January 2015: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Sometimes we think of saints as people who lived a long, long time ago. But there are many saints who have been a witness to Christ’s love for us in recent memory. One such person is St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic who was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s birth name was Raymond and he took the name Maximilian Mary when he joined the Franciscans at the age of 16. After the war broke out in Europe in 1939, Father Maximilian Kolbe gave shelter to thousands of Christians and Jews who e fleeing Nazi persecution. In February 1941 the Nazis arrested Father Kolbe and sent him to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he continued to do God’s work secretly hearing confessions and allowing others to eat his small ration of food.

One day a prisoner escaped from the camp, and the Nazi officers said 10 men would be sent to die from starvation in an underground pit as a warning to the others. Although Father Kolbe was not originally sentenced to death, he offered to take the place of another man. Father Kolbe survived for two weeks—longer than any other prisoner in the pit—but was put to death on August 14, the vigil of Mary’s Assumption, which is also the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1982. He is considered the patron saint of families, journalists and prisoners.