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Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Saint Maximilian Kolbe
  • Century: 20th Century
  • Patronage: Against Drug Addictions, Drug Addicts, Families, Imprisoned People, Journalists, Political Prisoners
  • Feast Day: August 14th

Patronage – Against Drug Addictions, Drug Addicts, Families, Imprisoned People, Journalists, Political Prisoners, Pro-life Movement

St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe in Zdunska Wola, which was part of the Russian Empire at that time.  He had four brothers, and his father was German, and his mother was Polish.  His brother was eventually captured by the Russians and hanged for fighting for the independence of a partitioned Poland.  He had one brother that passed at one year old, and another at four years. 

Kolbe’s life was strongly influenced by a childhood vision of the Virgin Mary, that he described as: “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 preserve in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr.  I said that I would accept them both”. 

In 1907, Kolbe and his surviving 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.  He was allowed to enter the novitiate, and eventually adopted the name Maximilian Maria, to show his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In 1912, he was sent to Krakow and in the same year, to a college in Rome.  He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a doctorate of theology at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure.   While in Rome as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes Pius X and Benedict XV during an anniversary celebration by the Freemasons.  He described this celebration saying that they placed St. Michael the archangel, lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer.  Also, many pamphlets were distributed to the people, in which the Holy Father was attacked shamefully. 

This event inspired St. Kolbe to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary to work for conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church, specifically the Freemasons.  He even added to the Miraculous Medal prayer, “Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.  And for all those who do not have recourse to thee; especially the Masons and all those recommended to thee”. 

The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. Kolbe also used radio to spread his Catholic faith and to speak out against the atrocities of the Nazi regime. He is the only canonized saint to have held an amateur radio license, with the call sign SP3RN.

In 1918, Kolbe was ordained a Priest.  He returned to the newly independent Poland, where he was very active in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, founding and supervising a monastery, Niepokalanow, near Warsaw.  He also continued a seminary, radio station, and several other organizations and publications there. 

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.

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 seminary, which remains, is a prominent part of the Roman Catholic Church in Japan.  He built the seminary in the side of a mountain.  When the atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, Kolbe’s monastery was saved because the other side of the mountain took the main force of the blast. 

During the 2nd World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanow.  On February 17th, 1941 he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison.  On May 28th, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner # 16670.  In late 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the guards to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts.  The guards picked a man that cried out, “My wife, my children”, so St. 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 so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid.  Those there present at the injection say that St. Kolbe raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.  His remains were cremated on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary. 

Practical Take Away

St. Maximilian Kolbe is a modern day saint that shows just how necessary it is for us to guard, protect, and promote our great faith.  As a child, he had a strong faith in our Blessed Mother, and received a vision.  He allowed this vision to be a guiding force in his life, eventually being ordained.  He spent his entire life promoting the faith, and building up the Church.  Eventually his capture and being sent to Auschwitz would cost him his life.  He willingly laid down his life in 1941, for a fellow prisoner.  No greater love has one than to lay down his life for a friend.  How far are we willing to go today, to defend, protect, and promote the faith?