Father Maximilian KolbeJanuary 8, 1894 – August 14, 1941
"Pro amore, usque ad victimam"(For love, to the sacrifice of my life)– Fr. Maximilian Kolbe

Early Life:
Raymond Kolbe, known more popularly by his adopted Franciscan name Maximilian, was born on January 8, 1894 in the Polish village of Zdunska-Wola. At the time of his birth, Poland had not yet been established as an independent nation and was divided between Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As a result, “The Catholic Church played at once the role of surety of Christian hopes and that of conservator of the national identity, at present without a country.”[1] Kolbe would spend his entire live preserving his national identity while also upholding his faith through outward expression of charity, compassion, and sacrifice during a time of struggle and hardship. Through his expression of these qualities and his constant effort to spread love rather than hate, Father Maximilian Kolbe became a religious leader and “the Patron Saint of our Difficult Century”.[2]
Raymond Kolbe’s path towards charity, compassion, and sacrifice was illuminated in an apparition that he experienced at the age of nine. The Blessed Virgin appeared to young Kolbe in a vision to answer his prayers asking her to tell him what he would one day become. She appeared to him holding two crowns, one red and one white. The white meant that Kolbe would remain pure and the red meant he would become a martyr.[3] With the acceptance of the Virgin’s crowns, Kolbe sealed his fate and began his life’s mission of selflessness and love towards all.

Personal Challenge:
Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?- Fr. Maximilian Kolbe
As Raymond Kolbe aged and attended school in Lvov, the issue of foreign occupation in Poland became an incessant thought for Kolbe. He began to question his current path towards priesthood and consider the possibility of becoming a soldier in order to fight for a free Poland. “To a sixteen-year-old, a military career seemed a more appropriate way of serving his country than taking a religious habit.”[4] He became so convinced that his way did not lie within the monastery that he delayed his interview with his superior to discuss the possibility of entering the priesthood. However, a surprise meeting with his mother on the same day that he delayed his meeting with his superior allowed him to overcome this difficult decision. She explained to him that she and her husband were joining a convent and the Franciscans respectively. This conversation allowed Kolbe to consider the importance of faith during this time of political instability. Raymond Kolbe believed that divine providence had sent his mother to him at this exact critical moment. Because of this challenge, Maximilian Kolbe reaffirmed his path toward the priesthood and never looked back.

Fighting with Weapons of Love and Service:Upon ordination, Raymond adopted the name Maximilian and returned to war-torn Poland, which had once again become independent from Prussia, Austria, and Russia. It was his hope that he could reform his order and begin a new movement known as the “Militia of the Immaculate” that focused on service within the community. “Rather than going to war for the freedom of his country, young Kolbe preferred to fight with the “weapons” of love and service.”[5]

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s armies invaded Poland and World War II began. Maximilian and his fellow brothers transformed their monastery into a care center to assist sheltering, feeding, and caring for the local population and the refugees.[6] In addition, he published writings expressing the glory of Mary and a very controversial piece on the importance of identity during these difficult times. Through his service work towards his community, Kolbe effectively fought with “ ‘weapons’ of love and service”. Because of his love and sacrifice towards others, regardless of religious affiliation, and his writings that were interpreted as speaking out against the basic principles of the Nazi system, Maximilian Kolbe was arrested under false pretenses in 1941 and taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Arbeit macht frei” (Labor makes you free)


Father Maximilian Kolbe continued his life’s mission of love towards humanity during his time at Auschwitz. He ministered to the sick and the dying and was quick to give his small ration of food to his fellow prisoner. With these small acts of kindness, Kolbe continued his mission to make love triumph over hate. Eventually, Maximilian’s kindness and love reached a whole new level. When a prisoner with a wife and kids was sentenced to die, Kolbe asked to take his place. Father Maximilian Kolbe’s final act of love and sacrifice was the culmination of his life of service. As a result of his service towards his fellow man and his message of love towards all, Father Kolbe is now known as a martyr, saint, and a leader.

Practicing Priesthood:
The practice of priesthood was a dominant part of Maximilian Kolbe’s life. Each priest is required to fulfill the roles of “community leader, messenger of hope, and spiritual guide.”[7] Throughout the events within Father Kolbe’s life, he practiced his priesthood by acting within each of these roles. He worked as a “community leader” when he along with his fellow brothers took in thousands of refugees and organized feeding, clothing, and sheltering of these individuals. He was a “messenger of hope” while he was imprisoned at the concentration camp in Auschwitz. He constantly spread this message through his Christ-like acts of kindness, and his encouragement of others to remain faithful even during the difficult time. This ties in with his role as a “spiritual leader” which transcends his roles as “community leader” and as “messenger of hope”. Maximilian Kolbe lived his life according to the principles of Catholicism and a devotion to the Virgin Mary. He also encouraged others to do the same through his preaching and through his published writings. The practice of priesthood and ultimately the fulfillment of these roles brought about internal goods that allowed Kolbe to flourish and to promote the common good.

One internal good that came out of Father Kolbe’s practice of priesthood is mirroring Christ’s ministry. At first, Kolbe started out with smaller acts of kindness such as sheltering, feeding, and clothing refugees during World War II. Eventually, Kolbe worked his way up to the point of becoming the embodiment of Christ on Earth. Many argue that the time from Father Kolbe’s imprisonment to the sacrifice of his life can be compared to Jesus’ Crucifixion. Much like Jesus and his betrayal by Judas, a friend who was also a Franciscan Brother betrayed Maximilian Kolbe by signing a statement affirming the “subversive activities of Father Kolbe” and handing it over to the Gestapo.[8] Another comparison between Kolbe’s life and Jesus’ life can be found in the reasoning behind each of their deaths. Jesus’ death was a selfless act resulting from his love for humankind and his belief that all people should be able to achieve eternal life in heaven. Although Kolbe’s death did not achieve eternal life in heaven for all of humanity, it did allow another man to live out the rest of his life on Earth. This literal parallel between the life of Jesus Christ and the life of Maximilian Kolbe makes the internal good of mirroring Christ’s ministry all the more powerful. As a result of Father Kolbe’s practice of priesthood throughout his short life, he was able to mirror Christ’s ministry from beginning to end and was able to portray this good for the world to see.

Standards of Excellence:
When Maximilian entered the priesthood, one part of his apparition prophecy was fulfilled; he would remain pure. The rest of his life would be spent working towards fulfilling the second part of the prophecy: martyrdom. Through Kolbe’s practice of priesthood, an important standard of excellence was portrayed that helped him on his path towards martyrdom. This standard of excellence was a willingness to make self-sacrifices. When a person is called to the priesthood, that person is required to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The priest than spends the rest of his life fulfilling those vows and living a life of sacrifice. These vows empower priests to go out into their communities to preach the good news of God and to provide service. Father Kolbe was no different. Kolbe’s work during World War II is a great example of his standard of excellence. Kolbe’s aid given to refugees, many of which were Jewish, was against the law. However, because he believed that his practice of priesthood allied with helping the Jewish people rather than watching them suffer, he broke the law. The ultimate portrayal of Maximilian Kolbe’s standard of excellence can be seen during his final days. Kolbe offers himself in exchange for the life of another prisoner that he did not even know. He knew that this action would result in his death by starvation, but believed that this man’s life was worth saving.

Choice-Worthy Good:
Through examination of Maximilian Kolbe’s life and the time period through which he lived, it can be determined that his most choice-worthy good was the triumph of love over hate and violence. The events that occurred within the walls of the concentration camps could only be described as horrific. Upon arrival, prisoners were striped of their identities as human beings. They were shaved, beaten, and tattooed with their new identity: a five-digit number.[9] They were forced to do manual labor such as hauling corpses, lugging old stumps, and pushing wheelbarrows full of gravel. All of this was done on a diet of one black moldy piece of bread a day.[10] Within the hate, suffering, and death, Kolbe became a beacon of love. His time living at the camp was spent counteracting the violence and the hate that occurred on a daily basis. He gave away his food to others he thought needed it more. He held hands with the dying in attempts to them the compassion they so desperately needed. When isolated with the nine other prisoners sentenced to death, he kept their spirits up by leading them in the rosary and singing. Even as he died a slow and painful death, Kolbe never complained. While the Nazi guards did everything in their power to force prisoners to lose hope, Kolbe used love to show them that there is hope and there is a reason to continue living.


Maximilian Kolbe was able to make self-sacrifices and overcome challenges because of his “benevolent goodwill towards or love of humanity.”[11] This attribute is also known as charity. Maximilian Kolbe was the living embodiment of charity. From his service work with refugees in Poland to his small acts of kindness at Auschwitz, Kolbe was always portraying love for all of humanity.

Coleridge, Mark. "From the Wounds of Christ Flow the Life-giving Waters of Vocation." catholicpriesthood.com. Archdiocese of Brisbane, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.

Frossard, André. Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.

Hill, Brennan. Unlikely Spiritual Heroes. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger, 2010.

Pope John Paul II. Holy Mass at the Brzezinka Concentration Camp. Brzezinka: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 7 June 1979.

Written by Jaclyn Burnbaum
  1. ^
    Frossard Andre. "Forget Not Love" The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991. p. 16.
  2. ^
    Pope John Paul II. Holy Mass at the Brzezinka Concentration Camp. Brzezinka: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 7 June 1979.
  3. ^
    Frossard 23.
  4. ^
    Frossard 32.
  5. ^
    Hill 1536.
  6. ^
    Frossard 164.
  7. ^
    Coleridge, Mark. "From the Wounds of Christ Flow the Life-giving Waters of Vocation." catholicpriesthood.com. Archdiocese of Brisbane, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.
  8. ^
    Frossard 172.
  9. ^
    Hill 1682
  10. ^ Frossard 190
  11. ^
    "Charity". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charity