By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — St. Maximilian was born Raymond Kolbe in Poland, Jan. 8, 1894. His deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin began when he was very young. In 1910, he entered the Conventual Franciscan Order and was sent to study in Rome where he was ordained a priest in 1918.
While studying for the priesthood, he and a group of friars who were also devoted to Mary, wanted to establish a prayer group centered on Mary and her Son to combat sin and evil. The Militia of the Immaculata began in Rome on Oct. 16, 1917, around a table at the Conventual Franciscan seminary. Maximilian Kolbe sat down with six like-minded young friars before a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and after discussion drafted a charter that would establish one of the most influential Marian apostolates. The charter still serves as a blueprint of spiritual progress for Immaculata members today. Since these humble beginnings, the MI has spread throughout the world and is today present on five continents and in forty-six nations. Official membership now nears four million. Father Maximilian returned to Poland in 1919 and began spreading his Militia of the Immaculata movement of Marian consecration. In 1927, he established an evangelization center near Warsaw called Niepokalanów, the “City of the Immaculate.” By 1939, the City had expanded from eighteen Franciscan friars to nearly 900, making it the largest Catholic religious house in the world.
Wanting to “win the world for the Immaculata,” the friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques, enabling them to publish countless catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper read by 230,000 people and a monthly magazine with a circulation of more than one million. Father Maximilian, an “apostle of the mass media,” began operating a radio station and planned to build a motion picture studio.
He wrote that, “The goal of the MI is in fact to make sure that all become saints. In all this activity, what strikes the eye most of all is its Marian thrust; this is a consequence of a precise understanding of the mission of the Immaculata.”
In 1930, he established the City of the Immaculata in Nagasaki, Japan, and began envisioning worldwide missionary centers.
Maximilian was a ground-breaking theologian, with insights into the Immaculate Conception that anticipated the Marian theology of Vatican II in the early 1960s, and further developed the Church’s understanding of Mary as “Mediatrix” of all the graces of the Trinity, and “Advocate” for God’s people. In 1941, the Nazis arrested Father Maximilian and imprisoned him in the Auschwitz death camp. When several prisoners escaped, the Auschwitz commandant ordered that a number of other prisoners be put to death. Kolbe saw one man break down in sobs when his name was called, “My family, what will they do?” He offered his life for the other man and was condemned to slow death in a starvation bunker. On August 14, 1941, his impatient captors ended his life with an injection of carbolic acid. Pope John Paul II canonized Maximilian as a “Martyr of Charity” and “Patron Saint of our difficult century” in 1982. The man whose life he saved attended the canonization ceremony. Pope St. John Paul encouraged membership in the MI and devotion to Mary, saying, ““Membership in the Militia means complete dedication to the Kingdom of God and to the salvation of souls through Mary Immaculate.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of journalists, families, prisoners, the pro-life movement and the chemically addicted.
The Militia of the Immaculata (MI) is a worldwide evangelization movement that encourages total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a means of spiritual renewal for individuals and society, open to Catholics age 7 and older. Having recently moved from Marytown, Il, after many years, its national headquarters is now temporarily located in Mundelein, Il, while it seeks a permanent location.
In 2004, a local member of the Militia of the Immaculata, Christine Rossi, opened the first village of the Immaculata in Kansas City, the Ave Maria Village, which has been meeting at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Senior Center ever since. Today, that first village has grown to 13 villages from Liberty, Mo., to La Cygne, Kan.
Rossi, who serves as director of the regional villages was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1993. She attended Militia Immaculata Uniiversity studying village founding and leadership. When asked about leading the villages, Rossi said, “Mary doesn’t choose those who are equipped; she equips those she chooses. And she leads me where she wants me to go.”
MI employs prayer and the Miraculous Medal as the main weapons in the spiritual battle with evil. Members of the Militia Immaculata also immerse themselves in apostolic initiatives throughout society, either individually or in groups, to deepen the knowledge of the Gospel and our Catholic Faith in them and in others. Marian consecration is a formal act of self-giving that does not stop at Mary, but is Christ-directed. It is really consecration to Jesus. The MI’s mission is “To Lead Every Individual with Mary to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
The Ave Maria Village of the MI commemorated its 13th anniversary and kicked off the centennial year of the MI, with a Mass at Redemptorist Church on Jan. 7, celebrated by Father David P. Uribe, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Director of Pilgrim Services and Pastoral Associate, Hispanic Ministry of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, Il. After Mass, the Rosary was prayed in the Garden Room, then Father Uribe blessed salt, water, olive oil and other religious articles. A potluck luncheon followed.
To learn more about the Militia of the Immaculata, or any of the regional Villages, email Christine Rossi firstname.lastname@example.org.