The Catholic Defender: Saint Maximilian
St. Maximilian Kolbe was born as Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. He was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar and a martyr in the German death Camp of Auschwitz during World War II.
"That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. 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."
In 1907 Kolbe and his elder brother Francis joined the Conventual Franciscans. They enrolled at the Conventual Franciscan minor seminary in Lwow later that year. In 1910, Kolbe was allowed to enter the novitiate, where he chose a religious name Maximilian. He professed his first vows in 1911, and final vows in 1914,[self-published source] adopting the additional name of Maria (Mary)
At the age of 21, Kolbe earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He would also earn a doctorate in theology by the time he was 28.
Soon afterward, on 16 October 1917, Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculatae (Army of the Immaculate One), to work for conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church, specifically the Freemasons, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. So serious was Kolbe about this goal that he added to the Miraculous Medal prayer:
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. And for all those who do not have recourse to thee; especially the Freemasons and all those recommended to thee.
John Paul II declared him "the patron of our difficult century". His feast day is 14 August, the day of his death.
We have an early, almost unembellished account of the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian in modern-day Algeria.
Brought before the proconsul Dion, Maximilian refused enlistment in the Roman army saying, “I cannot serve, I cannot do evil. I am a Christian.”
Dion replied: “You must serve or die.”
Maximilian: “I will never serve. You can cut off my head, but I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ. My army is the army of God, and I cannot fight for this world. I tell you I am a Christian.”
Dion: “There are Christian soldiers serving our rulers Diocletian and Maximian, Constantius and Galerius.”
Maximilian: “That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve.”
Dion: “But what harm do soldiers do?”
Maximilian: “You know well enough.”
Dion: “If you will not do your service I shall condemn you to death for contempt of the army.”
Maximilian: “I shall not die. If I go from this earth, my soul will live with Christ my Lord.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculata (Army of the Immaculate One) after witnessing demonstrations against Pope St. Pius X and Benedict XV. His goal was to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Church, specifically, the Freemasons and he would so with the intercession of Mary.
Kolbe also founded monasteries in both Japan and India. To this day, the monastery in Japan remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan.
In 1936, Kolbe's poor health forced him to return home to Poland, and once the WWII invasion by Germany began, he became one of the only brothers to remain in the monastery. He opened up a temporary hospital to aid those in need. When his town was captured, Kolbe was sent to prison but released three months later.
Maximilian was 21 years old when he gladly offered his life to God. His father went home from the execution site joyful, thanking God that he had been able to offer heaven such a gift. St. Maximilian’s liturgical feast is celebrated on March 12.
On August 14th, 1941 ten prisoners were executed because one other prisoner had escaped from the camp. St Maximilian was put to death by a lethal drug. St Maximilian was canonized as a Martyr of Charity and became known as a Patron of drug addicts and political prisoners.
In 1941, he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where in terrible circumstances he continued to work as a priest and offer solace to fellow inmates. When the Nazi guards selected 10 people to be starved to death in punishment, Kolbe volunteered to die in place of a stranger. He was later canonised as a martyr.
Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian in 1971. In 1982, St. Pope John Paul II canonized him as a “martyr of charity,” calling him “patron of our difficult century.” He is the patron saint of journalists, media communications, the family and the chemically addicted.
Recognized as the Servant of God, Kolbe was beatified as a "Confessor of the Faith" on October 17, 1971 by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982. Pope John Paul II declared Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr.
It is said during the last days of his life Kolbe led prayers to Our Lady with the prisoners and remained calm. He was the last of the group to remain alive, after two weeks of dehydration and starvation. The guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. The stories tell that he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death.
The heart, the symbol of brotherly love, which St. Maximilian holds in his right hand, contains the ashes of the victims of Auschwitz. He stretches out his left hand toward the grotto of the Virgin Mary as a sign of his devotion to her through whose intercession he wished to gain the whole world for Christ.
Those facing a difficult decision or situation can find solace in prayers for the intercession of St. Maximilian. The Church also venerates him as the patron saint of those who work in radio, those with substance use disorders, political prisoners, families and journalists.
Kolbe's is often depicted in a prison uniform and with a needle being injected into an arm. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, prisoners, families, and the pro-life movement and his feast day is celebrated on August 14.
To Jesus through Mary
On October 16, 1917, while still a student-friar in Rome, Maximilian founded the Militia Immaculatae (MI) Catholic evangelization movement. Its purpose was to bring about the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by encouraging each and every soul to make a total consecration of themselves to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. “Through the Immaculata to Jesus” was a lifelong motto. The immediate stimulus for this movement was Maximilian’s desire to counteract the militant naturalism of International Freemasonry that year. He had personally witnessed Masonic activists blaspheming under the windows of the Vatican. He was ordained a priest in 1918 and returned to Poland in 1919, with doctorates in philosophy and theology, and he had contracted tuberculosis. Nevertheless, he immediately began spreading the MI Catholic Evangelization and in January of 1922, began publishing the monthly magazine, Knight of the Immaculata.
Founder of the City of Mary (Immaculata)
So great and rapid was the growth of the magazine Knight, today known as Immaculata, and the community of Conventual Franciscans that formed around Kolbe, that in 1927 he founded a large apostolic center near Warsaw call Niepokalanow, the “City of the Immaculata.” Kolbe’s method of evangelization through the sponsorship of Mary was a major development of the Franciscan charism, stimulating considerable growth in the Franciscan Order itself. For instance, the City saw its original staff of eighteen friars grow to over 650 members in just twelve years.
Apostle of the Mass Media
While living in strictest religious poverty, the friars utilized the most modern printing equipment and administrative techniques available, enabling the Knight magazine to reach an incredible monthly circulation of one million and a daily newspaper to reach 230,000. In 1930, Father Maximilian took four brothers to Japan and founded another City there. Future plans called for a City in every nation with the Knight magazine published in every language. All forms of communication media, including radio, movies and even television, were to be used without limit for the work of evangelization under the mantle of Mary.
Martyr of Charity
Kolbe went back to Poland in 1936, for treatment of advanced Tuburculosis, and reassumed direction of Niepokalanow – by then the largest Catholic publishing center in Poland, possibly in the world. When the Nazis overran the country in 1939, they eventually imprisoned Kolbe in the Auschwitz death camp, where in 1941 he offered to take the place of a man condemned to die in reprisal for an escaped prisoner. His offer accepted, he died two weeks later on August 14, the vigil of Mary’s Assumption. In the process he ministered to nine others dying with him from starvation. Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian in 1971. In 1982, St. Pope John Paul II canonized him as a “martyr of charity,” calling him “patron of our difficult century.” He is the patron saint of journalists, media communications, the family and the chemically addicted.