August 14 is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, Maximilian Kolbe. I first heard of him a long time ago. When I received the sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop gave a riveting homily about the recently canonized Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr during World War II. After listening to the homily, I adopted St. Maximilian as my spiritual father, and Papa Kolbe has never let me down.
What drew me to him was his steadfast devotion to the Lord and how he used his gift of writing and editing to share the faith during a dark time in history. It is no coincidence, I think, that I became a writer and an editor, too. As the patron saint of editors, Maximilian holds a special place in my heart.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe for Young Children
Now, this year's post about Saint Maximilian Kolbe is dedicated to younger kids. The circumstances of his death are gritty, and so I want to offer a child-friendly version of his life. It is not a watered-down version of his life, but it does not have all the details that older children and teens may want to hear. (If they do want those details, they can find them in my older Saint Maximilian Kolbe post.)
|Download the full-size version of the Maximilian Kolbe coloring page here.|
The story of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe ends with his greatest sacrifice, that of his laying down his life for a friend. It's an amazing story, one that people always remember about him. And when he is shown in paintings or in religious pictures, St. Maximilian Kolbe is almost always in a prison uniform.
However, heroic acts of love usually do not happen out of nowhere. They come from a life of choosing to show love in smaller, quieter ways. Maximilian Kolbe was a martyr because his entire life had been spent in doing small things with great love.
He was born on January 8, 1894 in in Poland, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time. He was the second son of Julius and Maria Kolbe. He was not called Maximilian at that time ... he would choose that name later. He was baptized as Raymond.
Now, when Raymond was 10 years old, an event happened that changed his life and outlook forever. In a letter many years later, after Max's death, his mother wrote the following to a friend:
"We had a small, hidden altar, where he often went to pray without letting anyone notice. As he prayed, he would cry. Generally, he acted in a manner older than his age, being always recollected and serious. He would pray with tears in his eyes. I was concerned that he might perhaps be sick, so I asked him, 'What is the matter with you?' And I began to insist, 'You must tell everything to your mother.'
"Trembling with emotion and with tears in his eyes, he told me: 'When you scolded me, Mama, I prayed very much to the Madonna to tell me what would become of me. And later, in church, I prayed to her again. Then the Madonna appeared to me, holding two crowns in her hands: one white and one red. She looked on me with affection and asked me if I wanted those two crowns. The white one meant that I would remain pure, and the red, that I would be a martyr. I told her I accepted both. Then the Madonna looked at me sweetly and disappeared.'"
Raymond's life changed forever. He prayed more, drew closer to the Blessed Mother, and was a loving, obedient son.
When he finished elementary school, he was not planning to go to high school. Why not? Well, high school was very, very expensive and rarely attended in Poland during that time when Russia ruled over it. His family chose to educate his older brother; Raymond would stay home and help the family with their weaving business.
But one fateful day, his mother, who was a midwife, meaning she helped moms deliver their babies, needed some special medicinal powder from the pharmacy. and so, she asked Raymond to go get some for her. When he went, he spoke to the pharmacy about the powder, using some Latin words, and the pharmacist was suddenly aware of how bright the boy was. He offered to educate Raymond for free.
It was definitely a gift from God, a guiding to the next phase of his life. He was a bright student, quick to learn, and devout in his love for the Blessed Mother.
In 1907, he entered the Franciscan junior seminary in Poland and did very well in mathematics and physics. Outraged at the spread of evil in the world during this time, he considered joining the military, but decided to answer the call to religious life instead. On Sept.4, 1910, he took the name Maximilian and became a novice. His final vows happened on Nov. 1, 1914.
He studied in Rome for years, though he was often sick. He got sick was tuburculosis, which weakened his lungs for the rest of his life. But he kept dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel.
He started up the Immaculate Movement (also known as the Crusade of Mary Immaculate). The focus of it was to be a knight of the Virgin Mary. Just like a knight, the men would go and fight against evil and injustices. Armed with their weapons, which was the rosary, Miraculous Medals, and prayers, these knights spread the word about the Miraculous Medals and devoted themselves to the conversion of sinners.
In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. They arested the priests but then let them return, thinking they would stop publishing their magazines ... or at least, stop talking about Jesus. But they didn't. Papa Kolbe kept publishing his newspapers and he even provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid in his own friary from Nazi persecution.
Angered over the Catholic message in Father Kolbe's work, the Nazis took over the area, and shut down the printing presses. Papa Kolbe was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned. On May 25, 1941, he was transferred to Auschwitz, one of the worst prison camps. He was given a number, he was prisoner 16670.
He suffered constantly there, for the Nazis hated everyone who wasn't a Nazi, and they especially hated priests. He didn't complain but whenever possible, he would hear confessions and would use the wine and bits of bread smuggled into the prison to celebrate mass. Even though the camp was a place of great suffering, Father Kolbe brought hope and peace to others.
Another prisoner said, "During the stay of the servant of God in the camp, I never noticed that he nourished any hatred for the Germans. On the contrary, not only did he pray for them, but he also exhorted us to pray for their conversion. We were all amazed at the extraordinary virtue that we saw in that man: faith, the constant spirit of prayer, great humility, and the spirit of fellowship pushed to the point of sharing his own food rations with the other prisoners. He lived every day only for God. He drew us to God and desired that we live well and that we put up with the life of the camp. He really had within himself a kind of magnet, which drew us to him, to God, to the most holy mother. Often, he spoke to us of God, and inculcated in us the truth that God is good and merciful. He desired to convert the whole camp."
In July 1941, a prisoner escaped. The rule was that 10 people would be punished every time someone escaped. Because a man had disappeared, 10 other men would now receive punishment.
One prisoner shouted, "Goodbye, my dear wife! Goodbye, my dear children!"
Another prisoner stepped forward. It was Father Maximilian. "I want to go instead of this man who was selected," Papa Kolbe said. "He has a wife and family. I am alone. I am a Catholic priest."
The Nazi guard accepted the change.
The prisoners were led to an underground cell to be punished. During that time, Maximilian led them into songs and hymns. One guard (who was really another prisoner forced to stand guard) later told Church officials: "From the cells of the condemned men, every day, there were heard prayers in a loud voice, the rosary, and religious hymns, in which even prisoners in other cells sang ... The ardent prayers and hymns to the most Holy Virgin resounded through the whole subterranean area. It seemed to me that I was in church."
For 10 days, he helped people to grow closer to the Lord and get ready to see him soon. Then on August 14, Maximilian died.
On October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe. The man whose place that Maximillian took was there. He himself lived to be 94 years old, having spent his life telling everyone about the great priest, the loving martyr, Maximilian Kolbe.
Now, let us pray and ask for the intercession of Saint Maximilian Kolbe:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "Greater love than this no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends,"through the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe whose life illustrated such love, we beseech you to grant us our petitions . . . Through the Militia Immaculata movement, which Maximilian founded, he spread a fervent devotion to Our Lady throughout the world. He gave up his life for a total stranger and loved his persecutors, giving us an example of unselfish love for all men---a love that was inspired by true devotion to Mary.
Grant, O Lord Jesus, that we too may give ourselves entirely without reserve to the love and service of our Heavenly Queen in order to better love and serve our fellowman in imitation of your humble servant, Maximilian. Amen.
And in honor of the Blessed Mother whom Saint Maximilian Kolbe loves so much ... We pray: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners. Now and at the hour of our death. Amen."