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 faraway 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”, printed 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.
A Saint Attends College
Only a short time had passed, and Brother Maximilian was edifying everyone at the International College by his exceptional goodness combined with a remarkable intelligence. Father Stephen Ignudi, rector of the college, described Blessed Maximilian as a “holy young man,” and entered this description in the college register.
For his fellow brothers, Maximilian stood out as a true model of edification. “He was truly a saint in the exact sense of the word,” reports one of his fellow students; and he adds, “He was humble and meek about everything and with everyone … He was most observant, even in the smallest provisions of the Rule. At the first signal from the superior or the first sound of the monastery bell, he would promptly become silent, stopping even in the middle of a word … As for piety, his love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament reached the deepest fibers of his heart. He was enrolled in the Perpetual Adoration … Every hour he would make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament … The devotion he had toward the Madonna was sincere and childlike. When we were out walking he would invite me to recite the Rosary and other prayers with him … He would often do the same during free periods when we were in the college courtyard. He used to always give the Madonna the sweet name of ‘My Mother’ (Mamma mia) … Among actual, living persons, I have never come across anyone who had more affection for the Madonna than Father Maximilian. He was a true son of Mary Most Holy.”
“Holy young man” and “true son of Mary Most Holy” — two judgments that beautifully show us Blessed Maximilian during this period in Rome.
The Excellent Scholar
This young brother of average height, dark haired, with clear bright eyes and smiling features, possessed also a noticeably keen intelligence, with a special leaning toward the exact sciences.
A space-ship project prepared by Blessed Maximilian was presented to Father Gianfranceschi, a scientist and professor at the Gregorian University, who later was appointed Director of the Vatican Radio. Father Gianfranceschi examined it and found it to be exact according to principles of science; but he judged that the cost of bringing it into actual operation would be extremely high.
Thoughtful and keen-minded, Brother Maximilian wanted to get to the bottom of questions in all scholastic material that he had to study. This sometimes was embarrassing to his professors. Once, in fact, the professor of law remarked, “This young man presents problems to me which I do not know how to answer.”
In his classwork Brother Maximilian also showed his generous nature. He easily managed to make a copy of lectures delivered by his professors and then, for the benefit of classmates less capable than he, he was glad to pass them around, especially during time of examinations.
On October 22, 1915, Brother Maximilian received his doctorate in philosophy at the Gregorian University. He continued with his studies in the school of theology at the International College.
His Finger Miraculously Cured
One day Brother Maximilian suffered from a badly infected right index finger. The physician examined it carefully and declared that the only thing to do was to amputate it without delay. This was to be done the following day.
This was a shock to Brother Maximilian. Amputating the right index finger could hinder his becoming a priest; for this finger was needed in the celebration of Holy Mass. While he felt grief, he abandoned himself to God’s will. Father Rector visited him that evening and found him peaceful, and told him how a case of this kind had happened to him when he was a boy. An abscess on his foot had been causing unbearable pain, and the physician had ordered its amputation the following morning. But his mother, full of faith, moistened a cloth in some Lourdes water and placed it on the abscess. The next morning when the physician learned that Lourdes water had been applied, he spoke harshly about religious superstition. He was a complete skeptic. But when he unbandaged the foot and found it healed, he was confused and humbled. He received the grace of conversion, and afterwards had a church built at his own expense.
“I shall not tell you any more,” the Rector concluded. He drew a little bottle of Lourdes water out of his pocket and left it on a table.
When morning came, the doctor arrived to perform the amputation. “Doctor,” Maximilian said, “I may have found a medicine capable of healing me without the amputation. It is there in that little bottle on the table. Would you be so kind as to apply it to my finger?”
The physician was a good Christian. He understood, and he agreed to do his part in this act of faith of Brother Maximilian. He moistened some padding with Lourdes water and bandaged it to the finger.
The next morning the physician was curious to know how this unusual medication had turned out. He was astonished when he found there was no need for amputation. The finger was well. The Immaculate Virgin had provided for the needs of Her favored son in an evident and visible way.
Zeal Against Masonry
In Rome Brother Maximilian saw things good and bad. He saw the Holy Father, the basilicas, the catacombs, some Roman antiquities, and the outstanding treasures of art which are numerous in the Eternal City.
He also witnessed the prevailing worldliness and vanity. He observed above all the clamorous, sacrilegious demonstrations that the Masons were sponsoring against the Church and against the Vicar of Christ.
He was delighted with the things that were a blessing to Rome, above all, the presence of the Pope, of whom he speaks in his letters with an infectious enthusiasm and esteem. But the impiety of the enemies of Christ and His Church disgusted and upset him.
The year 1917 marked the second centenary of Masonry. Brother Maximilian learned the godless Character of the sacrilegious parades organized against the Pope by Masons, which passed through the streets of Rome and into St. Peter’s Square in front of the Vatican. Black flags were flown bearing an image of the archangel St. Michael beneath the feet of Lucifer, or Satan, and bearing the words “Satan will rule in the Vatican.” The true Masons are followers of Satan.
The tragic spectacle made Brother Maximilian's heart bleed. It was then that he wrote, “Is it possible that our enemies must carry on their work to the point of taking over, and that we remain idle, or, at the most, just pray without taking any action: Do we not have weapons more powerful than theirs — the protection of heaven and of the Immaculate Virgin? … The Immaculate and undefeated Queen who fights off every heresy will not give the field over to the enemy that is raising his head again; if She finds servants who are faithful and docile to Her orders, She will win new victories greater than what we would imagine …”
On another occasion, after having listened to the Rector’s meditation on the conversion of the Jew Alfonse Ratisbonne, which came about by means of the Miraculous Medal, together with the vision Ratisbonne had of the Blessed Virgin in the Church of S. Andrea delle Fratte, Brother Maximilian with fervent joy confided to a fellow friar: “Now we simply have to pray to the Madonna to drive away the devil and all heresies, especially the Masons…”