“The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe
Never again! That’s a refrain heard throughout modern history. Never again should we
have to witness atrocities. Never again should we have to overcome another terrorist attack. Never again should a family have to rush to a school because of a mass shooting or a lockdown. Never again should a refugee who seeks asylum be turned away.
After each mass shooting, we often hear of innocents who sacrificed their life to save another. We hear of those who shelter the young and others from bullets. These heroes echo the life of one of the most heroic saints in the Church.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, born Rajmund Kolbe on January 8, 1894, in Poland when it was part of the Russian Empire, lived during an era of extreme unrest and violence. That era included both world wars. He would become martyred during World War II.
His life of service was strongly influenced by a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1906. The next year, he joined the Conventual Franciscans, and he entered the novitiate in 1910, when he was given the name Maximilian. He went to Rome and earned two doctorates—in philosophy and theology. In 1917, during the Great War that engulfed Europe, the devout young man founded the Militia Immaculatae, which encouraged the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the conversion of sinners. In 1918, at age twenty-four, Kolbe was ordained a priest.
Kolbe’s passion for Mary lasted a lifetime. He wrote: “My children, love the Immaculate! Love Her and She will make you happy! Love Her and trust in Her without limits.” He also recognized the power of the press and founded a magazine in 1922, Knight of the Immaculata, which promoted devotion to Mary.
In 1927, Kolbe founded and led a new Franciscan monastery near Warsaw, Poland, called Niepokalanów, one of Kolbe’s most lasting accomplishments, becoming the world’s largest Franciscan monastery. The monastery became something of a small city and eventually a safe haven for those displaced during the war. It housed close to 1,000 priests, brothers, and students. It even had a radio station—one that still broadcasts to this day.
Kolbe, who wrote frequently in the magazine, penned in 1932, “Don’t set out to do your own works for God, however great these might be, but give yourself humbly into his hands to do his works.” He also prophetically wrote,