The following account of the beginnings of the MI was written by Fr. Maximilian Kolbe while in Japan, working in the mission he had established almost five years previously. Though he had personally founded the mission, Father Maximilian was no longer its superior. This responsibility had been given to Fr. Cornelius Czupryk, OFM CONV., by the Provincial Chapter of the parent Province in Poland in 1933 because of Father Maximilian's poor health. At the same time this arrangement left him freer to travel in China and India where he began negotiations to establish new missions there.
It is thanks to Father Cornelius that we have this precious account, which contains details recorded nowhere else. Father Cornelius requested Father Maximilian to describe the beginnings of the MI for an article in the "Mugenzai no Seibo no Kishi," the Japanese MI publication. It appeared in the 1935 November issue commemorating the 18th anniversary of the MI.
MUCH WATER has passed under the bridge. It has been almost 18 years, so I have forgotten many of the details. But because Father Guardian has asked me to record the beginnings of the MI, I am writing whatever I still can remember.
I remember speaking with my confreres about the poor condition of our Order and its future. It was then this thought impressed my mind very strongly: "Either put it on a better footing, or demolish it." I was feeling sorry for young men who came to us with the greatest intentions, but who soon lost the ideal of holiness they expected to find in the friary. But the thought of either bettering the Order or destroying it haunted me. How this was to be accomplished I had no idea. But allow me to continue.
I remember when, as a boy, I bought myself a figurine of the Immaculata for five kopecks. I always loved the Immaculata. Later on, in the Franciscan Minor Seminary in Lwow, where we heard Holy Mass in the choir, I prostrated myself on the floor before the altar, and promised that I would fight for her. How I would do this I did not know at the time, but I visualized fighting with material weapons.
A WAR FOR MEN'S HEARTS
When the time came to enter the novitiate - or was it the profession of vows - I don't remember correctly, I made known to the Master my difficulty concerning the Religious state. Father Dionysius soon changed my mind about this fighting for the Immaculata physically, with material weapons. He told me to recite the "Sub Tuum Praesidium" once daily. From that day until today I recite this prayer daily for I began to understand what that fight for the Immaculata would really be.
At that time I was conscious of a greater tendency to pride; nevertheless I felt the Immaculata drawing me to herself more and more closely... I had a custom of keeping a holy picture of one of the Saints to whom she appeared on my prie-dieu in my cell, and I used to pray to the Immaculata very fervently. One of my confreres, upon seeing the picture, remarked that I must have a great devotion to that Saint. But it was really the Immaculata to whom I was directing my prayers.
Years later, the Freemasons in Rome began to demonstrate openly and belligerently against the Church. They placed the black standard of the "Giordano Brunisti" under the windows of the Vatican. On this standard the archangel, St. Michael, was depicted lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer. At the same time, countless pamphlets were distributed to the people in which the Holy Father was attacked shamefully.
Right then I conceived the idea of organizing an active society to counteract Freemasonry and other slaves of Lucifer. In order to be sure this idea was given me by the Immaculata, I sought the advice of Fr. Alexander Basile, a Jesuit, who was my spiritual director as well as the confessor for the students of the Collegio (Serafico). Having listened to me, he put me under obedience to follow up this idea of an organization.
In the meantime, for the summer months and vacation, we moved from the Collegio to the "Vinea," a friary of our Order, a 20 or 30 minute walk from the Collegio. While there we played soccer for recreation.
THE FIRST SIGNS OF TB
One day, while playing soccer I suddenly suffered a hemorrhage and felt blood come to my mouth. I stepped aside and lay down on the grass. My comrade, Friar Jerome Biasi of happy memory, took care of me. I spat blood for quite a time. They took me to the doctor. I thought then that the end was near for me. The doctor advised me to take a carriage home and go to bed immediately.
The prescribed medicine was very slow in stopping a recurring slight hemorrhage, which finally ceased. During this time the young and saintly cleric, Friar Jerome Biasi, visited me often.
After two weeks in bed, the doctor permitted me to return to the "Vinea" which I reached with some difficulty in the company of another cleric, Friar Ossana. My confreres, upon seeing me, gave a very cheerful and noisy welcome. They brought me fresh figs, grapes and bread. I ate heartily, and when the first hunger was satisfied, all my aches and pains seemed to vanish.
It was then, for the first time, that I shared my intention of establishing an organization with my confrere, Friar Jerome Biasi and with Fr. Joseph (or was it Peter) Pal who was already ordained to the priesthood, but who was still my classmate in theology. However, I laid down the condition that before we could act they were first to seek advice from their spiritual directors to make sure that this was God's will.
THE MI BEGINS TO GROW
After I regained some of my former strength, I was sent out of the "Vinea" with a cleric, Friar Anthony Glowinski, for a prolonged vacation. We went to Viterbo. In the interim, Friar Anthony joined our special group of the MI. Soon, another one joined us. Friar Anthony Mansi of happy memory, and Friar Henry Granata, both clerics from the Neopolitan Province.
Outside of these who joined and were members of the MI, no one in the Collegio even knew of its existence. Only the Rector, Father Stephen Ignudi, as our Superior, knew of its existence and silent operation. The MI did nothing publicly without his express permission. Whatever was done, was through obedience, such is the wish of the Immaculata.
And so, with the permission of Father Rector, a first meeting or session was held on October 16, 1917 in which the first seven members took part, namely:
1) Father Joseph (Peter) Pal, a young priest from the Romanian Province;
2) Father Anthony Glowinski, a deacon from the Romanian Province (+10/18/1918);
3) Friar Jerome Biasi from the Padua Province (+1929);
4) Friar Quirico Pignalberi from the Roman Province;
5) Friar Anthony Mansi from the Neopolitan Province (+10/31/1918);
6) Friar Henry Granata from the Neopolitan Province; and
This was really the nucleus of the Militia Immaculatae (Knights of the Immaculata). This meeting was held privately under lock and key in one of the inside cells. The statue of the Immaculata, placed between two lighted candles, presided. Friar Jerome Biasi acted as secretary.
The chief item of business for the meeting was to draw up a "program of the MI". We intended to issue a little membership card which would show its purpose. A friend, Father Alexander Basile, who was also the confessor of the Holy Father had promised to obtain for us the Pope's blessing for the Knights of the Immaculata, but he had to have something to show and present to the Holy Father.
Unfortunately, we did not receive the Pope's blessing on our work at that particular time, but we did receive it from Pope Benedict XV through the good graces of Bishop Dominic Jaquet, a professor of Church history in our Collegio in Rome, on March 26, 1919.
After that first meeting more than a year went by in which very little was done for the expansion of the MI. In fact some very serious opposition arose to the MI to such an extent that even the members would not speak about the Knights among themselves. One of the members even tried to convince the rest that such a Militia was not needed. At that time also, two of the members left our ranks to join the Immaculata: Father Anthony Glowinski and ,13 days later, Friar Anthony Mansi. Both died of the flu which became rampant in those days.
My lung condition became worse again; I began spitting blood once more and had a very bad cough. I was suspended from studies. I used the time to rewrite the program for the Militia Immaculatae, which I presented to the Father General of our Order, the Most Rev. Dominic Tavani, to obtain his blessing in writing. At the presentation Father General remarked to me: "O that there were at least twelve of you!" He graciously wrote his blessing on April 4, 1919 and expressed his wish (I think it was at that time) that the Militia Immaculatae should be spread among our youth.
From that day more and more new members joined. The real activity of the Militia Immaculatae in its first months of existence consisted - outside of private prayers - in the distribution of the medals of the Immaculate Conception, popularly called "The Miraculous Medal". Here I must note that even Father General offered some money for the purchase of these medals.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe