Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, real name Rajmund Kolbe, was born on January 8th , 1894 in Zduńska Wola near Łódź, his parents were Juliusz Kolbe (d. 1914) and Marianna, maiden name Dąbrowska (d. 1946).
He was baptized on his birthday at the Parish Church of the Assumption of Holy Virgin Mary in Zduńska Wola. He was the second child in Kolbe family. His parents were domestic weavers. Because of very hard conditions of living they were forced to shut up the loom and moved out to Łódź, then to Pabianice. There Kolbe's father worked in a factory and his mother run a little shop and worked as midwife (c. 1897).
Rajmund's parents were members of the III Order of St. Francisco. His father, a true patriot, often read patriotic books to his sons. The boys willingly played knights and drew eagles (Polish national symbols) on fences. At first they learned and studied at home.
Rajmund as a small child used to play pranks. One day his mother reproached him for this saying: "Mundek, what will become of you?" The boy remembered these words for a long time. Slowly he grew serious and calm. When he was 12, Virgin Mary appeared to him, holding in her hands two crowns: a white one and a red one. She asked the boy if he wanted them and explained that the white one meant chastity while the red one symbolized martyrdom. Kolbe answered: " Yes, I want them. Then the Holy Mother looked at me approvingly and disappeared." It took place in the Parish Church in Pabianice.
In 1907 Franciscan Conventual monks from Lvov organized missions in Pabianice. Rajmund with his elder brother Franciszek decided to join the Franciscan order. Both managed to cross borders between partitioned Poland, from the Russian part to the Austrian one, to Lvov. So at thirteen, Rajmund started his education in a small Franciscan Conventual seminar in Lvov, three years later the youngest brother Józef joined them as well. Lvov reminded Rajmund times of Kazimierz, King of Poland, who in the Lvov cathedral in front of the miraculous paintingof the Holy Mother Merciful made Virgin Mary Queen of Poland and took an oath (1656). Before the very same painting Rajmund decided also to devote himself to Virgin Mary. Later he would write: "With my face bent down to earth I promised Virgin Mary, reigning at the altar, that I would fight fo Her. How ? I didn't know then but I imagined fight by means of material weapons."
Very quickly he came to a conclusion that armed struggle could not be reconciled with priesthood that he wished to choose. He decided then to resign priesthood and thought of sacrificing himself as soldier defending the native land, Home-land.At that time on the territory of Austria some secret armed forces were being organized, with aimes of liberating Poland from occupants' restrictions. So called Polish Legions were being created. When Rajmund and his brother had already decided to join the organization, their mother came to see them. They revealed her their plans and she confessed that she and their father were going to devote their time and attention uniquely to the service of God. Rajmund saw in it a sign of God's will, stayed and soon was accepted in noviciate (1910). The following year he took temporary vows.
Rajmund finished the last grade of a little seminar school in Lvov and his superiors sent him to study furher. He started his studies in 1912, initially in Cracow, and thanks to his unusual talents the same year in Rome, where he stayed at an international Serafit College. He attended simultanously the distiguished Pontifical Gregorian University, run by Jesuits. He graduated in philosophy (1912-1915) and theology (1915-1919) with two Ph.D. titles. Rajmund showed extraordinary scientific skills and competence. He wrote an article entitled 'Etereoplan' about a space interplanetary vehicle.
On November 1st, 1914 Kolbe took a solemn profession during which he took on an additional name 'Maria.' Father Kolbe was ordained on April 28th, 1918.
His stay in Rome was very providential. In this capital of Christianity he realized that not only Poland but the whole world should belong to Jesus Christ.
In 1917 two great anniversaries (that gave a lot to think about to Father Kolbe) took place: the 400th anniversary of Martin Luther King's statements and the 200th anniversary of the freemasonry movement. Enemies of the Church used both of them to express their feelings of hatred. The Mayor of Rome, Jew by the way, Ernest Nathan, became Great Freemason Master. He let organize a sort of celebration with a black banner on which there was a sign of Lucifer treading St . Michael Archangel. During the celebration people cried: 'Devil will rule the Vatican and Pope will be his servant.' Maximilian witnessed all this with a heavy heart and resentment. He couldn't understand such a provocation in Rome and even more was he annoyed by gaping passers-by and their indifference to blasphemes. The same year however (1917) the catholic world celebrated the 75th anniversary of a revelation of Holy Virgin Mary to Alfonso Ratisbonne.
The above mentioned gave Kolbe, subdeacon at that time, an inspiration to found the Knighthood of the Immaculate (Militia Immaculatae), a sort of brotherhood of persons wishing to convert sinners and the unreligious.
He came back to independent Poland in 1919. He decided to make it the Kingdom of the Immaculate and started to look for volunteers for the Knighthood of the Immaculate. In 1922 he also undertook steps to start a publication of the Catholic press. He perceived a chance to oppose the bad and popularize the Evangelics with the help of mass media. His superiors, for fear that Kolbe might run the monastery into debt, sent him to Grodno where at once Father Kolbe started the publishing house. Then Maximilian Kolbe moved his work to Teresin near Warsaw and founded a monastery-publishing house called Niepokalanów (in Polish meaning 'Immaculate') to commemorate Virgin Mary. In 1927 'Rycerz Niepokalanej' issued by him reached the publication of 70,000 copies and a number of active members of Militia Immaculatae (MI) reached 126,000.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the monastery in Niepokalanów had 13 fathers, 18 seminarists, 527 brothers, 82 candidates for brothers and 122 boys in a little seminar. It was the biggest monastery in the world then and one of the biggest in the history of the Church. All this functioned in spite of many difficulties. The freemasonry press tried to ridicule the Immaculate Movement and repel people from it but in vain.
Soon 'Rycerz Niepokalanej' reached the publication of 750,000 copies, "Rycerzyk Niepokalanej" for children was published in 221,000 copies, and "Mały Dziennik" had 137,000 copies with a Sunday edition of 225,000 copies.A radio station started to function there in 1938 and it was planned to launch television as well.
Father Kolbe left Niepokalanów and together with 4 brothers with a permission of the General Superior went to Nagasaki, Japan. He founded another 'Niepokalanów' there. In 1931 he started a noviciate and in 1936 a little seminar.
'Rycerz Niepokalanej' issued in Japanese reached 65,000 copies.
He thought of starting centres similar to Niepokalanów all over the world. But ... the red crown of martyrdom was awaiting him. He was about to finish his heroic life.
Father Kolbe came back to Poland to help Polish Niepokalanów which reached a crisis while he was absent. When it seemed that a time of difficulty was over the war broke out.
On September 19th , 1939 the Germans started liquidation of Niepokalanów.
Father Kolbe was arrested together with other monks. They were sent to concentration camps: first Amtlitz (from 24th of September to 8th of November) and then Ostrzeszów (from 9th of November to 8th of December).
On December 8th, Day of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, he was released and went immediately back to Niepokalanów. He was busy organizing 3,000 places for the displaced Poznań population among whom there were 2,000 Jews. He started a constant adoration of The Holy Sacrament, opened repair workshops of watches and bicycles, built a smithy and tinsmithy, organized a sewing work-room and sanitary service. On February 17th , 1941 the Gestapo came and took f. Kolbe to Pawiak prison. On May 25th , 1941 he was transferred to a concentration camp Oświęcim (Auschwitz), where he got a number 16 670.
At the end of July 1941 a prisoner from Kolbe's bunker escaped, which enraged the Camp Commander, prompting him to pick 10 men from the same bunker to starve to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the ten men was Franciszek Gajowniczek. He cried out lamenting about his family (wife and children). And then surprisingly Kolbe asked humbly to take his co-prisoner's place. Being asked who he was, Kolbe answered he was a catholic priest. The wish was granted and he went with the 9 other prisoners to Death Bunker No 13. The place so far had been cursed by condamned prisoners, but with f. Maximilian inside it became a shrine of God's Glory. The prisoners were praying and singing religious songs. After 2 weeks of starvation only 4 of the 10 men were still alive including Kolbe. The German butchers needed the place so Kolbe and the other three were executed with an injection of carbolic acid (phenol) on the eve of the Assumption of Holy Virgin Mary , on August 14th , 1941. He became an inspiration in suffering to all his fellow prisoners. He was only 47 years old.
Pope Paul VI beatified the Martyr on October 17th , 1971 in front of many thousands of believers from the whole world and more than 3,000 pilgrims from Poland attending the celebration.
On October 10th , 1982 Pope John Paul II canonized Father Kolbe who is now venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
The worship of Saint Maximilian spread throughout Poland. The Koszalin-Kołobrzeg Diocese made him Patron Saint, in Zduńska Wola there is the Centre of Remembrance of Saint Maximilian built on a local parish priest's initiative. Luckily Saint Maximilian's family house has survived, being now a small museum.
Saint Maximilian will for ever rest one of the most shining personages in the history of the Church in Poland: a man who trusted the Immaculate Mary and never lost his confidence.
So far in Poland 61churches and chapels have been built in honour of the Saint and 35 ones abroad.
- Major shrine: Basilica of the Immaculate Mary Mediatrix of Grace, Niepokalanów, Poland
- Attributes: a Franciscan friar's habit or a Nazi concentration camp uniform (prisoner's uniform) or a rosary or a medallion with Virgin Mary in his hand
-Patronage: 20th century, power works, journalists, political prisoners, drug addicts
-In 1999 the Holy Father declared St. Maximilian a patron of honorary blood donors
-Feast Day: the 14th of August
Based on a book written by f. Wincenty Zaleski "Święci na każdy dzień" published by Wydawnictwo Salezjańskie, Warsaw