14 August 2009
Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe
14 AUGUST 2009. Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, declared by John Paul II as the "Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century."
Born in 1894, in Central Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) Maxilian Kolbe joined the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and was ordained as a priest in 1918. Kolbe's life was strongly influenced by a visit from Our Lady as a child. He described the visit like this:
"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."
Following his ordination, Kolbe returned to the newly independent Poland in 1919. In Poland, Kolbe worked to promote the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Between 1930 and 1936 Kolbe also traveled to Japan and founded a monastery outside Nagasaki, which remains today prominent in the Japanese Catholic Church.
After the outbreak of World War II, Father Kolbe hid refugees from the Nazis, including 2,000 Jewish people, in his Friary. On February 14, 1941, Father Kolbe was arrested by the SS and in May was transferred to Auschwitz. Because Father Kolbe was a devout priest, he was treated to regular beatings and other special ill treatment during his imprisonment.
In July 1941 a prisoner disappeared from Father Kolbe's barracks. Following rules intended to entice prisoners to police each other, the guards then chose ten men from the barracks to die by starvation. One of the men chosen for death, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out that he had a family, and Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
The men and Father Kolbe were then placed in Block 13 (notorious for torture) to die by starvation and dehydration. After three weeks without food or water, only Father Kolbe and three of the other men remained. During the time with the other men in Block 13, Father Kolbe led them in songs and prayer. It is reported that each time the guards entered to check on Father Kolbe and the others, he was found kneeling or standing calmly in the middle of the cell. Finally, being the last man alive, Father Kolbe was killed by an injection of carbolic acid.
Father Kolbe was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek. Upon his canonization, Saint Kolbe was declared a martyr of the faith.
Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, pray for us.