SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE (1894-1941), missionary priest and martyr – Patron saint of prisoners, drug addicts, journalists, families and the pro-life movement
Today, the Church honors Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest, missionary and martyr who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp as a “martyr of charity” during World War II.
Maximilian Mary Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894 and baptized with the name Raymond. He entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and received the name Maximilian. He took his final vows in Rome in 1914 and three years later, together with six other confrères, in response to anti-Catholic demonstrations by Italian Freemasons, organized the Militia of Mary Immaculate, which promoted devotion and faithfulness to God by both clergy and laity through Mary Immaculate.
He was ordained to the priesthood on April 28, 1918 in Rome at the age of twenty-four, and became an outstanding promoter of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the modern media of writing and radio, publishing a magazine titled “Knight of the Immaculate,” first in Polish and then in other languages.
As a missionary priest, he went to Nagasaki, Japan in 1930, where he established a Japanese Marian publication and continued to devote his efforts to guiding the faithful Japanese into a closer relationship with God through the Blessed Mother.
Poor health forced him to curtail his missionary work and he returned to Poland in 1936; and in 1939, upon the Nazi invasion of his home country, Father Kolbe was arrested. Briefly freed during 1940, he published one last issue of the “Knight of the Immaculate” before his final arrest and transportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland on May 28 1941, and branded as prisoner 16670.
He was assigned to a special work group staffed by priests and supervised by specially vicious and abusive guards. His calm dedication to the faith brought him the worst jobs available, and more beatings than anyone else.
At one point he was beaten, lashed, and left for dead. The prisoners managed to smuggle him into the camp hospital, where he spent his recovery time hearing confessions. When he returned to the camp, Maximilian ministered to other prisoners, including conducting Mass in secret and delivering Holy Communion using smuggled bread and wine.
In July, 1941, there was an escape from the concentration camp. Camp protocol, designed to make the prisoners guard each other, required that ten men be killed in retribution for each escaped prisoner. Francis Gajowniczek, a married man with young children, was one of those chosen to die for the escape. Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
On August 14, 1941, Father Maximilian Mary Kolbe died as he had always wished – in service to God’s children. He was injected with a lethal dose of carbonic acid, and his body was burned in the ovens and his ashes scattered.
He was beatified in October, 1971, by Pope St. Paul VI and canonized a saint on October 10, 1982 by Pope St. John Paul II.
We commemorate his feastday on August 14.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and fatherkolbe.com)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Maximilian Kolbe)
“Gracious God, You filled Your priest and martyr, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, with zeal for Your House and love for his neighbor.
“Through the prayers of this devoted servant of Mary Immaculate, grant that, in our efforts to serve others for Your Glory, we too may become like Christ Your Son, who loved His own in the world even to the end, and now lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”