Maximilian was born in 1894 as a Pole without a nation. Two hundred years earlier Poland was divided up between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The young son of poor weavers, Maximilian dreamed of becoming a great soldier to free his native land. However, by the age of fourteen, this idealistic youth decided to join the Conventual Franciscans instead.
During his seminary studies in Rome, Maximilian responded to the anti-clerical attacks against the Church by forming a new spiritual movement with few of his friar classmates. They called themselves the "Knights of the Immaculata" and consecrated themselves totally to the Virgin Mary in order to lead others to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This Militia of the Immaculata (M.I.) movement that began in 1917 quickly grew and a few years after his ordination, Maximilian was given permission to establish a printing apostolate to expand the evangelization efforts of the M.I. Eventually this endeavor grew so large that a new friary complex was built and named the "City of the Immaculata." With over 600 friars working diligently, Maximilian's community was not only the largest religious house in the world, but it also published the most read daily newspaper in the Polish language.
With a deep love for the missionary charism of the Order, Maximilian set off for Japan with a handful of friars and set up a publishing apostolate near Nagasaki in 1930. The evangelization ministry flourished until the advent of World War II. Maximilian returned to Poland where he and his friars cared for the needs of refugees and wounded soldiers. Highly influential among his people, Maximilian was considered a dangerous threat to the Nazis. He was arrested, jailed and finally, sent to the concentration camp called Auschwitz.
There, after brutal months of forced labor, Maximilian offered his life as a martyr of charity for the life of a fellow prisoner. He was placed in a starvation bunker with 9 other men and on August 14, 1941, his life ended with a lethal injection.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982, the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis' birth, and he was declared the "patron of our difficult age."