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Saint Maximilian Kolbe

by Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M., Conv., S.T.D.

On October 10, 1982 at St. Peter’s, Blessed Maximilian Mary Kolbe, O.F.M., Conventual, was canonized for his most outstanding heroic virtues. It is just forty-one years ago that Father Maximilian Kolbe was martyred in the Nazi prison camp of Auschwitz, after Father Maximilian freely offered to die in the place of an unjustly condemned fellow prisoner whom he hardly knew. Pope John Paul II has declared him “the patron of our difficult century”. We are happy to publish this article to enable more people to know St. Maximilian whom God has raised up in our times as a model of deep faith, heroic charity and especially of immense love for Our Lady. The key to this Saint’s holiness is his ever-increasing love towards Mary Our Mother. Saint Maximilian set no limits to his love for God's Mother and in practice he showed his magnificent devotion towards Her by an intense prayer life which bore fruit in a marvelous Marian apostolate during his lifetime, and he continues to guide from Heaven his Marian apostolate which uses the mass media to bring people to a greater knowledge and love of Jesus and Mary.

Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M., Conv., who has been recently elected Provincial of the Naples Province of the Conventual Franciscans, is particularly qualified to write about Saint Maximilian as Father Stefano today follows the example set by our new saint. Both Father Stefano and Saint Maximilian attracted many religious vocations to their respective houses where each of them was Superior. Both have started Marian apostolates and worked in publishing and other areas of the mass media. Both have founded religious communities to promote devotion to the Mother of God in Asia from far-away Europe. Both hold doctorates in Sacred Theology and both are Conventual Franciscan Fathers. Father Stefano, like Saint Maximilian, is a writer of interesting and very readable articles, as our readers know from the article Jesus, Our Eucharistic Love, in this issue. This brief biography of Saint Maximilian was published a few years ago in Italian and it is the first time that it is published in English in North America.

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe died a martyr on August 14, 1941. He had a very great devotion to Mary Immaculate and from this love grew his tireless zeal in the Catholic Press Apostolate. Through his love for the Mother of God, he reached such heights of sanctity as to volunteer to die in place of a prisoner unjustly condemned.

The Seminary in Leopoli

It is evening, and people are in church. It is the time of a mission for the whole town. Father Peregrin Haczela, a Conventual Franciscan friar, is preaching. Sitting beside one another, quiet and attentive to the preacher’s word, are the two brothers Francis and Raymond.

At one point the two boys’ interest rises and they become deeply moved and joyful. The missionary Father is saying that in the town of Leopoli a seminary has opened for boys who want to consecrate themselves to Jesus in the Order of St. Francis.

Right after the sermon the two boys meet the missionary priest in the sacristy. They speak with him, and tell of their desire to consecrate themselves to God as St. Francis did, and ask him to be so good as to accept them into the new seminary at Leopoli.

It was not easy to obtain their parents’ consent, because of the distance of Leopoli, capital of Galicia. But in the end consent was given. And so, in October of 1907 the two boys were finally able to enter the new Franciscan seminary. For Raymond, a vision was becoming a reality; a dream was coming true. The Madonna was opening the path for him and was leading him toward his goal — the two crowns.

A Terrible Temptation

In the new seminary at Leopoli, in the company of his brother Francis, the high-spirited and clever Raymond appeared serene and sure of himself as he continued his studies to the end of his junior seminary course. The time arrived for him to submit his request to receive the habit — the Franciscan garb — and begin the Novitiate. Everything was going peacefully; and lo! the Tempter makes his appearance. The devil, who is always on the lookout, had scented a good opportunity and set about troubling this pure, ardent soul. Perhaps he suspected that a great apostle of tomorrow would emerge from that spiritual youth who was so serious and dedicated. He certainly managed to put strange worries in Raymond’s head, like this: “If you want to win the two crowns promised by the Madonna, then rather than continue in the seminary you should leave at once and take up a military career so that you can go into combat duty and die for the heavenly Queen, and in that way earn the privilege of being crowned by Her.”

This suggestion managed to make its way into Raymond’s thinking to the extent that on the day before the beginning of the Novitiate, he decided not to ask to become a novice, but to leave. Furthermore, he managed to convince his brother Francis to also abandon the idea of requesting the habit of novice.

His Mother Saves Her Son

The heavenly Mother was watching out for her chosen child. To free him from the diabolical suggestions She used his earthly mother, who was likewise interested in preserving the vocation of her sons — as every Christian mother should be.

On that very same day, Raymond’s mother felt an urge to visit her two sons, and arrived at the seminary at the crucial moment. While Raymond and Francis were on their way to see the Father Provincial to tell him they no longer wished to apply for the Novitiate, their mother rang the doorbell at the entrance of the seminary. The two brothers were sent at once to see her.

A number of years later Saint Maximilian wrote: “How can we forget the time when we heard the parlor bell ring just when we were on the point of seeing Father Provincial to tell him that we did not want to enter the Order? An infinitely merciful Providence, by means of the Immaculate One, sent our mother at that crucial moment.”

When they presented everything to their good mother, the holy words that she knew how to use, quickly dispelled the ideas that the devil had given Raymond and Francis, brought peace to their minds, and persuaded them to eagerly request to receive the habit of the Seraphic Father, St. Francis, and enter the Novitiate.

Brother Maximilian Mary

On September 4, 1910, at the foot of the Immaculate Virgin's altar, Raymond Kolbe, at the age of sixteen, became a brother. From that moment on, his name was Brother Maximilian Mary. He had received a name belonging to brave soldiers and renowned rulers. His superiors sensed that there was something exceptional in him; and Brother Maximilian’s sentiments were those of someone strongly determined to live up to his Franciscan vocation, seen in all its strength and beauty.

The year of Novitiate passed peacefully, spent in prayer, study, daily work, and in the exercise of the virtues of a religious and in learning and practicing Franciscan life — which is a “common life”, that is, a shared life devoted to prayer, poverty and penance. Friar Maximilian had his trials. At one point he suffered from scruples, but his docility in obeying his superiors and his providential meeting with a truly holy priest, Father Venzanzio Katarzyniec, quickly healed the painful spiritual torment.

At the end of the year of Novitiate, on September 5, 1911, Brother Maximilian Mary consecrated himself to God with vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, promising to faithfully observe the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi.

Chapter Two
— Zealous Youth

In the Eternal City

As soon as the year of Novitiate was finished, Brother Maximilian was sent to the Seraphic Seminary at Cracow to continue his junior college studies. After another year had passed, his Father Provincial summoned him and offered him this choice: “Would you prefer to continue your studies here in Poland, or would you like to go to the International College in Rome to get a doctorate in philosophy and theology?”

Maximilian’s prompt answer was, “In view of my poor health, I would prefer to study in Poland rather than try to earn a doctorate in the Roman Universities.”

There was another secret motive that induced him to turn down the opportunity to go to Rome. He wanted to jealously defend the white crown promised him by the Madonna. He had fears for his virginal purity. Why was this? Because unfortunately Rome had an unfavorable reputation among the Polish Brothers. There was talk of corruption and public immorality. There were exaggerations. But Brother Maximilian preferred the safer environment of Cracow where Christian modesty prevailed.

The Father Provincial tried to persuade him not to turn down the opportunity, but without success. Then he removed Brother Maximilian’s name from the list of brothers assigned to the Eternal City.

But the next day Brother Maximilian went back to see his Father Provincial. Regrets for not having left the decision up to his superiors had disturbed his peace of mind. “Father,” he said, “yesterday I expressed my own personal desires, and I am sorry. I ask you now to do with me what you want; for I only want to practice obedience.”

“Then you will go to Rome,” the Father Provincial remarked smiling; and he restored Brother Maximilian’s name to the list of other names.

(Continued next issue)