A baptism in the family ….Max

26Oct10

Saint Maximillian Kolb was Franciscan Friar who exchanged his life for the life of another prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. Of course, not all Maxes are named after him. There were Roman Emperors so named, and many others.

The popularity of the name has increased, but not due to Father Kolbe’s popularity, alas, or the Emperor’s for that matter.



Maximilian Kolbe

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Saint Maximilian Kolbe

A prayer card showing Maximilian before Mary as the Immaculate Conception, with a prison camp depicted in the background
Martyr
Born 8 January 1894[1]
Zduńska Wola, Russian Empire in what is now Poland
Died 14 August 1941 (aged 47)
Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
Venerated 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 August 14
Patronage drug addicts, families, journalists, prisoners, amateur radio, pro-life movement

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941), was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.

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, amateur radio, and the pro-life movement.[3][4][5] Pope John Paul II declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.[6]

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

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Biography

Maximilian Kolbe was born Rajmund 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 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 and was inspired to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary, to work for conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. 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.[8]

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, a claim rejected by most sources.[9][10] Besides the obvious fact that he sheltered Jewish refugees during the war, the testimony of people who worked close to him is that he respected the Jews: “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.'”[11][12] 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

The cell in which Kolbe was incarcerated.

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. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, condemning Nazi activities.[citation needed]

On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On May 28, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.

In July 1941, a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting SSHauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13[13] (notorious for torture) in order to deter further escape attempts.[14] The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

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. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others remained alive. He encouraged others by telling them that 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. When Kolbe was the last survivor, he was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.[15] His remains were cremated on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

[edit] Canonization

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 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.

Kolbe’s recognition as a Christian martyr also created some controversy within the Church, in that 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. Pope John Paul canonized him as a martyr over his commission’s findings because he viewed the systematic hatred and persecution of the Nazis as inherently evil, creating an atmosphere that by its very nature and act was overtly hostile to religious belief, intrinsically against any respect for life, and averse to any moral values.[citation needed]

After his canonization, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar used by the vast majority of 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.

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