St. Maximilian – Transmission of the Charism
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 9)
Our Seraphic Father, all the friar saints, and the martyr of charity, “the patron of our own difficult times” leave a bequest to the friars. It is the demanding vocation to carry out effectively in one’s own time and place the audacity of mission, the total gift of self, and the beauty of holiness.
Once, a friar called me over and said: “Look, I think we both wear the same-sized shoe. Do you think you might want these? I just got them from some friends and think you might be able to use them.” Today, I am still wearing the same shoes that friar gave me. They are so good. They are sturdy enough for the mountains and at the same time, elegant enough to wear at various celebrations. When I look at the things around me, I notice many of them were given to me by other people. That is how it is with gifts: they remind us of the giver and at the same time teach us about his attitude.
I am referring to the fact that each of us is called to share what we have with others. What we have received, we can, and must, pass on. One such special gift is our religious charism. I must share it in order for it to develop inside of me. I must offer the gift of myself to the friars of my community and to those whom Christ sends me every day. There are still other special recipients of this gift: those who wish to know our life and come to our Order to discern their vocation. St. Francis speaks about these in the Rule, when he recommends that we give life to the men who come to us: “If there are any who wish to accept this life and come to our brothers” (Later Rule 2:1 FF 77). Literally translated, his idea not so much to convey our “way of life” (rules, duties, customs, lifestyle, ideals, etc.), but to give life to those who come to us.
What kind of life? It is undoubtedly, the life that connects us with the Giver. Transmitting life is our particular mission, it is our religious charism; if we embrace it and pass it on, then whoever comes to us will experience the gift of life. The transmission of the charism takes place through what we do, how we do it, what we say, how we live, through the quality of our relationships, etc. In other words, that which we ourselves live is what we give. Otherwise, all we transmit is theory and that is not as attractive as experience. Going back to the story I told at the beginning. It is completely different if you are given sturdy shoes than it is imagining how nice and comfortable they might be if you could buy them.
Our Franciscan charism is a gift that brings life and brings us closer to God. Sometimes, however, we are overwhelmed by everyday life, when we feel the friars in our friary, or in the Order, are not giving us life. Then what? We need to look toward Heaven. We have friar saints there who can be our advocates. From this perspective, we too can become those through whom our charism is transmitted; friars full of passion and the charism, and able to inspire others to the mission of the Order.
Our friar-saints come from all over the world. Here, I would like to present what the Holy Spirit wants to offer us through St. Maximilian M. Kolbe. Why did I choose him? I confess it was for personal reasons: To me, he is a very significant Conventual Franciscan. From a young age, he was a role model for me. Thus, I chose him as my patron for Confirmation and used his name for my Confirmation name. In Poland it is traditional to select a name other than one’s baptismal name to use for Confirmation. Our Constitutions present him as a friar who shows us how to be Conventual Franciscans today. His life reveals some characteristics that are specific to our religious charism:
- Marianity: St. Maximilian was convinced that the surest way to sanctify one’s life, inspire other Christians to do so, and to convert as many sinners and enemies of the Church as possible, was to walk alongside Mary. It is therefore essential that we entrust our lives to her, to listen to her and to be guided by her.
- Unity with the Pope and the Church: While studying in Italy, St. Maximilian witnessed a Freemasons’ march in Rome. One of their parade banners announced that the devil would rule in the Vatican and the Pope would be his servant. After this event, on October 17, 1917, St. Maximilian founded the Militia of the Immaculata, together with some other friars, to protect the Pope and the Church. In doing this, he fulfilled St. Francis’ first recommendation to be obedient and reverent towards the Pope and the Church (cf. Later Rule I, 2 FF 76).
- Franciscanism: Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Maximilian led a humble and poor life and undertook works of evangelization without any guarantee of success. He started missions with modest resources and developed them without financial backing. His only goal was to bring as many people as possible to God through Mary.
- Obedience: St. Maximilian accomplished this in an active way. This was not easy for his Guardians and Ministers Provincial because St. Maximilian did not passively wait for events to change or orders to be given. He prayed, discerned, and presented his new ideas to his Superiors for their discernment. At the same time, he presented his reasons, asked for changes in decisions and persuaded. He was conscious that we are not obliged to follow orders that lead to sin, or are contrary to the Rule or our conscience (Cf. Later Rule 10: 3 FF 101). At the same time, he knew that Superiors might make wrong decisions, “but we will never be wrong if we obey”.
- Intellectual formation. St. Maximilian used the stage of intellectual formation for his later ministry. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure, also in Rome. During his studies, he learned Italian and established relationships with friars from around the world. After returning to Poland from Italy, he served as a lecturing Professor at the seminary in Cracow. He had a particular passion for mathematics, physics and technical matters (he submitted the design of the “Ethereoplane” spacecraft to the patent office). He used his contacts, interests and acquired skills to develop mission and evangelization.
- Fraternity. St. Maximilian was a caring Guardian and a good organizer of community life. He was the founder and Superior of the Niepokalanów Friary in Poland, then the largest religious community in the world. To properly organize life and work in the friary, he consulted professors specializing in management issues. He appreciated the sick friars and often visited them in the friary’s small hospital. He believed the suffering they offered up contributed tremendously to the development of the mission and the work of evangelization. He was concerned about the formation of the friars and often prepared spiritual lectures for them and looked after their spiritual development.
- Spirit of work and prayer. Despite his numerous activities, St. Maximilian found time for prayer and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As Superior, he also made sure that work did not interfere with the friars’ prayer life. Despite the three-shift work schedule, each friar had time for prayer and adoration (Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was organized around the clock in the chapel of the Niepokalanów Friary).
- Loyalty to the community. Although St. Maximilian saw that many friars in the Order did not understand his ideas, that he was criticized and had many opponents, he had no intention of founding a new branch of the Order (some harbored such concerns. It can be said that he acted within the community; he offered new ideas, provided insights and sought collaborators. He belonged to a group of friars who, since their novitiate, had already decided together to dedicate themselves to the renewal of religious life.
- Peace and forgiveness. In situations where St. Maximilian was misunderstood or accused by his confreres, he would justify their actions in front of his Superiors. In the concentration camp, he defended his executioner. He always interpreted people as good and that they were somehow acting out of ignorance—not knowing God, or not understanding the spirit and concept of the Militia of the Immaculata.
- Missionary activity and evangelization without barriers. As for mission and evangelization, St. Maximilian spared no expense to have at his disposal the latest and best that technology could offer. He continually sought ways to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel. After seventeen years of publishing the monthly magazine Knight of the Immaculata, its circulation had reached over one million copies. St. Maximilian also established a radio station. Founded in 1938, it was the second largest Catholic radio station in the world after Vatican Radio. He was also interested in broadcasting and film and planned to create a Catholic cinema and television. Two friars were learning to pilot airplanes, in preparation of Niepokalanów’s plans to build an airport and purchase airplanes in order to reach different regions of the world more quickly with evangelization material. He spurred the friars on to various activities; in Niepokalanów there was a modern printing press, a bakery, a dairy, various workshops, a pharmacy, a small hospital and the only fire department in the world with friars serving as firemen. Father Kolbe did not allow himself to be discouraged in the face of difficulty or illness. He used every adversity to proclaim the Good News. At the end of his life, when he was deported to a concentration camp by the Nazis, he explained to the friars that it is a blessing to be able to travel with the people and evangelize them, without having to find the financial means to do so. When he offered to die in the concentration camp for another prisoner, he not only saved the life of the condemned man, but he also accompanied the other prisoners in his starvation bunker with prayer and priestly ministry.
Our religious charism is transmitted by the lives of our saints. Presumably we can read message of St. Maximilian in even more detail. It is easier to read the details of his message than it is to embrace the gift that the Holy Spirit offers us through him. In writing this article, the words that St. Francis left us in the Admonitions have become even more relevant to me: “It is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that the saints have accomplished great things and we want only to receive glory and honor by recounting them” (Admonitions 6:3 FF 155).
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
General Delegate for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Rome 2019 (art.1, §7).
 Cf. Cesare Vaiani, OFM, Conferenza: Il carisma francescano nell’oggi della formazione (anche alla luce dei documenti della famiglia francescana). Snodi e sfide, Rome-Casa Kolbe (June 22,2022), pp. 18-19.
 Protagonist (theatre), https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protagonista_(teatr) (accessed: July 23, 2022); Osobowość “Protagonist”, https://www.16personalities.com/pl/osobowosc-enfj (accessed: July 23, 2022).
 St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Letter to Friar Alfonso Kolbe, Krakow Rome, April 21, 1919, no. 25, in: The Writings of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Vol. 1 Letters Lugano 2016, p. 380.