died. The sounds of screaming and crying were not heard from the starvation bunker. Instead, the sounds of Father Kolbe leading the Rosary and singing hymns to the Immaculata with the other prisoners in the bunker could be heard. While the guards were away, the secretary would go into the bunker to speak with and console the prisoners. When Father Kolbe could no longer speak from his hunger and lack of energy, he would whisper his prayers. After two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners. Only four prisoners were left, Father Kolbe was one of them. They injected a lethal dose of cabolic acid into each prisoner. Father Kolbe, the last prisoner left to be killed, raised his arm to the guard. On August 14, 1941, the eve of the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, Father Kolbe was martyred. The next day, his body was cremated.
On October 17, 1971, Maximilian Kolbe was beatified. Like his Master, Jesus Christ, he had loved his fellow-men to the point of sacrificing his life for them. "Greater love hath no man than this ..." and these were the opening words of the papal decree introducing the process of beatification. Fr Kolbe's canonisation was not long delayed. It was the Pope from Poland, John Paul II, who had the joy of declaring his compatriot a saint on October 10, 1982.
St Maximilian Kolbe's feast day is August 14th, the day before the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, pray for us.
Francis Gajowniczek and his wife
Link to a website also dedicated to Saint Maximilian Kolbe: http://www.saintmaximiliankolbe.com/
Prayer Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Dear Christ, Saint Maximilian was imprisoned in Auschwitz where he ministered to the captives and celebrated Mass by consecrating bread and wine that had been smuggled in. He was martyred after he voluntarily took the place of a young married prisoner condemned to die. Since he's the patron saint of drug addicts and people in prison, I ask him to intercede for the inmates in our jails. O Lord, heal their hearts and protect them from the evil that surrounds them. I also ask him to pray for the addicts in my family and my friends' families. O Lord, set them free from the prison of their addictions. Saint Maximilian, pray for us.
Novena to Saint Maximilian Kolbe
O Lord Jesus Christ, who said,
"greater love than this no man has
that a man lay down his life for his friends,"
through the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe
whose life illustrated such love, we
beseech you to grant us our petitions...
(State your intention here.)
Through the Militia Immaculata movement,
which Maximilian founded,
he spread a fervent devotion to Our Lady
throughout the world.
He gave up his life for a total stranger
and loved his persecutors,
giving us an example of unselfish love for all men - a love that was inspired by true devotion to Mary.
Grant, O Lord Jesus,
that we too may give ourselves entirely
without reserve to the love
and service of our Heavenly Queen
in order to better love
and serve our fellowman
in imitation of your humble servant, Maximilian.
Recite the following prayers...
3 Hail Mary...
1 Glory Be...