Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr

This week’s Saint of the Week is Saint Maximilian Kolbe, (1894-1941), one of the most heroic Saints of the last century.  Raymund Kolbe was born in Poland and had a vision of the Blessed Mother when he was just 12 years old.  As he told it, "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.”

Raymund joined the order of the Conventual Franciscans the following year and was given the name Maximilian.  While still in seminary, St. Maximilian Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculata (Army of the Immaculate One), with the intention of converting sinners to Christ and opposing Freemasonry.

After being ordained a priest he published and circulated a publication called, Knight of the Immaculate from a monastery at Niepokalanow, Poland, which he turned into a major religious publishing powerhouse.  After getting that effort well underway, he founded monasteries in India and Japan where he published a Japanese edition of the Knight of the Immaculata (Seibo no Kishi).   The monastery in Japan lies on the outskirts of Nagasaki.  The location Saint Kolbe chose was not considered ideal, but it survived the nuclear attack on Nagasaki and remains one of the most prominent Catholic institutions in Japan to this day.

Due to lingering poor health, he returned to his native Poland in 1936.  In September of 1939 the German Army invaded Poland. Saint Kolbe refused to abandon the monastery, instead turning it into a refuge for those fleeing the German occupation.  He was captured and released, but re-arrested after refusing to accept German citizenship available to him because of his German ancestry.  He used the monastery to conceal refugees and thousands of Jews fleeing German persecution.  He continued his publishing efforts, but with a strong anti-Nazi message.

In 1941, the Germans  arrested Saint Maximilian Kolbe and closed the monastery.  He was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  After only two months in the camp, the men in his barracks were lined up in formation so the guards could select 10 men to starve to death in retaliation for a recent escape.  One of the men chosen begged the guards to spare him because he had a wife and children.  Saint Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward calmly and stated, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children." 

Saint Kolbe ministered to his fellow prisoners, and led them in song and prayers much to the dismay of the guards. He was the last to survive and after two weeks with no food or water the guards killed him with an injection of carbolic acid.  Saint Kolbe offered his arm to his executioner, and despite the normally painful manner of execution, died with a smile on his face.  The cell where Saint Maximilian was martyred is now a shrine.

Patron Saint of: Drug addiction, families, prisoners (particularly political prisoners), and the pro-life movement. 

Feast Day:  August 14th

Prayer to Saint Maximilian Kolbe: 

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, most faithful son of St. Francis, the beggar of Assisi, inflamed with love for God you journeyed through life practicing heroic virtues and performing true apostolic deeds.

Turn your gaze on us who honor you and have recourse to you.

Radiating with the light of the Immaculate Virgin, you brought countless souls to holiness and introduced them to various apostolic endeavors for the victory of good over evil and to thereby extend the Kingdom of God throughout the whole world.

Obtain for us the light and the strength we need to do good and to bring many souls to Christ.

Perfectly conformed and united with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, you achieved such a high degree of love of neighbor that you were able to freely offer your life in exchange for a fellow prisoner in witness of true evangelical charity.

Beg the Lord on our behalf that, filled with the same fire of love, our faith and good example might also bring others to Christ and secure for us the reward of everlasting life, where we shall praise Him together with you in eternal glory. Amen.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

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