He was born Raymond Kolbe in 1894, Poland. As a child he had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him, she was holding two crowns in her hands, one white, the other red. She asked young Raymond to choose the one he preferred the white, denoting purity, or the red, a symbol of martyrdom. He chose both; he chose to remain pure and undivided in his love of God and he chose to be a martyr.
By the age of thirteen, Raymond had fallen in love with the Franciscan ideals. He and his elder brother Francis, entered the Franciscan minor seminary in 1910, he took the habit and was given the new name Maximilian Mary.
He was assigned as a professor for the seminarians in Cracow, but because of his poor health and the contraction of T.B. he was found unsuitable. His health weakened, he entered the sanitarium, but his zeal to save souls continued and he rendered various spiritual services among his sick companions. After he recovered he launched an apostolic mission and set up a printing service evangelising not only Poland but also the whole world. He published a daily newspaper, which reached a circulation of over one million and
published many free books and pamphlets.
In 1939 the Nazis who had occupied Poland arrested him and his printing press was destroyed. After two months in prison he was released, he quickly turned his premises into a refugee center for displaced Jews and other victims of Hitler’s regime.
In 1941 Fr. Maximilian was arrested for the second time and placed in Auswitchz. Priests in the camp were especially vilified, one of the guards once horse whipped Maximilian fifty times. One day a prisoner escaped, in reprisal the guards chose ten men whom they planned to starve to death. One was a family man, a Polish Sergeant named Francis Gajowniczek. Maximilian begged the camp commandant to let him take his place, the request was granted. Maximilian comforted each one of the men as they died in the starvation bunker. After two weeks he was the only one alive, the guards could scarcely bear his composure and killed him by injecting him with carbolic acid – it was 14th August the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin – a providential, not coincidental timing.
His beautification was on October 17 1971. In the crowd stood a man with his family, this man wanted to honour this Saint more than anyone else – it was Francis Garjowniczek the man who owed Maximilian his life.
“Pray that my love will be without limits” (Maximilian’s last letter to his mother).