Today In Fact, 14 August

At university I stayed for a while at the Catholic residence called Kolbe House. I assumed back then that it was called Kolbe House after the recently proclaimed Saint Kolbe but this was a mistake. The Kolbe after whom Kolbe House was named was a Catholic Priest who lived in Cape Town and advised General Smuts. The Catholic Residence was his home until his death. Maximilian Kolbe, the Saint was also of polish extraction and he was martyred today in Auschwitz in 1941. Saint Kolbe was born Raymond to poor parents in Poland in 1894 and became, with his brother a Franciscan priest.

Kolbe’s life was strongly influenced by a childhood vision of the Virgin Mary that he later described:

That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.

Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculata or Army of Mary. The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. Kolbe also used radio to spread his Catholic faith and to speak out against the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

He dreamt of creating the City of the Immaculate Conception and gathered about him many followers in a settlement in Poland.

Kolbe also set-up a mission to Japan in the 1930’s and it was Kolbe’s missionaries that tended the sick and dying at Nagasaki when the atom bomb fell in 1946. Kolbe had been dead five year by then.

He was rounded-up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where his true courage was allowed to shine. In 1941, three prisoners escaped and the camp commander, Karl Fritsch retaliated by selecting 10 prisoners to be starved to death in an underground bunker. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

After two weeks in the bunker, Kolbe was the only one left alive. The guards injected him with carbolic acid.

Kolbe chose to starve to death and take the place of another man, a Polish army Sergeant Franciszek Gajowniczek. He was liberated by the Allies in 1944, after spending five years, five months, and nine days in Nazi camps in total. He reunited with his wife, Helena but both his sons were killed in the war. As an old man Franciszek attended Kolbe’s beatification in 1977 and canonization in 1982.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (

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