August 13, 2017

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Charity

Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Memorial - August 14th

I prayed very hard to Our Lady to tell me what would happen to me. She appeared, holding in her hands two crowns, one white, one red. She asked if I would like to have them—one was for purity, the other for martyrdom. I said, ‘I choose both.’ She smiled and disappeared.” St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe was only 10 years old when he experienced this vision of Our Lady near his poor family home in Zduńska Wola, Poland. In time, both crowns would come to pass for him, and always the Blessed Mother would be by his side as he received them.

Born Raymund Kolbe in 1894, Maximilian entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1907, just three years a er his encounter with Mary; when he professed his first vows in 1911 at the age of 16, he took the name Maximilian. At the profession of his final vows in 1914, he also adopted the name “Mary” in order to show his devotion to the Mother of God.

It was while he was0 studying for his doctorate in theology in Rome in 1919 that Kolbe witnessed violent and degrading demonstrations against both the pope and the Catholic Church. He was so moved by what he experienced that he founded a Marian movement to combat religious indifference and hatred of the Catholic Church. Called the “Militia Immaculata,” its message was spread via a magazine also founded by Kolbe called Knight of Immaculata. At its height, the publication had a circulation of over one million.

To further spread his message of prayer and evangelization, in 1927 Kolbe founded what would become, by 1935, the world’s largest friary, called Niepokalanow. A major publishing center for catechetical materials, religious tracts, and a daily newspaper, the friary, which was also a seminary, at one time housed over 700 Franciscan brothers. Kolbe then journeyed to Japan, where he founded other friaries, most notably one at Nagasaki.

Tuberculosis forced him to return to Poland in 1936, and when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Niepokalanow was bombed and all the brothers were arrested. They were released less than three months later on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, but Kolbe was arrested again in 1941 and sent to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

It was there, on July 31, 1941, that events were set in motion for Kolbe to earn the crown of martyrdom. Three men had turned up missing and, in reprisal for their escape, the guards chose 10 men at random to be starved to death. When one of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out “My wife! My children!,” Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Surprised that someone would volunteer to die in the place of a stranger, the guards agreed and marched Kolbe and the other nine men to the starvation bunkers. There Kolbe encouraged his fellow prisoners, saying Mass each day, hearing confessions, praying and singing hymns to the Blessed Virgin. After two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect, St. Maximilian Kolbe was the only one left alive. He was finally killed by lethal injection on August 14, 1941.

Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonized as a martyr by Saint Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life Kolbe saved, was present on both occasions. St. John Paul II declared Kolbe a “Martyr of Charity” and “the Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century.” He is one of ten 20th-century martyrs depicted above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe is the patron saint of addicts and drug addiction, families, imprisoned individuals, journalists, political prisoners, prisoners, and the pro-life movement. O God, who filled the Priest and Martyr Saint Maximilian Kolbe with a burning love for the Immaculate Virgin Mary and with zeal for souls and love of neighbor, graciously grant, through his intercession, that striving for your glory by eagerly serving others, we may be conformed, even until death, to your Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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