ST. MAXIMILIAN KOLBE

(1894-1941)

The Knight of the Immaculate Virgin was born in Poland in 1894, and was a mischievous little boy. One day his mother, no longer knowing what to do with him, said to him: “My child, what will become of you?” He was suddenly afraid and went to pray before a statue of His heavenly Mother — for this was an exceptionally pious family, all of whose living members became religious, including, eventually, the parents. He was transformed that day into a new person, having asked Her to help him correct his faults.

When his parents separated to enter religion, he, too, entered a Franciscan novitiate, and was ordained in 1918 on April 28th, feast of the Marian apostle, Saint Louis Mary de Montfort. Already the great all-embracing idea of his life had come to him, a year earlier — a militia in honor of the Virgin destined to crush the head of the ancient serpent, master of pride and revolt. There should be an army at Her disposition, he was certain, and then She Herself could do all through its well-disciplined ranks. He found willing collaborators — a small group at first — ready to consecrate themselves to Her forever, for the fulfillment of Her desires.

They founded a magazine, invoking the special assistance of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux also, and the prodigious growth of this enterprise left those who could not understand its heavenly Sources mystified and sometimes very much contradicted. Soon the walls were cracking, so to speak, by the arrival of printing presses and, above all, religious vocations. The group of volunteers for the project had to leave, and Our Lady procured for them a terrain, without charge. As a result, “The City of the Immaculate” was organized, where some 50 low buildings were set up and mobilized for the various facets not only of publishing, but of the Franciscan life of prayer.

Father Kolbe, despite a health which was never other than precarious — for he was undermined by tuberculosis for long years, and virtually abandoned at one time as incurable — traveled both to Japan and to India to extend the militia to other lands where the Mother of God was sorely needed. Always She revealed Her protective Presence, accompanied by abundant blessings. The Founder of these holy residences said, “The more souls there will be, totally given to the guidance of the Immaculate, the more Saints there will be, and very great Saints. Sanctity is not a luxury, but a simple duty, since Our Lord said, ‘Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.’” He gave them as a formula, “w=W” — signifying the human will perfectly united and equivalent, through Her, to the Will of God. He said to them, “Our sanctification is Her affair and Her specialty, since we belong unconditionally to Her.”

The martyrdom of Father Kolbe in the “hunger bunker” of Auschwitz is well known. The City of the Immaculate was closed after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and he was placed successively in two concentration camps, where the most cruel treatment could not alter his calm. He brought light to the despairing and renewed the faith of all with whom he came into contact. He was the last to die of the ten men condemned to the “bunker” to pay for the escape of an inmate of their dormitory. A guard found him alone still alive, on August 14, 1941 after fourteen days, seated in a corner in total deprivation, still praying. He stretched out his fleshless arm to the jailers who had come to finish him off with a hypodermic syringe. His expression in death was described as ecstatic; he was gazing upward, as if to welcome the One he saw coming for his soul.




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