How saint-started devotion has impacted the world.
St. Maximilian Kolbe founded the Militia of the Immaculata with six fellow Franciscan seminarians in Poland Oct. 16, 1917 — three days after the final Fatima apparitions.
Although the future saint may not have heard of Fatima, his ideas would fulfill some major requests Our Lady made for the world when she appeared in Portugal.
The Militia Immaculatae — Latin for Militia of the Immaculata (MissionImmaculata.com) — “is a global vision of Catholic life under a new form, consisting in the bond with the Immaculata, our universal Mediatrix before Jesus,” St. Maximilian wrote. “The goal of the MI is, in fact, to make sure that all become saints. In all this activity, what strikes the eye most of all is its Marian thrust. This is a consequence of a precise understanding of the mission of the Immaculata.”
The MI has grown into a worldwide movement in the last century and is today designated as an international public association of the faithful by the Holy See.
According to MI’s national coordinator, Antonella Di Piazza, there are approximately 30,000 members in the United States, a small part of the nearly 4 million international members. St. Maximilian envisioned the organization to be open to all ages and all walks of life, she said, and “the youth and young adults responded to the challenges of Maximilian and embraced it.” Now, there are many children, high-school youth and college students joining the adult members (MIYouth.org).
Events in Italy sparked St. Maximilian’s vision while he was studying in a Franciscan seminary. He wrote of those days leading up to founding MI: “When in Rome the Freemasons started coming out in the open daringly, flaunting their banners under the windows of the Vatican … the thought came of setting up an association committed to fighting Freemasonry and other servants of Lucifer.”
The events led St. Maximilian to state as one intention for the MI’s original charter: “To pursue the conversion to God of all people, be they sinners, or non-Catholics, or unbelievers, in particular the Freemasons; and that all become saints, under the patronage and through the mediation of the Immaculate Virgin.”
Little did he realize that, in Fatima, the Freemasons — who were observing their 200th anniversary that year — were the principal opponents of the apparitions of Our Lady — from the secular authorities who arrested the children before the August apparitions to the freemasons, who mocked the religious fervor and apparitions and tried to cut down the tree on which Our Lady stood, to the secular press.
St. Maximilian knew the intercessory power of Our Lady for the times in which he lived, and he wrote a prayer of total consecration to Mary. “We use the actual prayer of consecration St. Maximilian himself composed,” said Di Piazza. (See sidebar.)
Because he was familiar with the Miraculous Medal Our Lady had given to St. Catherine Labouré in the 19th century, from the start the Miraculous Medal also played a major role for the MI.
“St. Maximilian endorsed the medal, and members are invited to wear it as a sign of consecration to Our Lady,” said Di Piazza, who has appeared on EWTN to speak about St. Maximilian and the MI.
Writing a brief history of the earliest days of MI, St. Maximilian said, “In that early period of life of the Militia, our activity — besides private prayer — consisted in handing out medals of the Immaculata, called ‘Miraculous Medals.’”
Di Piazza also explained that St. Maximilian was a great promoter of the Rosary. “We definitely promote the Rosary and our relationship with Our Lady and consecration to Our Lady.”
The MI has printed a brochure, downloadable online for free, titled Rosary Meditations From the Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe (http://bit.ly/2xu8YP2).
In a letter for MI’s centenary, Franciscan Friar Father Raffaele Di Muro, MI’s international president, wrote: “St. Maximilian dreamt ‘big,’ and therefore the MI and all his apostolic initiatives were born with a wide goal and a universal dimension. The MI, faithful to its founder, continues to be attentive to the ‘signs of the times’ in the ongoing search for effective and current ways and means for communicating the ever-new Gospel message through the Kolbean charism, marked by its Marian spirituality.”
Although MI’s timing coincides with Fatima, “To our knowledge, St. Maximilian didn’t know about Fatima,” Di Piazza said. “In his articles and letters, there is not an indication he knew about Fatima. If he knew, he would have mentioned it in one of his letters.” (The MI has recently released all of his writings in English.)
Those were days before rapid communication, and St. Maximilian died in 1941. And the major international mention of Fatima and the first two secrets which involved consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary did not come until the Vatican announced them in 1942.
Nevertheless, the Immaculata-Fatima connection goes deeper than sharing centennials this year.
“Our Lady appeared to the little children in Fatima asking for consecration to her Immaculate Heart,” Di Piazza said, “and this same year, this same timeframe, she inspired this young friar to establish the MI and promote consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for all people. You can see divine Providence in this work.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
(LLOYD OSTENDORF PAINTING)