On January 8, 1894 in Zdunska-Wola, Poland, Raymond Kolbe was born to a very holy Catholic family. His mother, Maria, and his father, Julius, were poor working class people who loved the Church and their family. They were both third order lay Franciscans, and very devoted to raising their children in the Church.
After praying before a statue of the Blessed Mother, Raymond told his mother that he had seen Mary. She handed him two crowns, a white and a red. The white crown represented purity, the red represented martyrdom. She asked which he would take. Raymond asked for both and she left. (This is where we get the Kolbe House motto: He Chose Both)
Raymond's love for math and science, especially astronomy and space flight, led him in the direction of becoming a scientist. His brilliant sketches of space rocket designs were sent to be patented. However, his designs were not openly accepted by the scientific community.
His love for the faith, and seeing those who are against the Church, helped him to make his decision to give up any desires to be a scientist and astronomer. He found interest in the Franciscans.
Raymond was worried, however, that he was called to be a soldier and not a priest. Fortunately he saw God's call in his life. On September 4, 1910, he entered the Conventual Franciscan Order. He was sent to Rome for his studies where he was ordained a priest in 1918.
Father Kolbe's mission in the priesthood was to be a spiritual soldier.
The Militia of the Immaculata was born in Poland on October 16, 1917. A group of priests, and eventually laymen, would consecrate themselves to Immaculate Mary, to be used by her to lead others to Jesus and His Church. Their work would be educational and spiritual. Through their work and their prayer, they would lead a spiritual formation that would bring others to Jesus.
Father Kolbe planned to start a printing house where information could be mass produced and sent to millions of people. However, he had only half of the necessary funds. He trusted the Immaculata to help, praying that she would supply them with the needed funds to complete the work and print their publications. During his prayer before a statue of the Blessed Mother, he noticed an envelope. On the envelope, it said, "For you, Immaculata." Inside was the exact amount needed to complete the project.
Father Kolbe and the other priests developed a monthly magazine with a circulation of over 1 million, and a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000, as well as countless catechetical and devotional tracts. The friars used the latest printing and administrative technologies to print and distribute their publications.
Father Kolbe also started a radio station and planned to build a motion picture studio. All of this was used to teach and spread the Catholic faith and to teach the whole world about the Church.
On February 17, 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On May 28, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13 (notorious for torture) in order to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.) One of the selected men cried out, "My wife! My children!" Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
During his time there, he would share his meager rations of food with those around him who were hungry. He would secretly hear confessions and hold Mass for others in the camp. His work, even under these terrible conditions, continued. He would comfort the prisoners, saying, "Hate is not creative. Our sorrow is necessary that those who live after us may be happy."
Father Kolbe would plead with the prisoners to forgive their persecutors and overcome evil with good.
A Protestant Doctor who treated the patients in Father Kolbe's block said that Father Kolbe would not let himself be treated before any other prisoners in that block. Father Kolbe often sacrificed himself for the prisoners.
In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day for as long as he was able and gave Holy Communion to the prisoners covertly during the course of the day; the bread given to prisoners was unleavened and so could be used in the Eucharist, and sympathetic guards gave him materials, including wine, that he could use.
He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others remained alive. He encouraged others by telling them that they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. When Kolbe was the last survivor, he was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The man whose place Father Kolbe took was present for the beatification of Blessed Kolbe, a confessor, by Pope Paul VI on October 17, 1971. On October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a martyr.