Rajmund Kolbe had a vision of Mary at the age of 12 – she brought him two crowns, white-symbolizing purity and red-symbolizing martyrdom. He had voluntarily offered his life for an unknown man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, and died as the last convict in the hunger bunker. This is what most people know. But there are many other aspects of Kolbe's life that are not known. Here are some of them:
Rajmund's family was very patriotic family (Poland was under partitions for over 100 years when the boys were small) and talked a lot about Polish history. Brothers liked to run around and paint Polish eagles on fences as a sign of protest and desire for freedom. Patriotic feelings were running deep.
His parents, who were educated only in elementary schools, belonged to the third order Franciscans, they home schooled during early years, helped the poor (not being well of themselves) and sick. Looking for jobs, they ended up in a big industrial city of Łódź, but soon after decided that because of the kids they need to move to the little village nearby. They ran a small store and gave away so may things to the poor that they lost the business; because of the political unrest they had to downsize their living quarters to a small one-room apartment and changed locations often. They both worked 12 hours daily, starting with 5:00am Mass, prayed together as a family, and taught their kids that only the following order of life is meaningful: work, study, and play only if you have time. They belonged to a rosary group and every Sunday attended Eucharistic adoration, which they themselves organized.
The boys were responsible for keeping the apartment clean, they cooked and brought food for their parents twice a day to the factory where they worked, made dinners daily and walked with their parents from the factory to spend time with them in the evening. Marianna helped as a doula after her factory work, and studied in the evenings to become better at helping poor women without medical help. Juliusz supported the local parochial library, made book covers and wrote articles for a local newspaper. He evangelized everyone around, trying to convert even a local Evangelical pastor, and Marianna, feeling inadequate to raise boys, constantly called upon Mary’s help. Her conversations had only one focus: God. She was very firm and expected nothing but the best from the boys. After having five sons (two of them died early on), Juliusz and Marianna decided to live in chastity.
At the age of 13, together with his brother, Maximilian sneaked through the Austrian/Russian border (Poland did not exist as a country for 124 years; Polish territories was under Russian, Austrian and Prussian partitions) and they joined a minor Franciscan seminary in Lwów. Their youngest brother, Joseph, joined them three years later. After a few years in seminary, they both decided that their service to God and their beloved suffering nation of Poland would make more sense if they join the underground Polish army which would free Poland from its occupants.
A surprising visit of their mother changed their plans. After her arrival she announced that she and their father decided to consecrate themselves to the service of God by joining different monasteries. Marianna decided to move and live in the house of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix and Juliusz wanted to help Franciscan monasteries. In Marianna’s words: “I loved my sons and husband more than my life, but not more than God.” She survived all of her sons and husband, and died in 1946.
Rajmund became novice at 16, at 19 received in a degree in theology, at 21 received doctorate in philosophy from the Jesuit Gregorianum in Rome, at the age 24 became a priest, and at age 25 became a professor.
He was called "Crazy Max" , because he was always working on new ideas. At 21 (in 1912) he presented his patent for a spaceship called Etereoplan, he also prepared a plan for defending the Polish city Lwów in the East, and built a radio broadcasting station.
Despite tuberculosis, which he suffered for all his life, his entrepreneurial spirit for God had no boundaries, and he always used cutting edge technology to reach people. In 1939 the City of Immaculata had 13 priest, 18 seminarians in novitiate, 527 professed friars, 82 candidates for friars and 122 boys in minor seminary. Yearly about 1,800 boys and men wanted to enter Niepokalanów, but Fr. Kolbe would receive only 100, personally. During WWII, Fr. Kolbe received over 1,500 Jews and helped them. "The Knight of the Immaculate" had been published in 221,000 copies, daily magazine reached 137,000, Sunday's magazine 225,000 and Missionary Bulletin 440,000.
From His journal, a glimpse into St. Maximilian's personal Spiritual Life as a Young Man ("The Kolbe Reader" The Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe; Commentator: Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM Conv.), here is an excerpt from his notes after a retreat in April 21-27, 1918, a strategy of how to do priestly ministry, written a day before he became a priest:
(this is not even half, get the book to read them all).
The last letter of Fr. Kolbe to Him mother, May 28, 1941:
My dearest Mom,
Towards the end of the month of May I reached the concentration camp of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) by rail convoy. Everything is going well with me. Beloved Mom, don't worry about me or about my health, because the good God is everywhere, and with immense love he thinks about all of us and about everything. It would be best not to write to me until I send you another letter. I don't know how long I shall remain here.
With heartfelt greetings and a kiss.