Maximilian Kolbe’s death in Auschwitz is his best-known act, and yet his relatively short life was extraordinarily full of adventures, bold enterprises, and battles against various kinds of evil. Born in 1894 in Poland, he was visited by Our Lady when he was just twelve. She offered him a white crown of purity or a red crown of martyrdom; he chose both. When he took his final vows to join the Franciscans in 1914, he took the name Mary as part of his religious name.
Prayer and journalism
Even before his ordination, Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculatae, a Marian prayer campaign with a special vocation to pray for the conversion of Freemasons. After his ordination in 1922 became active in journalism and publishing: he brought out books and mass-circulation Catholic periodicals.
War and death
In the 1930s, Kolbe evangelized in Japan, founding a monastery and a seminary near Nagasaki. He returned to Poland in 1938, and was once again active in the media, setting up a radio station and publishing anti-Nazi tracts. Humanitarian concerns soon became central to the monastery’s work: they sheltered Jewish refugees and others fleeing from the Nazis. The inevitable moment came: the authorities shut down the monastery and sent Maximilian and four of his companions to Auschwitz.
He was violently beaten, at risk to his life. One day several men were chosen at random for execution; when one man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out over the fate of his family, Kolbe stepped forward and offered himself as a substitute. Kolbe was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. At Kolbe’s beatification in 1971 and canonization in 1982, Gajowniczek was present.
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