Thursday, April 5, 2018

Life Savers: What St. Maximillian Kolbe and Franciszek Gajowniczek Taught Me About Being Saved

I have strong devotion to St. Maximillian Kolbe.  

I first heard of him in middle school, when my parents became Third Order Franciscans with the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  The friars here use media and radio to evangelize, imitating the way of St. Maximillian Kolbe.  I found the life story of St. Max (may I call him that?) absolutely fascinating.  I even named one of my sons after him.  He just has a way of being in my life, even in his death.  


There was a priest, Fr. James McCurry, who used to visit our Cape Cod home often.  He would drink tea in my parent's kitchen and keep us laughing from his stories until way too late into the night.  I grew very close to him and he even concelebrated our wedding mass.  His love for St. Max was strong. He received the Kolbe Award a few years ago, and the reporter told his story (source):

 Father McCurry, during his funny yet profound remarks upon receiving the award, told of his encounter with Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Maximilian in 1982. He asked the Holy Father if he would pray that we might all be as consecrated to Mary as St. Maximilian was. 

The Pope did not hear him at first and said, “huh?” 

Speaking more loudly, the question then prompted a smile on the Holy Father’s face. He pointed to Father McCurry and said, “You do that!”  

Taking this as a papal command, Father McCurry did do it as the long-time president of the Militia Immaculata (founded by St. Maximillian Kolbe in 1917). 


When I was sixteen, my mom and Fr. McCurry were involved with getting Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life was saved by St. Maximillian Kolbe in Auschwitz, to come to our parish to speak.  He was 93 and it ended up being his last public appearance.  

Mr. G.
Knowing he was older and unable to go up and down stairs easily, my mom had him and his wife stay in their master bedroom on the first floor.  She planned an elaborate polish meal for him and he got misty-eyed as he saw his favorite traditional polish dishes.  My mom even tucked him into bed like a child and kissed him on the cheek! 

My mom with Mr. G.
 When they left the next day, she stripped the bed and saved the sheets, fully believing that they will be relics one day when Mr. Gajowniczek is canonized.  Why would HE be canonized, you might be asking?  Because he spent the 53 years of his life after being saved by St. Max in dedication to him.  When he had returned home at the end of the war, and discovered his two sons had been killed, he was heartbroken.  He didn't know why his life had been spared while theirs had not, and he felt that perhaps it was because the world needed to hear the message of St. Maximillian Kolbe.   

So that became his mission.  He traveled the world to talk about the amazing saint, and the faith and love for God in his own life was palpable.  "The gift of life", he said during his visit, "is what energizes me to travel around the world".

His life was saved...and so he spent it trying to repay the debt.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  I'm sure we would do the same.


And yet....

Jesus has saved our lives as well.  

He literally died on a cross so that we could have eternal life.

How do we repay him?  Do we even thank him daily...weekly...monthly?  Do we try to spread the message of his love and mercy with all we encounter?

I had never thought of it this way until this year's Easter homily.  I *knew* He died for us but I never felt that He saved my life, you know?  Our priest used a different story to make the same point and it's a message I won't soon forget.  Jesus stepped in to save us!  I hope to be more like Franciszek Gajowniczek, feeling indebted with gratitude for the gift of my life, and letting others know the goodness of God.

Mr. G with JP2 at St. Max's Canonization


  1. God bless you, Colleen. This post touched my heart.

  2. Oh wow. Will need to chew on this one for a while.

    On a less profound note: Every time I see a picture of JP2 my heart soars. Imagine what joy Mr G must have, meeting so many AMAZING saints in his life. I can’t believe you were able to meet him! So very cool.


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