Maximilian Kolbe – Hero’s Journey
The Mundane World
Grew up as son to basket weavers and farmers for parents. At the time, Poland as a country did not exist as it had been partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia.
The Call To Adventure
A young Kolbe had a vision of the Virgin Mary, described here in his own words, “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.”
Crossing The Threshold
In 1918 Kolbe was ordained a Catholic priest.
The Path of Trials
In 1919 he returned to the newly independent Poland, where he was very active in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, founding and supervising the monastery of Niepokalanów near Warsaw, a seminary, a radio station and several other organizations and publications.
Between 1930 and 1936 he took a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a monastery at the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese paper, and a seminary.
During the Second World War he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.
On 17 February 1941 he was arrested by the German Gestapo, and on May 28 he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13 (notorious for torture), in order to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.) One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
Master of Two Worlds
During the time in the cell he led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. He encouraged others that they would soon be with Mary in heaven. Each time the guards checked on him he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered, while the others lay moaning and complaining on the ground around him. He was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.
He is one of ten 20th-century martyrs from across the world who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.
Submitted by: William Lohr