May 17th, 2010
Born in Poland January 7, 1894, the Conventual Franciscan friar Maximilian Kolbe had already distinguished himself by his unrelenting battle against the world’s evils and his intense devotion to Mary Immaculate when he became an inmate at Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1941.
Fr Maximilian was still a seminary student when he helped found the Militia Immaculatae (Army of Mary), whose mission was to convert sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church through the influence of the Blessed Virgin. In his subsequent career as a friar he founded monastaries in Poland, Japan and India despite worsening health.
Back in Poland at the outbreak of World War II, Maximilian sheltered refugees (including many Jews) at the Niepokalanow friary he had founded in 1927. He was still publishing the widely circulated monthly Knight of the Immaculate when he was arrested in February 1941 after speaking out against the Nazis in his magazine. He was incarcerated at Pawiak prison (Warsaw), then transferred to Auschwitz in May.
Surviving Auschwitz inmates have testified in detail about Fr Maximilian’s selflessness and service to others during his weeks at the death camp before his August execution. With other priests, he was targeted for abuse by the most sadistic guards. His ministering to others—hearing confessions while hospitalized after a near-fatal beating, or celebrating Mass in secret—never wavered. Although survival was precarious and food was always scarce, he held back so others could get food, or shared his ration.
The final episode of Fr. Maximilian’s life exemplified self-sacrifice. When ten prisoners were selected for death by starvation as punishment for the escape of three inmates, the Franciscan persuaded the Nazi officer in charge to allow him to take the place of one doomed man so that the other prisoner might still have hope of seeing his family again. Fr. Maximilian was the last in the punishment cell to die; after supporting his fellow prisoners in prayer and song for two weeks, he was killed by lethal injection on August 14.
He was canonized October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II.