- Tuesday (14 August)
His name wasn’t always Maximilian. He was born the second son of a poor weaver on 8 January 1894 at Zdunska Wola near Lodz in Poland, and was given the baptismal name of Raymond. Both parents were devout Christians with a particular devotion to Mary. In his infancy, Raymond seems to have been normally mischievous but we are told that one day, after his mother had scolded him for some mischief or other, her words took effect and brought about a radical change in the child’s behaviour. Later he explained this change. “That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. 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.” Thus early did the child believe and accept that he was destined for martyrdom. His belief in his dream coloured all his future actions.
In 1907, Raymond and his elder brother entered a junior Franciscan seminary in Lwow. Here he excelled in mathematics and physics and his teachers predicted a brilliant future for him in science. Others, seeing his passionate interest in all things military, saw in him a future strategist. For a time indeed, his interest in military affairs together with his fiery patriotism made him lose interest in the idea of becoming a priest. The fulfilment of his dream would lie in saving Poland from her oppressors as a soldier. But before he could tell anyone about his decision his mother announced that, as all their children were now in seminaries, she and her husband intended to enter religious life. Raymond hadn’t the heart to upset his parents’ plans and so he abandoned his plans for joining the army. He was recieved as a novice in September 1910 and with the habit he took the new name of Maximilian. From 1912 to 1915, he was in Rome studying philosophy at the Gregorian College, and from 1915 to 1919 theology at the Collegio Serafico. He was ordained in Rome on 28 April 1918.
The love of fighting didn’t leave him, but while he was in Rome he stopped seeing the struggle as a military one. He didn’t like what he saw of the world, in fact he saw it as downright evil. The fight, he decided, was a spiritual one. The world was bigger than Poland and there were worse slaveries than earthly ones. The fight was still on, but he would not be waging it with the sword. At that time, many Catholics in Europe regarded freemasonry as their chief enemy; and it was against the freemasons that Maximilian Kolbe began to wage war. On 16 October 1917, with six companions, he founded the Crusade of Mary Immaculate (Militia Immaculatae), with the aim of “converting sinners, heretics and schismatics, particularly freemasons, and bringing all men to love Mary Immaculate”. (more)