Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Saint Maximilian

Raymund Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894. His family was very poor, but they were rich in spirit. In 1914, his father was captured and killed by the Russians for fighting for Polish independence.

Young Raymund had a great faith and strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. He went to school to be a Franciscan priest and was ordained in 1918, taking the name Maximilian Maria. After studying in Rome, Maximilian returned to Poland in 1919. He used modern printing presses to spread the Good News through monthly, and eventually daily, religious publications. He also spent six years as a missionary in Japan.

During World War II, Father Kolbe hid as many as 2,000 Jewish people and Poles, who were also persecuted, in his Polish monastery. In 1941, Maximilian was arrested by the Nazis, who soon sent him to Auschwitz concentration camp. This was a terrible place where the Nazis killed many people.

In July of that year, several prisoners escaped, and as punishment, the camp commander picked 10 men to be starved to death. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a husband and father, was one of these sentenced to death. Father Maximilian Kolbe offered his life in the man's place. Each day, he celebrated Mass for the other starving prisoners and prayed and sang with them. When he outlived many of the other men, he was killed by lethal injection.

On October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized Maximilian Kolbe as a “martyr of charity.” Present at the ceremony was Franciszek Gajowniczek, the Auschwitz prisoner whose place Maximilian had taken in giving his own life. Gajowniczek lived for 54 years after St. Maximilian Kolbe had taken his place in death.

 

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