Born in Poland in 1894, the son of poor, devout Catholics, Saint Maximilian Kolbe experienced many interior trials as a young man. However, the Blessed Virgin Mary sustained him in these difficulties by appearing to him in a vision. She offered him a crown of purity or a crown of martyrdom. He chose both. This experience instilled in him a deep and abiding love for Our Lady.
Maximilian entered the Franciscan order in 1907. At this time, he was especially drawn to explore the Blessed Mother’s role in the history of salvation. He saw her as God’s agent in confounding the darkness, which was gathering in opposition to the Church. Saint Maximilian was a visionary who organized the “Knights of the Immaculata.” This organization published a magazine that was read throughout Poland. Saint Maximilian also actively promoted consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo for his tireless work in Poland against the Nazi forces. He was sent to the infamous death camp of Auschwitz, where he was used as slave labor. There, he was also frequently beaten and subject to humiliations. That summer, he offered his life up for another prisoner, a married man who was being condemned to death by starvation. In this he fulfilled the words of Christ: “Greater love than this has no man, that he give up his life for his friend.” Interestingly, shortly after this date in 1941, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, felt a strong call to the priesthood, and entered the seminary clandestinely in occupied Poland. Forty one years after that heroic act, Saint John Paul II canonized Saint Maximilian. He called him “the saint of our difficult century” and a “Martyr of Charity.”
Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of families, pro-life organizations, prisoners, journalists and those in media communications, people suffering from eating disorders, and those addicted to drugs.