St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

The Life of Saint Maximilian Kolbe


Raymund Kolbe becomes Brother Maximilian Kolbe

- 1894: Raymund Kolbe was born on January 8th in Zduńska Wola, in the Kingdom of Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. He was the second son of weaver Julius Kolbe and midwife Maria Dąbrowska.

- 1905: The Kolbe home had a small domestic altar set up behind a wardrobe, dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa, adorned with paper flowers (as in most Polish homes). It was a favorite place of Raymund as a child.

One day, Raymund’s mother was surprised to see him return from the chapel corner in tears, and asked him what happened. Reluctant to tell her and just said, "It is a secret, Mama!"

Since she gently insisted, he revealed to her that he saw the Virgin Mary. She handed him two crowns, one white, one red, asking him to choose. White meant purity and red meant martyrdom. Without hesitating, the boy answered: "I choose them both!"

- 1907: Raymund received the sacrament of confirmation in the parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption, then entered the Conventual Franciscan minor seminary in Lwow.

- 1908: Raymund was unsure about his vocation and considered leaving the novitiate, when he received a visit from his mother in the parlor. She was there to deliver important news: since their children are now raised, she and her husband have decided by mutual agreement to devote the rest of their lives to God, her husband by joining the Franciscans in Krakow, and she the Benedictines of Lwow. This meeting was a farewell. For Kolbe, it was like a strike of lightning: “My eyes were opened and I understood!" He then rushed to his superior to ask for the habit of Saint Francis.

- 1910: Kolbe began his novitiate. Along with the homespun garment girdled with a rope, he received the name of Brother Maximilian.

- 1912: Aware of his remarkable gifts, his superiors send him to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University. On October 22, 1915, he earned a doctorate in philosophy. From 1915 he continued his studies at the Pontifical University of Saint Bonaventure in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in theology in 1919.

The Militia of the Immaculate

- 1917: On the day of the 75th anniversary of the apparition of the Immaculate Virgin to Alphonse Ratisbonne (January 20th), during holy hour, Kolbe was inspired to form a Marian organization, the Militia of the Immaculate. The foundation became official on October 17, 1917.

- 1918: Kolbe was ordained a priest in Rome, in the church San Andrea della Valle. He was exempted from military service because he suffered from tuberculosis (he had one lung removed at the age of twenty). But this was a small matter to him. His goal was to return the world to the Immaculate.

- 1919: After finishing his doctorate in theology in July, Fr. Kolbe began teaching Church history at the Franciscan Seminary in Krakow.

- 1920: Tuberculosis forced him to take a leave of absence from his teaching duties and he was sent to a sanatorium in Zakopane. During this time he discovered the writings of Saint Therese of Lisieux and the life of Saint Gemma Galgani. He spent the following year recuperating in Nieszawa, where his project of using the press to spread his message of love throughout Poland continued to mature.

1922: Cardinal Basilio Pompili approved the MI as "pious union of the mission of Mary Immaculate."

The first issue of the MI monthly periodical, Rycerz Niepokalanow (The Knight of the Immaculate) was published, with a circulation of 5,000 copies.

The ever-increasing popularity and circulation of the “blue booklet,” despite chronic financial woes, was a miracle in itself. At one point it reached one million subscribers. A check for $100 arrived providentially, followed by an old hand-operated printing machine procured by Saint Faustina.

Niepokalanow (the city of the Immaculate)

1927: Kolbe meets with Prince Drucki-Lubecki, who was selling several acres of land near Warsaw. It was a perfect location for his new conventual Franciscan monastery and publishing center. Kolbe set up a small statue of the Madonna on the property, asking Our Lady to intervene if it was her wish. His superior, however, recoiled before the selling price. Kolbe brought the sad news to the seller, who asked what he should do with the statue. "Well, let her stay where she is!" Kolbe replied. The prince remained quiet for a moment, thoughtful, then declared: "Since Our Lady has taken possession of this land, keep it, I give it to you for nothing!" The prince just gave away five acres of his Teresin estate. Kolbe and 18 religious started building Niepokalanow (the city of the Immaculate), with beautiful workshops and poor housing. The key words were simplicity and sacrifice; the mission was to work for 8½ hours and pray for 3½ hours. Kolbe’s genius renewed the old framework of conventual life, with an activity that was beautifully adapted to the needs of modern apostolate.

- 1929: Opening of a junior missionary seminary in Niepokalanow.

The foundation in Japan (the Garden of the Immaculate)

- 1930: After meeting Japanese students on a train, Kolbe decided to found a City of the Immaculate in Japan. Nagasaki’s bishop Janvier Hayasaka welcomed the missionaries and authorized the publication of a Marian Review in Japanese. Father Maximilian was responsible for teaching philosophy at the diocesan seminary. The missionaries rented a house near the cathedral. On May 24th, the new mission started publishing Seibo no kishi (The Knight of the Immaculate), with 10,000 copies. By 1934 it reached 65,000 copies.

Confirmed as the superior of the Japanese mission, Fr. Kolbe appointed his own brother, Br. Alphonse Kolbe, superior of Niepokalanow. Before embarking for Nagasaki, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe visited Lourdes and Lisieux.

- 1931: The editorial headquarters of Kishi was transferred from the Oura district of Nagasaki to the suburb of Hongochi, on the slopes of Mount Hikosan, where missionaries built a convent called Mugenzai no Sono (Garden of the Immaculate). The atomic bomb in 1945 left it mostly intact and took no victims in its enclosure.

The Little Daily

- 1935: A Latin version of The Knight of the Immaculate (Miles Immaculatae) was launched for the clergy worldwide.

At the same time, a new Little Daily was launched, a quality—yet inexpensive—source of news which quickly became popular throughout Poland. The modest blue and white leaflet, in the colors of the Virgin, spoke straight to the heart of the people. It denounced all forms of injustice, pornography and other forms of immorality, or anything that peasants and workers might have experienced in their daily life. In a short time, this publication reached a circulation of 137,000; nearly double that, 225,000 on weekends … and eventually 320,000 copies, a huge figure for the country.

- 1936: On December 8th, at the initiative of Fr. Kolbe, the Order of the Friars Minor Conventual was consecrated to the Immaculate.

World War II and the death of Father Kolbe

- 1939: Fr. Kolbe was again appointed guardian of Niepokalanow by the provincial chapter of Krakow (August 23-25). On September 19th, along with 36 other religious, Father Pio Bartosik and Father Maximilian are arrested by German troops and successively imprisoned at the concentration camps of Lamsdorf (Lambinowice), Amtitz (Gebice) and Ostrzeszow. Kolbe was released on December 8th.

- 1940: At the request of Fr. Kolbe, the German authorities allowed the printing of a single issue of The Knight of the Immaculate (December-January 1941) with 120,000 copies to be circulated exclusively in the Warsaw area.

- 1941: On February 17th, Fr. Kolbe and four religious were arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison of Warsaw. On May 28th, he was transferred to the Oswiecim concentration camp (Auschwitz) as prisoner #16670.

At the end of July, the camp commander picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of a family man, Franciszek Gajowniczek.

On August 14th, Kolbe remained the last man alive in the bunker, after having assisted his companions in their agony. He was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid in his left arm. The next day, August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, his body was cremated in one of the camps’ cremation ovens.


- 1971: Kolbe was beatified as Confessor of the Faith by Pope Saint Paul VI on October 17, in Saint Peter's Basilica.

- 1982: He was canonized as a saint by Pope Saint John Paul II on October 10th, in Rome.