Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
This Polish Saint Franciscan was born under the name Rajmund Kolbe, in 1894 in Zdunska Wola, in a poor family of physical workers. His father worked in a factory while his mother led a shop (later on she worked as a midwife).
In 1906, as a young boy, he had a vision of Saint Mary who appeared in front of him in a local church of Pabianice. She offered little Rajmund 2 crowns of different colour, suggesting that the white one meant life in purity while the red one ensured martyrdom. Although Kolbe was asked to choose one of these, with no hesitation he grabbed both of them. He started attending the seminary in 1907 (in Lviv, situated in today’s Ukraine) and in 1910 he started the novitiate at Franciscans' – taking name Maximilian – while in 1914 his perpetual vows took place – during this very event he took the name Maria. He studied Philosophy but was also passionate about Mathematics and Physics. He even constructed so called ‘Eteroplan’ that was supposed to enable the flight into outer space.
Maksymilian Kolbe was a publisher of ‘The Knight of the Immaculate’ and ‘Little Daily’ magazines. He did also missionary work. During 1931-1935 he served in Japan (he started to publish Japanese magazine there) where he also founded a monastery in the outskirts of Nagasaki. Afterwards he founded similar places in India and China, coming back to Poland in 1936. The monastery in Nagasaki was surprisingly built on the less preferred site of the mountain. However, it was saved because the blast of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki hit an opposite site of the mountain.
19th of September 1939 Maximilian Kolbe was arrested along with 40 other monks. He was released and arrested again in 1941. He was kept in Pawiak-prison from where he was taken to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. He became a prisoner with number 16670. When in July 1941 a man vanished from Kolbe’s barrack, the Nazis ordered to pick up 10 man to get them starved to death (to avoid further escapes). While one of the men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, was chosen among the other prisoners, he started to beg for sparing his life. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He was finished off with an injection of Phenol. Franciszek Gajowniczek was released from Auschwitz in 1944 and surivived the war.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonised in 1982. His cult was popularised also outside of Poland (for example in Hungary). He is very often shown in striped clothes – such as the ones that were worn by Auschwitz prisoners.