On the 77th anniversary of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe, which was remembered yesterday August 14, we bring you this reflection on the modern day saint:
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, August 14: Franciscan, Martyr of Charity
“The man who trusted Mary Immaculate… Franciscan… martyr of charity. He offered himself as victim in the Auschwitz concentration camp to save a father of a family. He founded the Militia and City of Mary Immaculate.”
John Paul II said of him that “he did as Jesus did; he didn’t suffer death but gave his life.” Shortly before the invasion of Poland, the Saint wrote: “To suffer, work and die as gentlemen, not with a normal death but, for example, with a bullet in the head, sealing our love for Mary Immaculate, shedding as a genuine gentleman one’s blood to the last drop, to hasten the conquest of the whole world for Her. I know nothing more sublime.” God took him at his word.
Raymond was born in Zdunska Wola, Poland, on January 8, 1894. His parents, Mary Dabrowska, who was unable to fulfil her dream to be a Religious, and Julius Kolbe, members of the Franciscan Third Order, transmitted to him their faith and devotion to the Virgin. Of five sons born in the marriage, two died prematurely; the three that survived grew up permeated by Franciscan spirituality. In 1906, little Raymond had a vision in which Mary presented him with a white crown and a red crown, whose symbolism he interpreted as a symbiosis of purity (the white one) and prophecy of his martyrdom (the red one). Maria Dabrowska, who was aware of the event, kept in her heart, as the Virgin did, this sword of sorrow that she knew would be the reason for the eternal glory of her dear son. The latter rooted his life and apostolic activity in the Mother.
At 13 he entered the Franciscan Seminary of Lviv, together with Francis, his older brother. There his prayer and love of study grew and he gave proof of his iron-clad vocation. However, the promise to defend Mary, which they both did, was accompanied in Raymond’s case by the idea of arms. He would fight for Her recalling the day in which the Polish Monarch John Casimir consecrated his country to the Virgin before the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. All that came to his mind and heart because peace had been broken in the Lviv frontier, occupied by Russians and Austrian domination. He soon realized that the priesthood and arms were irreconcilable, but he felt called to swell the lines of those ready to fight to defend the homeland.
There was a moment when he experienced the sting of doubt in regard to his vocation; he influenced his brother’s will and they both left the monastery. However, their mother was there, praying and watching over her sons, with so much faith that she visited them just in the opportune moment. She was the bearer of joyful news. She told them that they would be joined in the monastery by Joseph, the youngest of the brothers, and that both parents had agreed to dedicate themselves to serve God exclusively.
The hesitation having dissipated, in September of 1910 Raymond began his noviciate, taking the name Maximilian when he professed. He took courses in Philosophy and Theology in Rome between 1912 and 1919, obtaining a Doctorate in both disciplines, although he was also brilliantly outstanding in mathematics and physics. At this time, the Virgin inspired him to found the Militia of Mary Immaculate. Now a priest, he returned to Poland with a great physical weakness, but an invincible apostolic spirit. His poor health freed him from other commitments and he was able to dedicate himself wholly to promoting the Militia, which materialized in his country, together with another group of Religious, in 1919. Led by his sublime love for Mary, and believing that it was a way to rescue souls, he created the monthly review “Gentleman of Mary Immaculate,” whose circulation amounted to a million copies in 1939. With this publication he reached Polish homes and other places in the world. At the same time, he taught classes in Krakow.
In 1929 he founded the first “City of Mary Immaculate,” which had its headquarters in the Franciscan monastery of Niepokalanow, which was soon blessed with such a number of vocations that it became the main monastery of the time and one of the most numerous in the whole history of the Church. Two years later, responding to the Pope’s request for missionaries, he left voluntarily for Japan where he created another City and spread the monthly review. He opened a noviciate and a seminary. With an apostolate that included press and radio, he went forward with his dream to “win the whole world, all souls, for Christ, for Mary Immaculate, using all licit means, all the technological discoveries, especially in the realm of communications.”
He returned to Poland in 1936, as Niepokalanow had experienced a crisis in his absence. With the German occupation, he took in thousands of displaced people of Poznan, housing them and helping them spiritually. The Gestapo arrested him in February of 1939 and interned him in the Amtlitz and Ostrzeszow concentration camps. Although he was freed in 1941, he was arrested again, taken to Pawiak and then to Auschwitz, assigning him the number 16670. A prisoner escaped on August 3, 1941 and, as a punishment, 10 other prisoners were selected for execution. Raymond heard the clamour of one of them, Francis Gajowniczka, suffering for his family. Raymond step forward and offered himself to the commandant to die in his stead at the same time as he attested to his condition of priest. It was another visible sign of his holiness.
He was condemned to die of hunger in an underground chamber, the terrible bunker no. 13, together with the nine other prisoners. He, who had written, “I must be as holy as possible,” continued to offer Mass in those conditions, with the help of some guards who provided him with the necessary to consecrate, sharing prayers and songs with his companions and encouraging them in those cruel circumstances. Three weeks later, he was the only survivor. The others died little by little. So his executioners gave him a lethal injection on August 14, 1941. His mother had direct news of the martyrdom he was willing to suffer from a letter he had written to her.
Blessed Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 17, 1971, and Saint Pope John Paul II canonized him on October 10, 1982.