Summary of A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe the “Saint of Auschwitz” by Patricia Treece

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read about a saint. I highly recommend that you get this book 🙂 Here are my favourite themes (with some quotes & stories) from the book.

#1: Sanctity

“I wish to be a saint and a great saint.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Just before his ordination in 1918, Fr. Kolbe wrote down a list of goals that he wanted to achieve in life. His top goal was the above quote.

After earning two doctorates in Rome in just 7 years, his rector gave a three word summary of Fr. Kolbe: “a young saint.” In fact, this was a common conviction among everyone who met Fr. Kolbe.

  • One brother said, “Why did I need to be near him? Because I felt holiness flow out of him as if it were a kind of unction from the other world” (85).

In Auschwitz, prisoners recall a supernatural power that emanated from Fr. Kolbe. A hidden and superior strength.

“Imagine that where everyone else saw himself a squirming victim in the tormentor’s hand, Kolbe believed he was a knight on a noble, mystical mission” (214).

In the underground bunker, as they awaited their death, Fr. Kolbe transformed that pit of hell into a sanctuary for God full of prayers and hymns of praise – a true light of sanctity shining in the darkness.

“Father Kolbe never asked for anything and he never complained. He looked directly and intently into the eyes of those entering the cell. Those eyes of his were always strangely penetrating. The SS men couldn’t stand his glance, and used to yell at him, “Look at the ground, not at us!” (228).

The Nazis said that Kolbe was a superhuman hero, a shock for them. He had the only look in the camp that did not hunger for bread but rather to liberate them from evil (228).

A fellow Auschwitz prisoner, George Bielecki, described the effect of Kolbe’s sacrifice:

“We became aware someone among us in this spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it… To say that Father Kolbe died for one of us or for that person’s family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands … That’s how we felt about it. That was a shock full of optimism, regenerating and giving strength; we were stunned by his act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp night.”

#2: Love

“Pray that I will love without any limits.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Kolbe had written this in a letter to his mother when he was in his 20’s. At Fr. Kolbe’s friary, Niepokalanow, love was a central theme of his talks:

“Father told us in today’s conference that Niepokalanow’s success is not based on material expansion but on the deepening of charity in our souls. The true development of Niepokalanow is the development of God’s love in our hearts” (91).

In Auschwitz, Fr. Kolbe never showed the slightest dislike for the Germans. He frequently told others to pray for their conversion and to love them. In fact, Fr. Kolbe’s goal in Auschwitz was to convert the entire camp – including the Nazis (204). He wanted to triumph over the Nazis through love (216).

Other prisoners in Auschwitz marvelled at how serene, prayerful, and courageous Fr. Kolbe was in the face of extreme suffering. Fr. Kolbe was determined to use every suffering that came his way to prove his love for God by his willingness to suffer for his faith but also to help fellow prisoners persevere. Fr. Kolbe said that it “is only through suffering that we learn how to love” (139). In addition, because of the rapture of heaven awaited him, Fr. Kolbe saw suffering as a temporary pledge of his love for God.

“God is love, and as the result must bear a resemblance to its cause, then anything created lives on love. Not only in pursuing our final end, but also in every action and in every moment of the day, the main motive should be – love” (140).

Rudolph Diem said of Fr. Kolbe: “In view of the general animal instinct of self-preservation so evident in everyone else (the main motive for any camp action was generally to hold on to life), his desire to sacrifice himself for others surprised me and intrigued me” (193).

Another Auschwitz prisoner said of Fr. Kolbe: “How great was his immeasurable, marvellous humanity! He was so good. He loved God more than himself. And he loved every man in God. What an apostle!” (208).

#3: Obedience

“Don’t look for extraordinary mortifications, fastings, flagellations, chains, long prayers, or this sort of thing. It’s enough [penance] to completely fulfill the will of the Immaculata – that is, the will of God – by being perfectly obedient” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Fr. Kolbe saw obedience as a great virtue. Brother Juventyn said that “the secret of our success was that, undergirding our modern organization of labour, Father Maximilian relied on supernatural obedience, which he himself practiced heroically” (78).

Fr. Kolbe encouraged the friars that “sanctity isn’t so hard… It’s the result of a very simple equation. And he wrote on the blackboard, “V + v = S.” The capital V, he said, is God’s Will [he was using the Latin Voluntas]; the small v is your will. United they equal sanctity” (87-88).

In Auschwitz, Fr. Kolbe “had such heroic trust in God that he saw God’s finger in every event. If a prisoner was to die, he would [still] say, “That’s God’s will.” He himself was totally abandoned to God” (190).

#4: Mary

At around the age of 12, after his mother corrected him for misbehaviour, Maximilian asked Mary in prayer, “What will become of me?” And that night, he said, “the Virgin Mother appeared to me holding in her hands two crowns, one white and one red. She looked at me with love and she asked me if I would like to have them. The white meant that I would remain pure and the red that I would be a martyr. I answered yes, I wanted them. Then the Virgin looked at me tenderly and disappeared” (1-2).

After this event, Fr. Kolbe had an intensely personal and deep devotion to Mary. His entire life can be seen as a response to our Lady’s plans for him. Maximilian had a childlike and sincere devotion to Mary. He used to address Mary sweetly as “Mamma mia” (15).

In 1917, Fr. Kolbe started the Militia Immaculatae (the Army of Mary Immaculate). He would sign “M.I.” after his name, signifying Miles Immaculatae (Soldier of Mary Immaculate). The goal of the Militia was simple: to bring the whole world to God through Christ under the generalship of Mary.

  • One day, Fr. Kolbe ran out of funds to pay the latest printing bill for their magazine, the Knight of the Immaculate. Later that day, Fr. Kolbe went to the Church to pray for Mary’s help. He looked up at the front of the church and saw a big sack on the altar. On it was pinned a note: “For my dear mother, Mary Immaculate.” Inside was money – the exact amount of the bill. Fr. Kolbe took it joyfully to his Superior, who permitted him to use the money (25).

Because Mary’s will was always one with God’s, Fr. Kolbe frequently told others to ask Mary for help with everything in life (102).

  • Brothers recall that Fr. Kolbe would often raise his eyes to a statue of Mary and “placed his confidence in her intercession to the point of recklessness” (85).
  • Fr. Kolbe would often say, “I can do everything in him who strengthens me through his mother” (138).

In 1927, Fr. Kolbe founded Niepokalanow (“the property of Mary” or “Mary’s city”).

  • In the newspaper, Fr. Kolbe put out an ad: “The gates of the city of Mary Immaculate are always open! Enter by those gates all young men who seek to serve Mary without counting the cost! In work without end, in abandoning self, in penance – this is the way to that peace which the world cannot give. Whatever your skill, your trade or talent – there is room within the City’s gate. If you can strive after poverty and heroic chastity in a spirit of humility – your place is here. In return – the joy of Paradise, of the vision of the eternal God” (42).
  • When things went well, Fr. Kolbe thanked Mary with all his heart. When things went worry, he would still be happy and say, “Why should we be sad? Doesn’t the Immaculata, our little mother, know everything that’s going on?” (86)

In Auschwitz, Fr. Kolbe often counselled others to offer up all their sufferings to Mary.

“Take Christ’s hand in one of yours and Mary’s in the other. Now even if you are in darkness you can go forward with the confidence of a child guided by its parents.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Fr. Kolbe said these words to another Auschwitz prisoner. When we realize the context in which these words were spoken, wow.

“For Jesus Christ I’m ready to suffer more than this. The Immaculata is helping me.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

#5: Eucharist

“Several times a day he visited Jesus in the tabernacle. He said, “Here lies our strength – here is our source of sanctification” – Luke Kuzba, speaking of Fr. Kolbe

Many brothers recall that before and after meetings, Fr. Kolbe would drop by the chapel for a quick visit to Jesus. Fr. Kolbe often appeared illuminated during the celebration of Mass too, as if he was being transformed by Christ.

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