Kolbe, Maximilian, St.

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Franciscan priest, evangelizer, "martyr of charity"; b. Jan. 8, 1894, Zdunska Wola, Poland; d. Aug. 14, 1941, in Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Poland. Baptized Raymond Kolbe, he took the religious name Maximilian when he entered the Conventual Franciscan Order's novitiate on Sept. 4, 1910. Having professed simple vows as a friar on Sept. 5, 1911, and solemn vows on Nov. 1, 1914, he was ordained a priest in Rome, Italy, on April 28, 1918. While still a seminarian in Rome, on Oct. 16, 1917, he founded the Militia Immaculatae, a movement promoting evangelization through Marian consecration. Returning to Poland in 1919, he soon initiated a mass media apostolate to further the work of evangelization. In 1922, he launched the publication Rycerz Niepokalanej (Knight of the Immaculate), whose monthly circulation would grow to one million issues by 1939. His publishing apostolate expanded to include three additional journals and one daily newspaper.

Though debilitated by tuberculosis, Kolbe founded a massive Franciscan friary and evangelization center, Niepokalanów (City of the Immaculate) near Warsaw in 1927 and a similar one in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1930. He labored at the Japanese mission for six years. He was regarded as an innovator in religious life, entrusting key responsibilities to nonordained friars trained in various specialties of the apostolate.

As guardian of Niepokalanów during the Nazi occupation of Poland, Kolbe welcomed more than 1,500 displaced Jewish refugees, ministering to them with such sensitivity that he even provided for their celebration of Jewish religious feasts. He was arrested by the Gestapo on Feb. 17, 1941, after publishing an article entitled "Truth." First imprisoned at Pawlak jail in Warsaw, he was transported to Oświęcim (Auschwitz) concentration camp on May 28, 1941. Though beaten, tortured, and subjected to extra punishment because he was a priest, Kolbe constantly encouraged his fellow prisoners to love their enemies: "Hatred destroys; love alone creates." In late July 1941, a prisoner escaped from his barracks. In retaliation, the Nazis selected ten individuals for execution. One of the condemned, Franciszek Gajcwniczek, cried aloud that he had a wife and children. Moved by the plight of this family man, Kolbe stepped forward to take Gajowniczek's place. The Nazi commandant Fritsch allowed the substitution. Consigned with the other nine to a subterranean cell, Kolbe survived without food or water for nearly two weeks, until the Nazis dispatched him and the other survivors with lethal injection. On Oct. 17, 1971 Pope Paul VI beatified him and, on Oct. 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him with the title "Martyr of Charity."

Feast: Aug. 14.

Bibliography: d. dewar, Saint of Auschwitz (San Francisco 1982). j. domanski, I dati storici della vita del P. Massimiliano M. Kolbe (Rome 1973); For the Life of the World: Saint Maximilian and the Eucharist (Libertyville, Ill. 1993). l. m. faccenda, One more gift (West Covina, Calif. 1990); Symbiosiscontemplation and action (West Covina, Calif. 1991). a. frossard, "Forget Not Love": The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe (Kenosha, Wisc. 1977; San Francisco 1990). b. hanley, Maximilian Kolbe (Notre Dame, Ind. 1982). john paul ii, Massimiliano Kolbe, patrono del nostro difficile secolo (Vatican City 1982). s. c. losrit, The last days of Maximilian Kolbe (New York 1981). h. m. manteau-bonamy, La Doctrine mariale du père Kolbe (Paris 1975), Eng. tr. r. arnandez, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit (Kenosha, Wisc. 1977). a. ricciardi, St. Maximilian Kolbe: Apostle of Our Difficult Age (Boston 1982). a. romb, ed., The Kolbe Reader: The Writings of St Maximilian M. Kolbe, OFM Conv. (Libertyville, Ill. 1987); Maximilian Kolbe: authentic Franciscan (Libertyville, Ill. 1990). p. treece, A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe Saint of Auschwitz, In the Words of Those Who Knew Him (San Francisco 1982). m. winowska The Death Camp Proved Him Real, (Kenosha, Wis. 1971), Eng. tr. of Secret de Maximilien Kolbe (Paris 1971).

[j. e. mccurry]