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Feast of Maximilian Kolbe

St Maximilian Kolbe
Father Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr, licensed cc

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born as Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. At the age of 12, he had a vision of the Blessed Mother.

"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."

Maximilian Kolbe was arrested rested with several of his brothers on September 19, 1939 following the Nazi invasion of Poland, and released on December 8, 1939. Once back in  Niepokalanow he continued his priestly ministry, The brothers housed 3,000 Polish refugees, two-thirds of whom were Jewish, and continued their publication work, including materials considered anti-Nazi. For this work the presses were shut down, the congregation suppressed, the brothers dispersed, and Maximilian was imprisoned in Pawiak prison, Warsaw, Poland on  February 17, 1941.

On 28 May 1941, he was transferred to Auschwitz and branded as prisoner 16670. He was assigned to a special work group staffed by priests and supervised by especially vicious and abusive guards. His calm dedication to the faith brought him the worst jobs available, and more beatings than anyone else. At one point he was beaten, lashed, and left for dead. The prisoners managed to smuggle him into the camp hospital where he spent his recovery time hearing confessions. When he returned to the camp, Maximilian ministered to other prisoners, including conducting Mass and delivering communion using smuggled bread and wine.

In July 1941 there was an escape from the camp. Camp protocol, designed to make the prisoners guard each other, required that ten men be slaughtered in retribution for each escaped prisoner. Francis Gajowniczek, a married man with young children was chosen to die for the escape. Maximilian volunteered to take his place.

He encouraged the others with him and led prayers to Our Lady. The prisoners with him died of starvation and Maximilian Kolbe survived. He was finally given a lethal injection. It is said that he raised his left arm and calmly waited to die. He died as he had lived -in service to others. 

He is the patron saint of prisoners and people that are afflicted with addiction. Today, his cell at Auschwitz, Cell 18, is a destination for pilgrims as a place to visit and pray.

Cell 18 in the basement of Block no. 11, the "Death Block"
Jennifer Boyer, via Flickr, licensed cc.

The sign says: Cell in which in 1941 died prisoners sentenced to death by starvation as a result of collective responsibility for escapes. one of them was Father Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who sacrificed his life to save another prisoner.

 More from the Catholic Culture Site

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Esther, A Catholic Mom in Hawaii has lots of information on this important saint.