He was born in 1894 in Zduńska Wola into a poor but devout Christian family. At the age of 16 he entered the novitiate of the Franciscan Friars. He later studied in Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1918. People who knew him remembered above all his optimism and extraordinary devoutness, in particular in saying the Rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
He was the founder of Niepokalanów (lit: town of Mary), which was the largest Franciscan congregation in the world at that time. His desire for spiritual and religious renewal among the Poles inspired his wide-reaching missionary and evangelical work. The monthly magazine he published, “Knight of the Immaculate Virgin” (Rycerz Niepokalanej), had a print run of 800,000.
On 28 May 1941 Kolbe was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he gave his life in the place of another prisoner, the father of a family, who on receiving a sentence for death by starvation, had begged to be allowed to live. After a lengthy period of agony in the starvation cell, he was murdered with an injection of phenol. Before his death, he told the Nazi doctor administering the fatal injection: “Hate serves nothing. Only love is creative!”
He was canonised on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II. His image is displayed in almost every Polish church.