St. Maximillian Kolbe
Apostle of Mary
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
GREAT CATHOLIC BOOKS NEWSLETTER
Volume II, Number 3 St. Maximillian Kolbe Issue
St. Maximillian Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894, and baptized under the name
Raymond. In 1910, he entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscans and
was given his religious name Maximillian. He took his final vows in Rome in
1914 and three years later, organized, with six other confreres, the association
of the Meletsia Immaculate, or The Militia of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
Kolbe never forgot that while here on earth we are members of the Church militant.
He was ordained in Rome in 1918 and in 1922 he began publishing the magazine,
"Knight of the Immaculate," first in Polish and later in several other
languages. St. Maximillian has been an outstanding promoter of devotion to the
Blessed Virgin Mary through the modern media of writing, radio and, since his
In 1927, St. Maximillian began building a whole town with property donated
by a wealthy nobleman, called the "Town of the Immaculate," outside
of Warsaw. There he began training people with vocations among the laity and
prospective Religious and Priests, to become apostles of Mary. The first Marian
Missionaries to Japan were trained in the "Town of the Immaculate."
In 1930, Maximillian opened a Marian publication apostolate in Nagasaki, Japan
one of the two cities in Japan which would later be ravaged by a nuclear bomb
during the Second World War. As popes have been saying ever since, God chose
His most faithful people as a sacrifice to insure future peace in the world.
In 1939, Maximillian was arrested by the Nazis who had taken over Poland. Two
years later, in 1941, he died at the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz.
The common practice by the Nazis of randomly selecting prisoners to die claimed
a young man with a wife and family. When he cried out for mercy on behalf of
his family Maximillian offered his life in place of the husband and father.
The SS guards took Kolbe instead and placed him in a cell where he was denied
food and water. When the guards came to collect and dispose of the bodies, they
found Kolbe was amazingly still alive. In disgust the guards inoculated him
with a deadly poison. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope
John Paul II.
Maximillian's Marian Spirituality
The spirituality of St. Maximillian is based directly on this truth: the Immaculate
Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. That is the first premise of his
Marian thinking. If this were not so, Maximillian explains, all our strength
and effort in the spiritual life would be in vain.
In other words, our spiritual life depends on grace. That's obvious, but it
also depends on the grace that we must receive through Mary.
Second, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of all the graces that
any human being receives, believer or unbeliever, Christian or non-Christian,
Third, our life of grace depends on the nearness of grace that we have
to the soul of the Immaculate Mother of God. It is an article of Faith that
everyone receives sufficient grace to reach Heaven.
But the degree of grace that any person receives always from Christ but through
Mary depends on the degree of grace which that person, at the time when the
grace is needed, is near to, like to, assimilated to the Mother of Jesus. The
more Marian we are, the more assurance we have of obtaining grace from Mary's
Son through His Mother. That deserves to be memorized.
Fourth, the nearer a person's soul is to the Blessed Virgin Mary's soul, the
more pure that person's soul becomes. That person becomes freer from sin, holier,
and deepened in his faith, growing in understanding and firmly accepting God's
revealed truth. In other words, holiness determines clarity; holiness determines
intelligibility; holiness determines certitude in the faith that we already
possess. Our faith will grow in the measure of our holiness approximating, at
any given point in time, the holiness of Christ's Mother. Correspondingly, the
greater becomes that person's virtues theological and moral. This is a unique
insight into Marian spirituality.
Our relationship with Mary, as Mediatrix is normative. Depending on how closely
our life of grace approximates Mary's at any given time in our lives, she then
becomes the standard of how much grace we are going to receive.
Fifth, Maximillian describes Our Lady in terms of her relationship with the
Holy Trinity. The one created person in whom we can best recognize and find
reflected the Holy Trinity, is the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the spouse, says
Maximillian, of the Holy Trinity.
Everything which God does, outside of His own Trinitarian life in the created
universe of time and eternity is always done by all three Persons, equally
and simultaneously. Having created the world, the apex of the work of the Holy
Trinity is the Incarnation and therefore Mary, who had to cooperate with her
free human will with the Holy Trinity. Otherwise there would not have been the
Maximillian insists that although Mary is of course a creature, there is one
and only one who is the most sublime model that God has created among human
persons; one for us to both venerate and imitate, and that is the Immaculate
Mother of God.
Sixth, unlike her Son Who is a divine Person, there are not, as the heretical
Nestorius claimed, two persons in Christ, human and divine. There are two natures,
one Person in Christ. Mary was not divine, but she was as closely united with
the Trinity as any human person can be. The key words in Maximillian's Mariology
are "human person." The only human person who was as closely united
to the Holy Trinity as is absolutely possible, and therefore, the highest reflection
of the love of the Holy Trinity; the most perfect human, living, visible, audible
human being is the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Seventh, St. Maximillian spoke of the human soul as going with Mary to Christ,
not going to Christ from Mary. He avoided that preposition of relationship.
Eighth, he stressed the importance of every Catholic consecrating him or herself
to Mary and added that this could be done in one of a variety of ways. "We
can consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate One in various ways," he said,
"and express our consecration in different words or different forms. In
fact, a simple act of the will would be enough for that really is the essence
of such a Marian consecration." However, he did provide one formula as
follows: "My Immaculate Queen of heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and
Mother most loving; you to whom God entrusted the entire order of mercy. I am
an unworthy sinner. I cast myself at your feet, humbly pleading that you ordain
to accept me completely and totally as your property and possession and do with
me, and all my powers of body and soul, and with all my life and death and eternity,
whatever is pleasing to you."
Ninth, for St. Maximillian Kolbe, the outward sign of consecration to Mary
was to wear, or at least carry, the Miraculous Medal. He explained, this is
not absolutely essential, but then he added, "it is the integral sign and
condition for our consecration."
Tenth, the most effective means of conversion is through Mary. His great hope
was that the missionary evangelization and conversion apostolate of the Catholic
Church into the future would be placed into the hands of Mary. He predicted
that after 2000 years, only a fraction of the human race would even be nominally
Christian. He said, "we need Mary for the conversion of sinners, for the
bringing of tepid souls to sanctity, for bringing the millions of non-Christians
Conditions for Conversion
St. Maximillian saw the prospects of converting sinners to a life of grace
under two conditions. First, we will be as effective converters (or evangelizers
or missionaries) as we are personally devoted to Our Lady.
Secondly, we must, if necessary, make drastic changes in our approach to those
whom we want to bring to Christ or to a closer following of Mary's Son. We must
promote our missionary and conversion zeal through promoting the knowledge,
love and devotion to the Mother of God. Mary will do wonders, provided we use
her name and her influence to effect what is so desperately needed in the modern
Given this logic, that Mary is the key to converting the world to her Son,
St. Maximillian not only named but organized his special followers as the Militia
or "Army of the Immaculate" following, as he said, on the promise
that Yahweh had made in Genesis: that Mary would crush the serpent's head.
St. Maximillian Kolbe, zealous promoter of the veneration of the Immaculate
Mother of God and martyr of charity, pray for us.
Copyright © 2003 by Inter Mirifica