I stumbled across this week’s saint when perusing my Twitter feed yesterday. After reading a bit about his life, ministry and death With all the news of violence and discrimination both abroad and around the corner, I thought this week’s saint was a good life to remember. This week’s saint remained faithful to the Church and to others even when it led to his death.
This week’s saint is Maximilian Kolbe, he is remembered in the Catholic church on August 13th.
Maximilian was born on January 8, 1894 in Poland. In his childhood, Maximilian supposedly saw a vision of Mary which deeply affected him for the rest of his life. He recounts the vision like this:
“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.”
Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to Common Worship, By John H. Darch, Stuart K. Burns, Published by Church House Publishing, 2004.
In 1907 Maximilian joined the Franciscan order with his brother. When he took his final vows in 1914 in Rome he also took the name Mary (or Maria) because of his vision and devotion to her. Maximilian had spent time studying philosophy, theology, mathematics and physics and would ultimately earn a doctorate of philosophy in 1915 and later a doctorate of theology in 1919. Maximilian returned to Poland where he started a monastery, found an order devoted to Mary, taught in a seminary, supervised a radio station and helped print magazines and newspapers that had a circulation of over one million. Maximilian would also travel to Asia from 1930-36 where he would found other monasteries in Nagasaki and in India.
When World War II broke out at the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Maximilian sent most of the monks home from the monastery in Poland knowing it would eventually be seized. Maximilian was imprisoned with some of his fellow monks but they were released three months later. However, in 1941 them monastery was closed and Maximilian was imprisoned and transferred to Auschwitz. While he was a prisoner, he continued much of his priestly duties in secret. He heard confessions and even celebrated the Eucharist with bread and wine that was smuggled into the camp.
One day a prisoner escaped from the camp. In order to discourage others from escaping, the commanders of the camp ordered that for every man who escaped, 10 others would die. When they began randomly choosing the 10 men one of the screamed out saying, “My wife, my children!” Upon hearing this, Maximilian stepped forward to take the man’s place. Maximilian was thrown into a cell with the other prisoners chosen to die. They were left there to die by starvation and dehydration. While in the cell, Maximilian worked to keep spirits high by singing, praying and reciting Psalms. Two weeks later, four prisoners remained alive including Maximilian. The guards wanted the cell emptied and proceeded to give Maximilian and the other three prisoners a lethal injection of carbolic acid on August 14, 1941. Maximilian’s remains were cremated the next day.
Maximilian was canonized on October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The man Maximilian stepped up for, Franciszek Gajowniczek, attended the ceremony.
“Brethren, let us love him above all, our most loving heavenly Father, and let our obedience be a sign of this perfect love, especially when we have to sacrifice our own wills in the process. And as for a book from which to learn how to grow in the love of God, there is no better book than Jesus Christ crucified.”
Maximillian Kolbe, A Letter of St. Maximilian Kolbe
More Information & References:
Wikipedia – Maximilian Kolbe
Parish of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (New Jersey) – About Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Mission St. Clare – Maximilian Kolbe
Catholic Online – St. Maximilian Kolbe