A Life Less Ordinary: Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894. He was the second youngest of his parent’s five sons, the youngest two passing at young ages. He contracted tuberculosis at a young age, and while he recovered, it made it very frail for the remainder of his life. His mother operated a small general store out of her home, and also served as a mid-wife, usually for no cost. His father was a mill worker and leased land for farming. Maximilian’s father died fighting in the Polish Legions for independence from Russia.
As a child, Kolbe found a deep love for Mary in a vision that he described:
“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 persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”
He entered the novitiate for the Coventual Franciscans in 1910, adopted the name Maximilian in 1911 on taking his first vows, and amended his name to Maximilian Maria on taking his final vows in Rome in 1914. During his time of studies (earning two doctorates) from 1915-1919, he formed the “Militia Immaculata” (Army of Mary), designed to pray for the souls of those who hated the Church and for all sinners.
During his time with the Immaculata Friars, he utilized the most modern technology of the time. Using one of the most technologically advanced printing presses, they distributed a daily newspaper that reached over 250,000 people, and a monthly newspaper, reaching over 1 million. He also held an amateur radio license (call sign SP3RN), using both mediums to speak out against the atrocities of the Nazi party.
Kolbe was ordained a priest in 1918. He also lead several missions to build churches in Japan, and later India, before returning to Europe.
Upon his return to Poland, Kolbe took a stand against the Nazi regmie, opening his friary to over 2,000 Jewish refugees trying to escape Nazi persecution. He was arrested by the German Gestapo on February 17, 1941 and sent to the Pawiak prison. Several months later, Prisoner #16670 was transferred to the infamous Auschwitz prison camp.
Towards the end of July, 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp. As was the Nazi’s rule, any escape or attempted escape lead to the selection of 10 detainees to be sentenced to death by starvation. When one man cried out for mercy, Kolb volunteered himself. After two weeks of no food and water (only found by wringing rags that sopped up condensation or sweat), Kolbe continuously lead Mass and singing hymns of praise with the other 9; he was the sole survivor. When his captures needed the cell cleared for a new group, they decided to give him a lethal dose of carbolic acid. In response to the demand for the injection, he calmly held out his arm and waited. His remains were cremated on August 15, 1941, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in October of 1982.
Maximilian Kolbe is exactly the type of person Christ spoke about in John 15:13 (No one has any greater love than this, than to lay down their life for their friend). Often when you see depictions of Kolbe, he is holding a scroll of open bible to that verse. This is the type of person I want to be and hope I really have the strength to be if I was called to it. This is the type of man I try and be like in my marriage, remembering what Paul taught in Ephesians 5:24-25. Kolbe is an amazing example of selfless love, something that we look over time and time again in our culture. Where we tend to center our love on what it gains for us, the love Kolbe showed gained him nothing, and he didn’t do it to glorify himself. He did it because he loved that prisoner and the people he loved so much that he gave up his life for them.
We can take Maximilian Kolbe’s example out with us into the world everyday. When we hear people spreading rumors, using language based in hate, taking advantage of others and we decided to take a stand, we are emulating that model that Kolbe gave us. One of the best stories I ever heard about this was from a speaker named Matt Fradd. He told a story about a beautiful girl who went to a party, and in an attempt to fit in or be like everyone else, decided to drink and party it up. At that same party was one of the most popular guys at school; football star and all around “hunk”, he decided that he wanted to take her upstairs. As he entered one of the upstairs bedrooms with her, another classmate saw them, and stopped him. The girl, barely able to walk or talk, couldn’t speak up for herself, and when that jock tried to push him out of the way, he stood up to him and said, “You have to go through me first.”. Eventually, the football star backed down and left. That other boy picked her up, took her inside the room, put her in the bed, then went outside the room, shut the door, and sat in front of the threshold all night. That girl would eventually marry Matt, and he had a chance to meet the man who protected his bride.
That’s the type of person I hope we can be. Maybe if we spent more of our lives living out the example of Christ found in the witness of Maximilian Kolbe, the world would be the place we want it to be.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, patron of the imprisoned, pray for us!