By Angelo Petruccy '16
Raymond Kolbe was born to a poor Polish family in 1894. Although the family was quite poor, Raymond’s parents educated their three sons well, especially in their Catholic faith. As a youth, Raymond shared with his mother a spiritual vision where the Virgin Mary appeared to him holding two crowns, one red and one white. He said the white one symbolized purity and the red one symbolized martyrdom. He accepted both. Raymond’s attitude changed significantly. After this experience, he left behind childish pranks and mischief.
In 1907, Raymond and his older brother entered the Franciscan seminary. At one point he considered leaving the seminary to pursue a military career, but he was convinced God called him to the religious life. In the seminary, he excelled in his studies. He adopted the religious name Maximilian, after a third century saint and martyr. He was sent to Rome to study and pursued doctorates in theology and philosophy.
He was ordained a priest in 1918. Although he did not pursue a life in the military, he believed in combating evil, hatred, and violence in another way. Maximilian and a small group of friars founded the “Militia Immaculata” in hopes of converting all sinners and unbelievers in order to build the reign of God in the whole world through the intercession of Mary. After returning to Poland, Maximilian and the Friars published a magazine called “Knight of the Immaculata” which promoted the Catholic faith and Marian devotion. For 5 years, Maximilian ministered in Nagasaki, Japan as a missionary but returned because of ill health.
When Maximilian returned from Japan, he returned to the city of Niepokalanow. He lived there for three years until 1939 when he was imprisoned; after a short time he was released. During the war, he received permission to continue to print religious material but when his message became anti-Nazi, he was arrested and eventually transferred to Auschwitz. Life in the concentration camp was awful for Maximilian, the conditions were inhuman and the guards were especially cruel to this saintly priest. Despite these factors, Maximilian never lost faith. Instead, he combated the hatred around him by preaching, praying and hearing confessions. In the camp, one of Kolbe’s fellow prisoners escaped. As a punishment, the Nazis selected ten men to be sent to a starvation bunker. The 10th person chosen was a Polish man with a wife and children. Maximilian, in the ultimate act of love, offered to give his life in place of this man. The ten prisoners died a slow and excruciating death, but Kolbe led them in prayer and hymns. Kolbe was the last to die, having been injected with acid because he was taking too long to die.
St. Maximilian Kolbe is a stellar example of Franciscan values. A large and significant part of the Franciscan tradition is the living out of one’s faith in everyday life. Maximilian did this exceptionally well. Most notably in times of hardship, Maximilian’s faith did not waver, yet became stronger and more reliable. While he was in the camp at Auschwitz, Maximilian ultimately gave his life for another human being; the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make. This action, in a sense, sums up Kolbe’s life of Franciscan service. This is why I really admire St. Maximilian Kolbe as a model of how I can live Franciscan values in big ways and small.
Kolbe’s feastday is August 14.