Lectionary Commemoration (14/08) – Maximilian Kolbe

14 Aug

Saint (Fr.) Maximilian Maria Kolbe

Today in the Anglican church is the commemoration of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a saint in the Roman Catholic church who gave his life in a concentration camp that another might live. Maximilian was a characteristic figure of Polish religion: his energy, poverty and patriotism, culminating in his death as a martyr to charity, made him an example of unsung heroism among detainees in concentration camps and other prisons.


A Franciscan priest, he was born (1894) near Lodz to devout Catholic parents. In 1907 he joined a junior seminary and then in 1910 entered the Franciscan Order. Interestingly his parents separated at this point where each joined a religious order: his mother first a Benedictine and then a Felician lay sister, his father Franciscan. Though his father later left the movement and ended up fighting the Russians as a Polish freedom fighter but was wounded and later hanged in 1914 as a traitor.

After his ordination in 191 in Rome he contracted tuberculosis and returned to Poland to teach in a seminary.  Alongside this he developed a religious magazine focusing on apologetics which was a great success, founding various Franciscan communities both in Poland and Japan.


With the arrival of World War Two and the German invasion, Kolbe used the monastery as a refugee camp whilst continuing to publish his papers which now took on a more patriotic line, critical of the Third Reich. This naturally led to a clash with the occupying forces and in May 1941 Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz, then both a labour and death camp.

At this camp, names were exchange that tattooed numbers; the heavy work of moving loads of logs of double weight at double speed was enforced by kicks and lashes. Kolbe also removed the bodies of the tortured. He continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions in unlikely places and smuggling in bread and wine for the Eucharist. He was conspicuous for sympathy and compassion towards those even more unfortunate than itself.


When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: My wife! My children! I will never see them again! At this Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was injected with phenol and died on 14th August, aged 47.


He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 197 and canonized by Pope Paul II in 1982. this ultimate self-sacrifice of his life as a result of heroic Christian charity. when canonized Pope Paul used Kolbe to make the point that the systematic hatred of (whole categories of) humanity propagated by the Nazi regime was in itself inherently an act of hatred of religious (Christian) faith, meaning Kolbe’s death equated to martyrdom.


The Roman Catholic collect for Maximilian Kolbe:

‘Most loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many: Grant to us the grace, as thou didst grant to thy servant Maximilian Kolbe, to be always ready to come to the aid of those in need or distress, not counting the cost; that so we may follow in the footsteps of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. ‘


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