Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Martyr and a mass-media evangelizer with a great devotion to the Blessed Mother – which he promoted through his writings and actions. His inspiring life was centered on Mary as the Mediatrix and intercessor to lead to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. He spread devotion through his Militia Immaculata established to fight evil through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was sent to the concentration camp Auschwitz for the promotion of his devotion to the Blessed Mother; and died there on August 14th, 1941 sacrificing his life for a young husband and father whose wishes were answered by this miraculous intervention.
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was born as Raymond Kolbe on January 8, 1894 in Poland. He was known to be a very bright child, and also boisterous and strong-willed, until he had a vision of the Blessed Mother at around age ten. It is told that young Raymond was praying to the Blessed Mother when she appeared to him and offered him two crowns: the white crown of chastity and the red crown of martyrdom. He chose them both. It is said that after this apparition of the Virgin Mary, he became meditative and was often found praying before a statue of Our Lady in his home. He entered the Order of Conventual Franciscan Friars (OFM Conv.) at age sixteen; and because of his high intelligence was sent to Rome where he earned doctorates in theology and philosophy. He was ordained in 1918.
While in the seminary, Maximilian founded the Militia Immaculata (MI) which had the general objectives to pursue conversion of every person living in sin…to pursue growth in holiness of all persons…through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) Immaculate. Maximilian wanted all members of the MI to make a total oblation of oneself to the B.V.M. Immaculate as an instrument in her immaculate hands and to carry or wear the Miraculous Medal. (Read more about the Miraculous Medal and the Blessed Mother’s appearances to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 at the Chapel on the Rue de Bac in Paris, France at https://churchwonders.com/2021/09/02/novena-to-our-lady-of-good-health-day-4-the-miraculous-medal-and-grace/.) It appears that Maximilian was influenced by St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary (written in 1712) which expressed the ideas of full consecration and trust to Mary.
St. Maximilian Kolbe returned to Poland from Rome in 1919 and started his evangelization ministry which earned him the moniker, the “Apostle of Mass Media”. In 1922, he began publishing the monthly magazine, Knight of the Immaculata, and with its growth, he founded in 1927 an apostolic center near Warsaw called Niepokalanow, the “City of the Immaculata.” He and his community of Conventual Franciscans used the most modern printing equipment and administrative techniques available, enabling the Knight magazine to reach a monthly circulation of one million and a daily newspaper to reach 230,000. He also produced significant theological writings related to Mary’s title as “The Immaculate Conception”, as well as helped further the theology around Mary’s role as Mediatrix or the gateway to the grace of God, as an advocate and intercessor.
St. Maximilian’s publishing and evangelization eventually caught the eye of the Nazi occupiers and he was arrested in February 1941, and transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1941. He was assigned as prisoner number 16670. He continued his priestly ministry in the camp, as well as performed charitable works for which he was beaten and humiliated by the camp guards. At the end of July 1941, the final days began leading to St. Maximilian’s wearing of the red crown of martyrdom that he had envisioned as a young boy. When a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz, in retaliation, a camp leader selected ten men to be starved to death in the “starvation bunker”. When one of the selected men pleaded for his life because he was a husband and father, Father Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward to take his place saying “I am a priest”. The spared prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek recounted the scene, “Kolbe left the ranks, risking being killed on the spot, to ask the camp leader to replace me. It was not conceivable that the proposal would be accepted, indeed much more likely that the priest was added to the ten selected to die of hunger and thirst together”.
The Polish priest and nine others were stripped and locked into the starvation bunker without food or water. Father Maximilian led the men in songs and prayers, and after two weeks, it was only Maximilian who remained alive. The prison authorities were eager to have the bunker cleared, so they administered a lethal injection of carbolic acid into Father Maximilian’s left arm on August 14, 1941. His body was cremated the next day on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1941.
Maximilian Kolbe was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 and his Feast Day is August 14th. He is the patron saint of prisoners, families, the pro-life movement and drug addicts.