Today, August 14, the Eve of the Immaculate Conception, is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He is the Polish Franciscan priest who is best known for offering his life in Auschwitz, in place of a family man who was condemned to death in the starvation bunker.
At the age of 21, Kolbe earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Gregorianum in Rome and a doctorate in theology there by age 28. He organized the Militia Immaculata in Rome to work for the conversion of sinners and the enemies of the Church through the intercession of Mary Immaculate.
He promoted consecration to Mary throughout Poland before World War II and founded a major publishing center called the City of Mary, to advance this mission. St. Maximilian also founded Catholic missions in Japan and India. He did everything through Our Lady and encouraged others to commit themselves to Jesus through her.
During the war he hid 2,000 Jews from the Nazis. The Gestapo took him to Auschwitz, and when a prisoner escaped, ten men were sentenced to death as retribution for the escape. One of these, Franciszek Gajowniczek, was a Polish layman with a large family. Fr. Kolbe asked that he be substituted for this man, and the German Commander permitted the exchange.
St. Maximilian led the men in hymns and prayers to Our Lady in the starvation bunker, as they died, one by one, of hunger and dehydration. Kolbe was the last survivor, and at the end of two weeks, the German guards administered to him a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
Franciszek Gajowniczek, whose place he took, lived and was reunited with his loved ones after the war. It is said by the surviving prisoners that after St. Maximilian’s heroic self-sacrifice, the hell that was called Auschwitz actually became less brutal, and the spirit of hope became implanted in the hearts of the inmates.
In the end, love was victorious. Christ-like love conquered the hatred of the Nazi ideology in the person of this Franciscan saint! So it is in every age, love always triumphs over evil. As St. Maximilian Kolbe has shown us, the path to this victorious love is total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the means by which we will conquer the evils of our day.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Fr. Tim Byerley
Official Act of Consecration
written by St. Maximilian Kolbe
O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth,
refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother,
God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to you.
I, (name), a repentant sinner, cast myself at your feet
humbly imploring you to take me with all that I am and have,
wholly to yourself as your possession and property.
Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body,
of my whole life, death and eternity,
whatever most pleases you.
If it pleases you, use all that I am and have without reserve,
wholly to accomplish what was said of you:
“She will crush your head,” and, “You alone have destroyed all heresies in the world.”
Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands
for introducing and increasing your glory to the maximum
in all the many strayed and indifferent souls,
and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom
of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
For wherever you enter, you obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness,
since it is through your hands that all graces come to us
from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
V. Allow me to praise you, O sacred Virgin
R. Give me strength against your enemies.