Saint Kolbe was born Raymond Kolbe in Zdunska Wola, Kingdom of Poland, the second son of a German weaver and Polish midwife. In childhood, his conduct was superior, often reminiscing and serious and cried when he prayed. At age 12, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and offered him two crowns, a white crown of purity or a red crown of martyrdom. He did not choose, accepting both, coloring his convictions from that day forward.
Kolbe entered a Franciscan seminary at age 13, and was ordained a priest in 1918, taking the name Maximilian Maria Kolbe. He earned two doctoral degrees, in philosophy in 1915, and in theology in 1919, teaching at a Krakow, Poland seminary from 1919 to 1922. He lived a life of total entrustment to God as the “Apostle of Consecration to Mary.” He spread his movement through a magazine promoting Marian Spirituality, the “The Knight of the Immaculate.”
In 1927, Kolbe founded a major religious publishing center, and Franciscan monastery and seminary in Warsaw, Poland. From 1930 to 1936, he founded monasteries and publications in China, India, and Japan. Poor health from tuberculosis caused his return to Poland. In 1938, he started a radio station.
After the Nazi’s invaded Poland during World War II in 1939, Father Kolbe and a few others were still living in the monastery. He refused to acknowledge his German ancestry to the Nazis and was briefly arrested and released, continuing to shelter thousands of Jews, and publishing religious works and anti-German materials.
On February 17, 1941, the Nazis shut down his monastery, radio station, and publishing house, arresting Father Kolbe and four others, sending them to the Auschwitz death camp where he celebrated Mass and gave comfort and support to prisoners. During a severe beating Father Kolbe prayed for his tormentors. After being smuggled into the infirmary Doctor Rudolph Diem said, “I can say with certainty during my four years in Auschwitz, I never saw such a sublime example of the love of God and one’s neighbor.”
On July 31, 1941, as punishment for prisoners escaping, ten men were selected to die by starvation in an underground bunker. When Franciszek Gaiowniczek, a Polish army sergeant, was selected, he said, “My wife! My children!” Father Kolbe, prisoner #16670, stepped forward, offering to die in his place, and the Nazi’s accepted. For two weeks, Father Kolbe led prisoners in prayer and song. Impatient after all died, the guards lethally injected Father Kolbe, his body burned in the crematorium August 15, 1941, on the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.
Inmates and Nazi soldiers showed Gaiowniczek unusual mercy. Once, while in the infirmary, all patients were ordered to the gas chamber, but Nazi’s hid Gaiowniczek under dead bodies saving him. He returned to Auschwitz every August 14th paying Father Kolbe homage, until he died at age 95.
Pope John Paul II canonized Father Maximilian Kolbe on October 10, 1982, declaring him a “martyr of charity” saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).“Precisely for this reason the death of Maximilian Kolbe became a sign of victory. This was victory won over all systematic contempt and hate for man and for what is divine in man — a victory like that won by our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary.”
Saint Kolbe is the patron saint for drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement. Saint Kolbe’s feast day is August 14th. His life eulogizes millions who perished in World War II, becoming an inspiration for hope. Kolbe said, “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, pray for us.
Father Kolbe, http://www.fatherkolbe.com/content2.html Retrieved July 1, 2015 David Binder.
“Franciszek Gajowniczek Dead; Priest Died for Him at Auschwitz.” The New York Times, March 15, 1995. Retrieved July 1, 2015.
Who Was Maximilian Maria Kolbe, http://www.kolbefoundation.org/gbookswebsite/studentlibrary/greatestbooks/kolbe/whokolbe.html Retrieved July 1, 2015
About Annette Krulisky
Annette Krulisky, earned a Master of Arts in Adult/K-12 Education in Curriculum Design, worked in the computer field as an engineer and technical trainer for 25 years, is married for over 30 years, and has seven adopted special needs children. Now retired, still cares for six children ages teenage to adult. Earned a black belt in a Korean form of martial arts, Kuk Sool Won, having practiced this art for over ten years. Grew up in Michigan as Fundamental Baptist protestant. Aunt Mary planted the seed of the Catholic Church at an early age. Began the final journey home to the Catholic Church in 2012, and love the depth and fullness of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church Jesus founded. Besides loving family, martial arts, and praying, also love reading, learning, experiencing, and writing about anything Catholic.