Maximilian Kolbe

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St. Maximilian Kolbe, O.F.M. Conv.
Fr.Maximilian Kolbe 1939.jpg
Apostle of Consecration to Mary
Religious, priest and martyr
Born 8 January 1894[1]
Zduńska Wola, Kingdom of Poland, Russian Empire
Died 14 August 1941(1941-08-14) (aged 47)
Auschwitz concentration camp, General Government, Third Reich (Nazi-occupied Poland)
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church
Beatified 17 October 1971, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City[2] by Pope Paul VI
Canonized 10 October 1982, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace, Niepokalanów,
Teresin, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland
Feast 14 August
Attributes Prison uniform, needle being injected into an arm
Patronage Against drug addictions, drug addicts, families, imprisoned people, journalists, political prisoners, prisoners , pro-life movement, amateur radio.[3]

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, O.F.M. Conv., (Polish: Maksymilian Maria Kolbe [maksɨˌmiljan ˌmarja ˈkɔlbɛ]; 8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941) was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

Kolbe was canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and declared a martyr of charity. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement.[3] John Paul II declared him "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century".[4]

Due to Kolbe's efforts to promote consecration and entrustment to Mary, he is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary.[5]


He was born Raymund Kolbe on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola, in the Kingdom of Poland, which was a part of the Russian Empire, the second son of Julius Kolbe and Maria Dabrowska. His father was an ethnic German[6] and his mother was Polish. He had four brothers, Francis, Joseph, Walenty (who lived a year) and Andrew (who lived four years).[citation needed]

Kolbe's family moved to Pabianice, where his parents initially worked as basket weavers. Later, his mother worked as a midwife (often donating her services), and operated a shop in part of their rented house, where she sold groceries and household goods. Julius Kolbe worked at the Krushe and Ender Mill and also worked on a parcel of rented land where he grew vegetables. In 1914, Julius joined Józef Piłsudski's Polish Legions and was captured by the Russians and hanged for fighting for the independence of a partitioned Poland.[citation needed]

Kolbe's life was strongly influenced by a childhood vision of the Virgin Mary that he later described:

That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. 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.[7]

Franciscan friar

In 1907, Kolbe and his elder brother Francis decided to join the Conventual Franciscans. They illegally crossed the border between Russia and Austria-Hungary and enrolled at the Conventual Franciscan minor seminary in Lwów. In 1910, Kolbe was allowed to enter the novitiate, where he was given the religious name Maximilian. He professed his first vows in 1911, and final vows in 1914, in Rome, adopting the additional name of Maria, to show his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Kolbe would later sing hymns to the Virgin Mary in the concentration camp.[citation needed]

Kolbe was sent to Kraków in 1912, and later that same year to the house of studies of the Order in Rome, where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics and physics. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a doctorate in theology in 1919 at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure. During his time as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV in Rome during an anniversary celebration by the Freemasons. According to Kolbe,

They placed the black standard of the "Giordano Brunisti" under the windows of the Vatican. On this standard the archangel, St. Michael, was depicted lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer. At the same time, countless pamphlets were distributed to the people in which the Holy Father (i.e., the Pope) was attacked shamefully.[8][9]

This event inspired Kolbe to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary, 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 Masons and all those recommended to thee.[10]

The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million.[1] Kolbe also used radio to spread his Catholic faith and to speak out against the atrocities of the Nazi regime. He is the only canonized saint to have held an amateur radio license, with the call sign SP3RN.[11]

Maximilian Kolbe, on a West German postage stamp, marked Auschwitz

In 1918, Kolbe was ordained a priest. In 1919, he returned to the newly independent Poland, where he was very active in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, founding and supervising the monastery of Niepokalanów near Warsaw, a seminary, a radio station, and several other organizations and publications. Kolbe founded the monthly periodical Rycerz Niepokalanej in 1922, and in 1927 founded a Conventual Franciscan monastery at Niepokalanow, which became a major publishing centre. Kolbe left Poland for Japan in 1930, spending six years there. The monastery at Niepokalanow began in his absence to publish the daily newspaper, Mały Dziennik, which became Poland's top-seller.[citation needed]

Kolbe has been accused of anti-Semitism based on the content of these newspapers, which allegedly included claims of a Zionist plot for world domination. Other writers often point to the fact that Kolbe sheltered Jewish refugees during the war, and, according to one person who worked close to him: "When Jews came to me asking for a piece of bread, I asked Father Maximilian if I could give it to them in good conscience, and he answered me, 'Yes, it is necessary to do this because all men are our brothers.'"[12][13]

Between 1930 and 1936, Kolbe undertook a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a monastery at the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese paper, and a seminary. The monastery he founded remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan. Kolbe decided to build the monastery on a mountainside that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in harmony with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe's monastery was saved because the other side of the mountain took the main force of the blast.[14]

Death at Auschwitz

Stained glass image of Kolbe as a concentration camp prisoner, at the Conventual Franciscan church of Szombathely, Hungary

After the outbreak of World War II, which started with the invasion of his country by Nazi Germany, Kolbe provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów.[15] On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.[16]

At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place.[17]

In his prison cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners.[citation needed] He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.[18] His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.[2]


The first monument to Maximilian Kolbe in Poland in Chrzanów

Kolbe was beatified as a Confessor of the Faith by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on 10 October 1982, with Franciszek Gajowniczek in attendance. Upon canonization, the Pope declared St. Maximilian Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr. The miracle which was used to confirm his beatification was the July 1948 cure of intestinal tuberculosis in Angela Testoni, and in August 1950, the cure of calcification of the arteries/sclerosis of Francis Ranier was attributed to Kolbe's intercession.[citation needed]

The statue of Kolbe (left) above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey.

After his canonization, St. Maximilian Kolbe's feast day was added to the General Roman Calendar, which is used by the Catholic Church throughout the world. He is one of ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.[19]

In 2000, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.) designated Marytown, home to a community of Conventual Franciscan friars, as the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Marytown is located in Libertyville, Illinois, and also features the Kolbe Holocaust Exhibit.


Kolbe's recognition as a Christian martyr also created some controversy within the Catholic Church[20] in that, while his ultimate self-sacrifice of his life was most certainly saintly and heroic, he was not killed strictly speaking out of odium fidei (hatred of the Catholic faith), but as the result of an act of Christian charity, which Pope Paul VI himself had recognized at his beatification by naming him a Confessor and giving him the unofficial title "martyr of charity". Pope John Paul II, however, when deciding to canonize him, overruled the commission he had established (which agreed with the earlier assessment of heroic charity), wishing to make the point that the systematic hatred of (whole categories of) humanity propagated by the Nazi regime was in itself inherently an act of hatred of religious (Christian) faith, meaning Kolbe's death equated to martyrdom.[20]


First-class relics of Kolbe are hairs from his head and beard, preserved without his knowledge by two friars at Niepokalanów who served as barbers in his friary between 1930 and 1941.[21] Since his beatification in 1971, more than 1,000 such relics have been distributed around the world for public veneration. Second-class relics such as his personal effects, clothing and liturgical vestments, are preserved in his monastery cell and in a chapel at Niepokalanów, and may be viewed by visitors.

Religious influence

Kolbe's influence has found fertile ground in his own Order of Conventual Franciscan friars. Around the world the friars enlarge and assist the Militia Immaculatae movement (Army of Mary Immaculate, in English), founded by their sainted brother. In recent years some new religious and secular institutes have been founded, inspired from this spiritual way. Among these the Missionaries of the Immaculate Mary - Father Kolbe, the Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate, and a parallel congregation of Religious Sisters, and others. The Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate are even taught basic Polish so they can sing the traditional hymns sung by Kolbe, in the saint's native tongue.[22] According to the friars,

"Our patron, St. Maximilian Kolbe, inspires us with his unique Mariology and apostolic mission, which is to bring all souls to the Sacred Heart of Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Christ's most pure, efficient, and holy instrument of evangelization – especially those most estranged from the Church."[22]

Immaculata prayer

Kolbe composed the Immaculata prayer as a prayer of consecration to the Immaculata, i.e. the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Who is St. Maximilian Kolbe?". Consecration Militia of the Immaculata. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Biographical Data Summary". Consecration Militia of the Immaculata. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Saints Index; Catholic, Saint Maximilian Kolbe
  4. ^ "Holy Mass at the Brzezinka Concentration Camp". Vatican. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  5. ^ The Franciscan Tradition by Regis J. Armstrong, Ingrid J. Peterson, Phyllis Zagano (2010). ISBN 0-8146-3030-8; page 51
  6. ^ Strzelecka: Maksymilian M. Kolbe. Für andere leben und sterben, s. 6
  7. ^ Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to Common Worship, By John H. Darch, Stuart K. Burns, Published by Church House Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-7151-4036-1, ISBN 978-0-7151-4036-9 [1]
  8. ^ Czupryk, Father Cornelius (1935). Mugenzai no Seibo no Kishi (Mugenzai no Sono Monastery) (18th Anniversary Issue). 
  9. ^ "Saint Maximilian Tells How the MI Began". Consecration. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Daily Prayers". Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "SP3RN @". Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, by James Carroll, Published by Mariner Books, 2002, ISBN 0-395-77927-8, ISBN 0-618-21908-0
  13. ^ Patron of Our Difficult Century, Becky Ready, EWTN
  14. ^ Hepburn, Steven. "Maximilian Kolbe's story shows us why sainthood is still meaningful". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  15. ^ "Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz". Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  16. ^ "Sixty-ninth Anniversary of the Death of St. Maximilian Kolbe". Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  17. ^ Saint Maximilian Kolbe,
  18. ^ "Blessed Maximilian Kolbe-Priest Hero of a Death Camp by Mary Craig". Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Maximilian Kolbe". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  20. ^ a b Peterson, Anna L. "Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion". Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 1997. ISBN 0-7914-3181-9 p 94
  21. ^ "The First-Class Relics of St Maximilian Kolbe". Pastoral Centre. Retrieved 5 Dec 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "O.F.M.I. Friars". Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  23. ^ "University of Dayton Marian prayers". 24 March 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 


External links