The Apostolate in Love with the Immaculata
St. 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.
The Knight of the Immaculata
The number of those enrolling in the Militia of the Immaculata was mounting and the movement was expanding more and more. Saint Maximilian saw the need for a means of contact with each enrollee and with each of his groups in order to nourish them with the right ideals and truths and to keep them united. It was desirable to reach everybody in the quickest way. But what means would he use? St. Francis of Assisi used the spoken word and also used a sailing vessel to go to the Near East in order to take the Gospel there.
Besides the spoken word and sailing vessels, in Maximilian's time, instruments of communication included the press, the radio, the motion picture, and numerous and quick ways of travel — by rail, by auto, by air. This true apostle would neglect nothing and take advantage of everything when it came to spreading the kingdom of God. To fulfill his aims, Saint Maximilian determined to make use of every legitimate means, starting with what was simplest and in easiest reach, namely, a Marian journal for everybody. Among his writings we find: "There is a need to flood the world with a cloudburst of Christian and Marian literature in every language, coping with every error that crops up; for error has found in the press its strongest ally. There is a need to envelop the world with printed matter carrying words of life, in order to bring the joy of life back to the world…"
The name of this journal was to be The Knight of the Immaculata.
But his health, already undermined, failed him. His fever ran above 104° Fahrenheit and he suffered a delirium.
He was first put in the hospital in Cracow, then in a sanatorium at Zakopane, where the mountain air would be healthful. He entered the sanatorium in June of 1920 and spent a total of a year and a half there.
Humanly speaking, hospitalization in such a place would indicate the finish of all the projects of his Marian apostolate. But as things worked out supernaturally, this period was a solid foundation for their development. The Lord uses humble means, of themselves inadequate, to achieve His greatest works (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
Saint Maximilian, unable to rise from his bed, his breath slow and feeble, by means of suffering prepared the powerful expansion of the apostolate of the Militia of the Immaculata into every part of the world. His only concern was always to fulfill the wishes of the Immaculate Virgin, belonging as he did to Her in an unrestricted, unreserved way. Nothing was his; all was Hers, even the malady in his lungs.
A beautiful and meaningful custom of Saint Maximilian was this: When he went to bed he always put his clock and eyeglasses at the foot of a little image of the Immaculate Virgin, which he kept on a little bedside table. Time (the clock) and space (eyeglasses) were his Queen's. She would surely do what She wished with them for the promotion of God's kingdom.
Apostle to the Sick
According to his opportunities, Maximilian labored among the sick in the sanatorium. Besides individual private talks with each patient, as soon as he was able he organized meetings and religious conferences. He held discussions, and missed no occasion to distribute the Miraculous Medal.
The Immaculate Virgin gave him Her support and granted him the joy of a number of conversions in that place which was considered "the atheists' stronghold."
He had the happiness of administering Baptism to a dying student. It happened this way. The young man was faithfully attending Kolbe's conferences in apologetics, but at the end of each session he would quickly slip away. Finally he came to Saint Maximilian to tell him that the session of that day was the last one he could attend because his sickness had so advanced that he would no longer be able to leave his bed and now was simply awaiting death.
Saint Kolbe promised to visit him. It was forbidden to visit those who were gravely ill, but he managed to get the permission. He paid him visits, spoke to him, put a Miraculous Medal around his neck, and duly prepared him. He gave him the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick.
"Are you happy," he asked the boy, "or does something trouble you?"
"My mother — she will curse me for being converted from the Jewish religion to Christianity."
"Do not be afraid. When your mother arrives, you will be in Paradise."
His mother arrived an hour after the young man's death. Her disapproval was strongly expressed when she saw her son's body with the medal of the Immaculate around his neck
"Sir, Go To Confession."
Another episode is recorded which beautifully reveals how Saint Maximilian won souls when he would lead them to the Sacraments by means of the Miraculous Medal.
A fellow friar, Father Florian Koziura, gives this account:
When Father Kolbe was at Zakopane he became acquainted with a gentleman known as an intellectual. Each time he met him he asked, "Sir, you go to confession." But the man would usually answer, "No, Reverend Father. I respect you, but I am not going to confession. Perhaps another time."
Some weeks later the same gentleman was about to depart, and he came to Father Kolbe to bid him farewell. Father Maximilian's last words were, "Sir, do go to confession."
"Excuse me, Father, but I have no time. I must go to the station at once."
"Then at least take this Miraculous Medal."
The man accepted the medal, at least for politeness' sake, and set out at once for the railway station. Meantime Father Maximilian fell on his knees to beg the Immaculate Virgin for the conversion of this obstinate sinner.
Then, what a wonderful thing happened! After a time someone knocked at the door.
The same gentleman who had been in a hurry to catch a train appeared. From the doorway he blurted out, "Father, I want to go to confession."
After a year and a half Saint Maximilian returned at last to Cracow. Zestful and tireless, he was back to work again. His first thought was to publish Knight of the Immaculata. But how would he pay for the printing? He turned to his Father Provincial. He received encouragement only; but financial help was impossible. He would have to raise the money by himself.
Nothing was left for him to do but go out and beg. What an experience — to seek alms from door to door for the Immaculate Virgin! In the beginning he lacked courage. He would set out, then come back. When the first door opened at which he knocked, he blushed, stuttered out some words that were not understood, and shamefacedly withdrew.
"On another day," he reported later, "I went into a stationery store to beg an offering for my journal. Feeling very embarrassed, I ended up making a small purchase and leaving. I dragged myself on, reproaching myself for weakness in failing to carry out my intention to suppress, for love of the Madonna, my feelings of humiliation. I decided to try again and went into another shop. Again shame overcame me. Filled with embarrassment, I failed to utter a syllable. Then I suddenly found myself on the street without knowing how I got there."
It was painful, but Maximilian finally managed. In January of 1922 he published the first issue of Knight of the Immaculata with five thousand copies.