“Son, what will become of you?!” These words of exasperation from Maria Kolbe to her 9-year-old son, Raymond, would have a pivotal effect on the life of this rambunctious child.
Born on January 8, 1894 to a humble family of weavers, Raymond was the oldest of five children, and his mother’s words caused him to ponder his own vocation more deeply. Troubled, he went to the Marian altar at his local parish and asked his spiritual mother the same question, “Holy Mother, what will become of me?” With this, the Immaculata appeared to him and offered him two crowns: a white crown representing purity and a red crown representing martyrdom. Embracing them both, he began his life’s mission.
Raymond Kolbe’s zeal for souls was epic throughout his 47 years of earthly existence. Entering the Order of Friars Minor Conventual junior seminary in 1907, he was later given the name Friar Maximilian. At the age of 21, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. On Oct. 16, 1917 with six confreres, he founded the Militia Immaculatae (Militia of the Immaculata, or MI), now a Public Association of the Faithful. Its spirituality embodies total consecration to Our Lady, the Immaculata, as a means of obtaining a more perfect union with Christ and extending that love to others throughout the world.
St. Maximilian was ordained on the Feast of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort on April 28, 1918. He offered his first Christmas Mass at the Church of St. Anastasia in Rome for the intention: For love unto victimhood. After obtaining a second degree, a doctorate in theology from the Franciscans’ International College in Rome in 1919, he returned to Poland. There, his ceaseless missionary work began.
Immediately, he began promoting the MI and disseminating the Miraculous Medal. With the permission of his superiors and no funds, he started publishing the monthly magazine Rycerz Niepokalanej (Knight of the Immaculata) in 1922. Its circulation grew to almost a million copies before the 1939 Nazi Germany invasion of Poland. In 1927, he established Niepokalanów, the City of the Immaculata, where over 700 friars devoted themselves to various apostolates. In 1930, he traveled to Japan and established a second friary, Mugenzai no Sono (Garden of the Immaculata).
Returning to Poland in 1936, he was ultimately arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941, where he received the harshest of treatments. In an act of charity, he volunteered to take the place of a family man who had been sentenced to die in the starvation bunker with nine others. After two weeks, he was given an injection of carbolic acid and immediately died on Aug. 14, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope St. John Paul II canonized him as a Martyr of Charity on Oct. 10, 1982 and called him the patron saint of the difficult 20th century. St. Maximilian Kolbe is additionally the patron saint of prisoners, journalists, families and the pro-life movement.
The Militia of the Immaculata is an international Public Association of the Faithful whose goal is to promote the Marian spirituality of St. Maximilian Kolbe. For information on the MI, visit MilitiaoftheImmaculata.com or email MINational@MissionImmaculata.com.
Donna Masek is a Volunteer of the Immaculata and coordinator with the Utah Immaculata Villages, which serves both the English and Spanish communities.