Joseph Pronechen had a great interview in the National Catholic Register where he interviewed a 91-year-old priest - Father Lucjan Krolikowski - who knew Maximilian Kolbe. This interview crushed my self-inflected bias on St. Kolbe. I always thought of him as a man who met the moment; taking the place of a husband and a father in a Nazi death camp selected to die of starvation. After this article, I realize that the moment actually met Fr. Kolbe.
Fr. Krolikowski remembers the saint:
"Maximilian Kolbe used to come very often to the seminary. He played chess. He was so brilliant: a genius in math. He would play with 10 seminarians at one time and win every one. But he was humble and gave us a chance to win.
He was a genius. When he applied for the novitiate, there was a committee studying each case. When it came to Raymond — his name from baptism — his professor of math and physics said, “To be a monk would be a waste of time. He is a genius, and they need to send him to the university. He could be another Galileo or Copernicus.” The father provincial said, “Yes, you might be right; he is a genius. But I will tell you, professor, we also have geniuses of the spiritual realm, and we call them saints.”
...He was humble, very humble. Many times when people ask me how I would describe his humility, I say to all, “If you would come to [our religious community] and say to me, ‘I hear so much about Maximilian Kolbe. Who is he? What does he look like?’ I tell them, ‘I will march in a file in front of you (all the friars) and you guess who could be Maximilian Kolbe.’”
He would be the last to be recognized. He was so self-effacing, so ordinary and humble.
The brothers loved him so much. When he was arrested by the Nazis, 20 brothers applied to replace him, ready to die in his place, and the Nazi colonel said, “Even if it be 1,000 you would not liberate him. He is precious to us.”
...He had to be bright to manage everything — 700 brothers, 130 seminarians, all the printings [of a Catholic newsletter he published].
His monastery was so expanded and complicated; printing so many publications. What Maximilian Kolbe did sometimes — you judge it’s not in the ability of a man to do it. He has to be helped by God. It’s like a miracle.
[While Fr. Kolbe was actively running the monastery] Our superiors were afraid that, when he died, the monastery would collapse because it was too complicated to be run by one person. The father general said, “Let Father Maximilian Kolbe answer these accusations.” Fr. Kolbe stood up, put his hands like this [Father Krolikowski demonstrates, holding his arms down, with wrists crossed as if bound] and said nothing. Why? He believed in the providence of God.
Later I heard the father general said “I felt like Pilate before Christ.”"
As if Fr. Krolikowski wasn't lucky enough to know one saint, he tells a story in the article that a visiting Cardinal heard he was celebrating his silver jubilee with orphans. The Cardinal wanted to go and spend time with the orphans. Fr. Krolikowski remembers he saw the doors of the room he was in swing open, and before him stood Karol Wojtyla who spoke to the orphans for 10-20 minutes.
"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?"~ St. Maximilian Kolbe