Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Saint Maximilian Kolde, 1940Also known as

  • Apostle of Consecration to Mary
  • Maksymilian Maria
  • Massimiliano Maria Kolbe
  • Maximilian Mary Kolbe
  • Rajmund Kolbe
  • Raymond Kolbe
  • prisoner 16670

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Saint Max was born as Raymond Kolbe, the second of three sons born to a poor, pious Catholic family in Russian occupied Poland. His parents, both Franciscan lay tertiaries, worked at home as weavers. His father, Julius, later ran a religious book store, then enlisted in the army of Pilsudski, fighting for Polish independence from Russia; he was hanged by the Russians as a traitor in 1914. Raymond’s mother, Marianne Dabrowska, later became a Benedictine nun. His brother Alphonse became a priest.

Raymond was known as a mischievous child, sometimes considered wild, and a trial to his parents. However, in 1906 at Pabianice, Poland at the age of twelve, around the time of his first Communion, he received a vision of the Virgin Mary that changed his life.

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 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. Saint Maximilian

Raymond entered the Franciscan junior seminary in Lwów, Poland in 1907 where he excelled in mathematics and physics. For a while he considered abandoning the priesthood for the military, but eventually relented to the call to religious life, and on 4 September 1910 he became a novice in the Conventual Franciscan Order at age 16. He took the name Maximilian, made his first vows on 5 September 1911, his final vows on 1 November 1914.

He studied philosophy at the Jesuit Gregorian College in Rome, Italy from 1912 to 1915, and theology at the Franciscan Collegio Serafico in Rome from 1915 to 1919. On 16 October 1917, while still in seminary, he and six friends founded the Immaculata Movement (Militia Immaculatae, Crusade of Mary Immaculate) devoted to the conversion of sinners, opposition to freemasonry (which was virulently antiCatholic), to spread use and devotion to the Miraculous Medal (which they wore as their habit), and devotion to Our Lady as the path to Christ.

During this period of work in Rome, Brother Maximilian was stricken with tuberculosis; it nearly killed him, and left him in frail health for the rest of his life. He was ordained a priest on 28 April 1918 in Rome at age 24. He earned his Doctor of Theology degree on 22 July 1922; his insights into Marian theology echo today through their influence on Vatican II.

Father Maximilian returned to Poland on 29 July 1919 to teach history in the Krakow seminary. He had to take a medical leave from 10 August 1920 to 28 April 1921 to be treated for tuberculosis at the hospital at Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. In January 1922 he began publication of the magazine Knight of the Immaculate with the aim to fight religious apathy; by 1927 the magazine had a press run of 70,000 per issue. Max was forced to take another medical leave from 18 September 1926 to 13 April 1927, but the work continued. The friaries in which he was based were not large enough for his work, and in 1927 Polish Prince Jan Drucko-Lubecki gave him land at Teresin near Warsaw. There he founded a new monastery of Niepokalanów, the City of the Immaculate which was consecrated on 8 December 1927. At its peak the Knight of the Immaculate had a press run of 750,000 copies a month. A junior seminary was started on the grounds in 1929. In 1935 the house began printing a daily Catholic newspaper, The Little Daily with a press run of 137,000 on work days, 225,000 on Sundays and holy days.

Not content with his work in Poland, Maximilian and four brothers left for Japan in 1930. Within a month of their arrival, penniless and knowing no Japanese, Maximilian was printing a Japanese version of the Knight; the magazine, Seibo no Kishi grew to a circulation of 65,000 by 1936. In 1931 he founded a monastery in Nagasaki, Japan comparable to Niepokalanów. It survived the war, including the atomic bombing, and serves today as a center of Franciscan work in Japan.

In mid-1932 Max left Japan for Malabar, India where he founded a third Niepokalanów house. However, due to a lack of manpower, it did not survive.

Poor health forced him to curtail his missionary work and return to Poland in 1936. On 8 December 1938, Niepokalanów started its own radio station. By 1939 the monastery housed a religious community of nearly 800 men, the largest in the world in its day, and was completely self-sufficient including medical facilities and a fire brigade staffed by the religious brothers.

Father Max was arrested with several of his brothers on 19 September 1939, less than three weeks into the Nazi invasion of Poland. Others at the monastery were briefly exiled, but the prisoners were released on 8 December 1939, and the men returned to their work. Back at Niepokalanów, Kolbe continued his priestly ministry. The brothers housed 3,000 Polish refugees, two-thirds of whom were Jewish, and continued their publication work, including materials considered anti-Nazi. For this work the presses were shut down, the congregation suppressed, the brothers dispersed, and Maximilian was imprisoned in Pawiak prison in Warsaw, Poland on 17 February 1941.

On 28 May 1941 he was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland and branded as prisoner 16670. He was assigned to a special work group staffed by priests and supervised by especially vicious and abusive guards. His calm dedication to the faith brought him the worst jobs available, and more beatings than anyone else. At one point he was beaten, lashed, and left for dead. The prisoners managed to smuggle him into the camp hospital where he spent his recovery time hearing confessions. When he returned to the camp, Maximilian ministered to other prisoners, including conducting Mass and delivering communion using smuggled bread and wine.

In July 1941 there was an escape from the camp. Camp protocol, designed to make the prisoners guard each other, required that ten men be slaughtered in retribution for each escaped prisoner. Francis Gajowniczek, a married man with young children, was chosen to die for the escape. Maximilian volunteered to take his place, and died as he had always wished – in service.

Born

Died

Venerated

Beatified

Canonized

Patronage

Additional Information

Readings

Kolbe is the patron saint of our difficult century. Pope John Paul II

Courage, my sons, Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare in the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible. Let us, then, tell the Blessed Virgin that we are content, and that she can do with us anything she wishes. Saint Maximilian Kolbe

The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers. Saint Maximilian Kolbe

For Jesus Christ I am prepared to suffer still more. Saint Maximilian Kolbe

No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves? Saint Maximilian Kolbe in the last issue of the Knight

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Maximilian Kolbe“. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 9 July 2020. <>