Saint Maximilian Kolbe is an incredible model of love for others and Christian charity.
Born in Poland into a working class family, he joined the Conventual Franciscans in 1907. His original name was Raymond, and he was given the religious name Maximilian, making his final vows in 1914. That was the same year he lost his father, Julius, who was hanged by the Russians for fighting for Polish independence.
He was ordained a priest in 1918 after earning a doctorate in philosophy and theology. During his time as a student, he witnessed the hate that people could have toward the Church in a Freemason demonstration in Rome against the pope. This inspired him to organize the Army of Mary (Militia Immaculata) to work for the conversion of sinners, through the intercession of Mary. Fr. Kolbe and the Army of Mary distributed papers to promote the faith, and he was also active in speaking about our faith on amateur radio. Among his other patronages, he is the patron of amateur radio.
In the 1930s, Fr. Kolbe frequently visited Japan where he founded a monastery in Nagasaki (saved during the atomic bomb as the Monastery was on the other side of the mountain). It still stands to this day.
When World War II began and his country was invaded, Fr. Kolbe provided shelter to refugees from Poland, including 2,000 Jews. For this, he was arrested in February of 1941 by the Gestapo and transferred to Auschwitz. In July of 1941 when 3 prisoners disappeared and the deputy commander, Karl Fritzsch, ordered 10 to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts, one of the men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out “My wife! My children!” Fr. Kolbe asked to take his place. He was placed in a cell with the others, and he had Mass daily and led them in prayer amidst a horrific and slow death of starvation over 2 weeks. At the end when Fr. Kolbe was the only one still living, he was given a lethal injection. He was cremated on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption.
One of the things that strikes me with Fr. Kolbe is how as a Catholic he could have stayed out of harms way. But instead he helped others and spoke out against injustice. He once said to a person who worked with him, who asked if he should give Jews food if they came to him begging that “it was necessary to do this because all men are brothers.” To Fr. Kolbe, a person needed to be loved because they were created in God’s image.
As a parish family, one of the things we are striving for is unity – to see ourselves as part of the same family, supporting one another. Fr. Kolbe is such a great example of that, and a reminder of the great commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” May we be inspired to grow in that love daily in our hearts for all by this hero of our faith.
There is no other parish with this name in the Archdiocese, so we will be the first. The school, as part of our parish, will also be taking this name. However, our two church campuses will still be known as the church of Saint Peter’s and the church of Saint Joseph’s. Saint Maximilian Kolbe will be the parish name, replacing the oft-used but never approved “Delano Catholic Community.”
As Father Kolbe reached out to others, may we strive daily to reach out to one another both in our parish family, and in the greater world.