Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe

A prayer card showing Maximilian with Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, with the electric fence of a Nazi German concentration camp in the background
Born 8 January 1894[1]
Zduńska Wola, Russian Empire in what is now Poland
Died 14 August 1941(1941-08-14) (aged 47)
Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
Honored in Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church
Beatified 17 October 1971, St. Peter Basilica, Rome, Italy[2] by Pope Paul VI
Canonized 10 October 1982, Rome, Italy by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace, Niepokalanów, Poland
Feast 14 August
Patronage drug addicts, families, journalists, prisoners, amateur radio operators, pro-life movement

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe OFM Conv (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 concentration camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

He 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] Pope John Paul II declared him "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century".[4]

In Italian he is known as "San Massimiliano Maria Kolbe"; his given name in Polish is "Maksymilian", in French, "Maximilien".

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



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

His parents moved to Pabianice where they worked first as basket weavers. Later, his mother worked as a midwife (often donating her services), and owned a shop in part of her rented house which sold groceries and household goods. Julius Kolbe worked at the Krushe and Ender Mill and also worked on 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.

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. 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]

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 joined the Conventual Franciscan junior seminary in Lwów. In 1910, Kolbe was allowed to enter the novitiate. He professed his first vows in 1911, adopting the name Maximilian, and the final vows in 1914, in Rome, adopting the names Maximilian Maria, to show his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Kolbe would later sing hymns to the Virgin Mary in the concentration camp.

In 1912, he was sent to Kraków, and in the same year to a college in Rome, where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics, and physics. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the 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 St. Maximilian,

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 was attacked shamefully.[8][9]

This event inspired Saint 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 St. Maximilian about this goal that he added to the Miraculous Medal prayer:

Oh 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.[11] 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.

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. Maximilian Kolbe founded the monthly periodical Rycerz Niepokalanej in 1922, and in 1927 founded a 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, Maly Dziennik, which became Poland's top-seller. Kolbe was accused of anti-semitism based on the content of these newspapers, which included claims of a Zionist plot for world domination.[12][13] However, he 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.'"[14][15] Between 1930 and 1936, he took 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.


Stained glass depiction of Kolbe as prisoner in the Franciscan church of Szombathely, Hungary

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 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.[16]

In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day for as long as he was able and gave Holy Communion to the prisoners covertly during the course of the day; the bread given to prisoners was unleavened and so could be used in the Eucharist, and sympathetic guards gave him materials, including wine, that he could use.

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 so 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.[17] His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.


The first monument to Maximilian Kolbe in Poland in Chrzanów

Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor 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. St. Maximilian's beatification miracle 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 the intercession of St. Maximilian.

After his canonization, St. Maximilian Kolbe's feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar used by many Catholic churches.

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

He is one of ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.


Kolbe's recognition as a Christian martyr also created some controversy within the Catholic Church[citation needed], in that, while his ultimate self-sacrifice of his life was most certainly saintly and heroic, he was not killed in odium Fidei (i.e., out of hatred for the Faith) but as a result of an act of Christian charity, which Pope Paul VI himself had recognized at his beatification by naming him a confessor and an unofficial "martyr of charity".

Religious Influence

Kolbe's influence has found fertile ground in his own Franciscan order, in the form of the Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate (O.F.M.I), a Franciscan religious order whose rule is influenced by the spirituality of St. Maximilian. O.F.M.I Friars are even taught basic Polish so they can sing the traditional hymns sung by Kolbe, in the saint's native tongue. According to the O.F.M.I 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.[18] "

Immaculata prayer

Saint Maximilian composed the Immaculata prayer as a prayer of consecration to the Immaculata, i.e. the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Different sources provide different date of birth for St Maximilian Kolbe: The Militia of the Immaculata reports 8 January while Saints Index reports 7 January.
  2. ^ Data Summary at the Militia of Immaculata website; Retrieved on 19 November 2006.
  3. ^ Saints Index; Catholic, Saint Maximilian Kolbe
  4. ^ St. Maximilian Kolbe Martyr of Love.[dead link]
  5. ^ The Franciscan Tradition by Regis J. Armstrong, Ingrid J. Peterson, Phyllis Zagano 2010 ISBN 0814630308 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 0715140361, 9780715140369 [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. ^ The Militia of the Immaculata. Who is St. Maximilian? Rome, Italy, 1998–2004.
  12. ^,5486624
  13. ^ "‘Memories of Hell’: An Exchange by R.J. Tyndorf | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, by James Carroll, Published by Mariner Books, 2002, ISBN 0395779278, 0618219080
  15. ^ Patron of Our Difficult Century, Becky Ready, EWTN
  16. ^ Saint Maximilian Kolbe,
  17. ^ "Blessed Maximilian Kolbe-Priest Hero of a Death Camp by Mary Craig". Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  18. ^ "O.F.M.I. Friars". O.F.M.I. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  19. ^ "University of Dayton Marian prayers". 24 March 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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