Saint Maximilian Kolbe - Conventual Franciscan friar & martyr by fr. Gerard Toman OFMConv
St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM Conv., was born in Poland in 1894. As a seminarian in Rome he witnessed a well-organised Freemasons demonstration against the Catholic Church beneath the very windows of the Vatican. This event inspired him to found the Militia Immaculatae (MI) evangelisation movement in October 1917.
Kolbe’s method of outreach was to encourage each and every individual to make a total consecration of themselves to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. This act of abandonment would result in personal sanctification, the conversion of Church opponents and ultimately the establishment of the universal reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
After being ordained a priest, Kolbe began forming MI prayer groups and publishing a magazine. ‘Knight of the Immaculata’. The publishing ministry grew so rapidly that in 1927 he built an evangelisation centre near Warsaw called ‘Niepokalanow’ – City of the Immaculata. By the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the City contained 650 friars and was the largest Catholic religious house in the world.
Kolbe utilised the most modern printing and administrative techniques available, enabling he and his friars to publish a daily newspaper and a number of periodicals. The Knight reached a circulation of over 1 million. Niepokalanow became the largest publishing house in Poland, perhaps the world.
In his zeal to win the world for the Immaculata, Kolbe, in 1930, established a missionary centre in Japan, and had plans for centres in India and China. He built an airship to better distribute his newspapers, had his own radio station, and had drew up plans for evangelising through television and films.
Whilst the Gestapo was thundering toward Niepokalanow to whisk him away to the death camp, Kolbe hurried to complete his essay on Mary’s self-title at Lourdes, France, “I am the Immaculate Conception’. His keen insights further developed the Church’s century old understanding that the blessed Virgin in the Mediatrix, or ‘gateway’ of all the graces that flow to humanity from the Trinity. Pope Paul VI called Kolbe, “clairvoyant” in his anticipation of the Marian theology of the Second Vatican Council. Blessed Pope John Paul proclaimed him, “Apostle of a new Marian era”.
Fr. Maximilian was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in 1941, where he was singled out for special brutalities as a Catholic priest. In a supreme act of love, he defended the right to life of a prisoner who had been condemned to a starvation bunker by offering to take his place. Two weeks later, on Aug. 14th 1941, Kolbe’s impatient captors ended his life by a fatal injection. Blessed John Paul II canonised him a saint and “martyr of charity” in 1982.
Truly a saint for our difficult times, St. Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of journalists, prisoners, the pro-life movement and the chemically addicted.
(Edited extracts taken from the book, ‘Aim Higher: Spiritual and Marian Reflections of St. Maximilian Kolbe’)
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