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GREATER LOVE HAS NO MAN

Father Francis's picture
Saint Maximilian Kolbe

A boy who prayed to Our Lady for guidance was shown two crowns, a white one signifying purity and a red one for martyrdom. He told her he wanted both.

Born in Poland in 1894 and educated at a Franciscan seminary, where he showed amazing ability in maths and physics, the young Kolbe thought of training as an army officer but then realised that he wanted to be a friar. In 1910 he entered the Conventual Franciscan Order, taking the name Maximilian.

During his studies in Rome he was disturbed by the suffering and evil he saw around him, and the lack of interest in Christ. He became deeply devoted to Our Lady who, he believed, played a vital role in rescuing the world from evil. Maximilian thought of himself as a soldier fighting for Mary's cause, and along with some of his fellow friars he set up a group called the "Knights of Mary Immaculate".

Just before the First World War, Maximilian was ordained. He went to teach at the Franciscan Seminary in Cracow, and saw the potential of radio and the press for spreading Mary’s message. He produced a monthly magazine but struggled with financial problems and lack of support from his fellow friars who felt that the publishing business was disrupting the orderly life of the friary! Eventually his Provincial saw the value of Maximilian's work and transferred him to the friary at Grodno with two friars to help him. Donations from well-wishers paid off his debts and enabled him to buy his own printing press.

In spite of poor health Maximilian carried out parish duties by day, working on the magazine in the evenings. In 1927 a Polish prince gave Maximilian a plot of land on which the friars built a chapel and accommodation. This “City of the Immaculate" grew to be the largest religious community in the world, with a college, a novitiate, a hospital and a radio station. All work had to be done solely for love of God and Our Lady but prayer must come first.

With the outbreak of war and Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 Maximilian knew he was in danger because in his writing and radio broadcasts he had strongly condemned Nazism. In May 1941 he was arrested and taken to Auschwitz. As a priest, he was subjected to insults, beatings and hard manual work, but nothing could disturb his calmness and gentleness. His quiet acceptance of suffering inspired and encouraged the other prisoners.

Then a prisoner escaped on 30 June 1941 and the Nazis intended to execute 10 in reprisal. One of those chosen was a married man and Maximilian offered to die in his place. The prisoners were taken to an underground bunker and starved to death. They were gripped by fear, despair and hatred but Maximilian strengthened them with his example of unshakeable faith, urging them to pray and to turn to Our Lady for help. “These Nazis will not kill our souls," he told them. Through his support, the men in that bunker were able to die in dignity and peace, Maximilian being the last on 14 August, at the age of 47.

Pope Saint John Paul II called Maximilian Kolbe "the patron of our difficult century” who witnessed the horror of two world wars but remains a symbol of hope and forgiveness. Conflict and violence continue in many parts of the world but Maximilian reminds us that if we cling to our faith we shall be given the strength to endure our trials. What strength he drew from his devotion to Our Lady! She must have been very happy and proud when she presented him with the two crowns that he had so richly earned and deserved.

We ask Saint Maximilian to help us increase our love for Our Blessed Lady and to be generous to any neighbour who is in need.