Raymond Kolbe was born in Poland on January 8, 1894. In 1910, he entered the Conventual Franciscan Order. In 1912 Kolbe went to Rome, where he studied theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1917 he founded the sodality (devotional association) of the Militia of Mary Immaculate, and was ordained a priest in 1918, taking the name Maximilian.
St. Maximilian Kolbe and the Jews
When Pope John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1982, several Jews charged that he had been an anti-Semite. The charges were extreme: “...pursued a relentless anti-Semitic campaign...” and “...rabid racist anti-Semitism...” were typical.
The Record of History
Poles and Jews had lived together for a thousand years. People often ask why Hitler put Auschwitz, his largest death camp, in Poland rather than Germany. It was because Poland harbored the single largest Jewish community in the world. When other European countries persecuted or expelled Jews from their lands, Poland served as a haven for Jews and was the foremost center of Jewish learning and culture. It was the Poles who brought the genocide of the Jews to the attention of the incredulous West. In fact, in Poland there was an underground organization, the Zegota, established expressly to assist Jews.
The City of Mary Immaculate
During the 1920’s Father Kolbe built a friary just west of Warsaw, the City of Mary Immaculate (Niepokalanów), which eventually housed 762 Franciscans. It became Poland’s chief Catholic publishing complex, printing eleven periodicals including a daily newspaper, The Little Daily, with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly journal, The Knight of Mary Immaculate (Rycerz Niepokalanej), with a circulation of over one million. To better “win the world for the Immaculata,” the friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques. This enabled them to publish countless catechetical and...