School gives 'life-changing' lessons on St. Maximilian Kolbe

  • April 29, 2010
 Franciscan Father Lucjan KrolikowskiThe story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest martyred in a Nazi death camp, is being stamped on the memories of more than 100 students and their teachers from the school named after him through hands-on visits to Poland, New York City and contact with Holocaust survivors.

St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Secondary School in Aurora, Ont., opened its doors to students in September, and celebrated its official grand opening with special guests and a solemn blessing by Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Nguyen April 28.

In August, principal Domenic Scuglia took eight incoming Grade 9 students and their chaperones to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where St. Maximilian Kolbe was starved in a room with nine other people and finally given a lethal injection because he wouldn’t die. Kolbe wouldn’t have been sent to the starvation chamber except that he offered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children.

The eight students were given letters written by Holocaust survivors to open and read while at Auschwitz and then met these survivors upon their return to Toronto. Max Eisen, one of the letter writers, said the experience was very moving. He was to attend the grand opening ceremony and share a few words with those assembled.

“I just wanted to say to these students who have been there, hopefully they have seen a place where these horrible things happened to human beings, that it was a human tragedy, and they will think about this carefully and they will each and every one of them do their own to make this a better world,” Eisen said.

In addition to Auschwitz, the school organized a trip for eight students to the Museum of Tolerance in New York. There are plans to send 22 more students in May and to continue sending students to New York to experience the same Tools for Tolerance program in years to come.

“The words the kids have used to describe it have been ‘life changing,’ ” said Scuglia.

While planning the grand opening, Scuglia learned about a priest in Boston who had known St. Maximilian Kolbe as a youth studying for the seminary in Poland. In March, he took six students to Boston to meet Fr. Lucjan Krolikowski, himself a Holocaust survivor, who accepted Scuglia’s invitation to attend the high school’s grand opening.

Krolikowski said he hoped to share stories about St. Maximilian’s youth so that students would understand what made him choose martyrdom — including one of the Marian apparition he received as a boy. Krolikowski said the young saint, upset with a conversation over his future, ran to the statue of the Blessed Mother asking what his purpose in life would be. As the story related to his mother goes, she offered him two crowns — the white crown represented perseverance in purity and the red one martyrdom. In his zeal he asked for both.

“Jesus said that nobody has greater love than the one who puts his life for the other, so Maximilian Kolbe did it,” Krolikowski said.

He also planned to tell students that when Kolbe, then just Raymond Kolbe, applied to enter the seminary, some of the administration hesitated, saying he was a brilliant man who could excel in math and science.

“They said he was the next Galileo or Newton, but for Poland,” Krolikowski said.

They did grant his request however, and gave him the name of “Maximilianus,” Latin for “the greatest,” Krolikowski said.

Kolbe enthusiastically responded to the news saying he wanted to be the greatest in loving God and loving his neighbours — a wonderful example of holiness for the students to follow, Krolikowski said.

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