Monday 13 August 2012

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time. He adopted the name Maximilian after his final vows in Rome and added the name Maria to show his devotion to Mary. In a childhood vision that he had of the Blessed Mother, he saw her holding two crowns, one white and the other red and asked him to accept either of them. He interpreted the white crown as symbolizing purity and the red one as symbolizing martyrdom and responded that he would accept both.
He joined religious life when he was only 16 years of age. He was ordained a priest when he was 24 years of age (1918) and by the time he was 25 had earned Doctoral degrees in both Philosophy and Theology. His strong devotion to Mary led him to to form the Militia Immaculate or Army of Mary and through this organization to publish catechetical and devotional leaflets for distribution to tens of thousands of people.
He was unafraid to speak against injustice and oppression and especially against the atrocities of the Nazi regime. During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów.
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. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of the selected men Franciszek Gajowniczek because he was married and had children as well. In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners.
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.  His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The life and death of Maximilian Kolbe is a reminder to each of us that a life lived in the service of others is indeed a life worth living. For such a person, death holds no threat or fear, because in losing his/her life such a person gains eternal life as Maximilian Kolbe did.
Can we dare to be a little him today?

1 comment:

  1. You are the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit, dear Father, guiding us to be a little less self-obsessed.



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