Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Franciscan Friar
Max Kolbe became a Franciscan priest in 1918 at the age of 24, and was in Poland in 1939. He had a printing press in the friary he founded, from which he would create and distribute leaflets, Marian journals, and Bibles to whomever would accept them. When the Nazis arrived, he used the friary to shield 2,000 Jews from persecution, and for that he was arrested and taken to Auschwitz. While there, he devoted himself to assisting his fellow prisoners, took their confessions and consoled them when needed. In July of 1941, the Nazis were preparing to execute ten prisoners in retaliation for an escape, and Kolbe took the place of a man with a wife and children. The condemned prisoners, including Kolbe, were sentenced to die from starvation and were locked in a series of cells for that purpose; Kolbe, however, consoled his fellow prisoners even there, and helped prepare them all for their final journey, transforming the starvation chamber into a place of joy, singing and prayer. Max Kolbe was canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1982; Francis Gajowniczek, the man whose place he took, was in attendance for the ceremony.