His father fought for Poland’s independence from Russia, and was hanged as a traitor in 1914. After her husband’s death, Maximilian’s mother became a Benedictine nun.
In 1910, Kolbe entered the Franciscan Order, and eight years later was ordained a priest. In 1931, he went to Japan and founded a monastery in Nagasaki, and then another in India. He returned to Poland in 1936 because of ill health.
Two years after the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland, Fr. Kolbe was arrested for helping to house Jewish refugees and for publishing anti-Nazi materials. He was sent to Auschwitz.
Several months later, a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz. It was the Nazi practice there to execute ten men for each escaped prisoner. When the ten were chosen, one pleaded for mercy, saying that he was a married man with young children. On hearing this, Fr. Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take his place. The camp guard accepted his offer.
Fr. Kolbe’s execution was to be slow and painful – confinement in a starvation bunker. When, after three weeks, he was still alive, he was given a fatal injection.
Maximilian Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast is August 14.
- Little Blue Book, January 8