With the feasts of St Maximilian Kolbe and the Queenship of Mary celebrated less than a week apart, it was providential that the youth leaders in Bankstown decided to invite a Conventual Franciscan Friar to give the parish’s eighth catechesis for the year.
More than a dozen young adults gathered at St Felix de Valois parish in Bankstown for the talk entitled ‘Spirituality and Martyrdom of St Maximilian Kolbe’ given by Brother Bernard Mary Fonkalsrud OFM Conv., vocations promoter for the Conventual Franciscan Friars, on 21 August.
Thrilled to be talking to the youth about one of his favourite saints, Brother Bernard said that it was St Maximilian Kolbe that helped draw him to the Conventual Franciscans.
“When I met my first Franciscan, what drew my attention is that he was wearing a black or grey habit. I didn’t realise there was another branch of Franciscans,” Brother Bernard said.
“The more I did my research I found really awesome things about this fraternity and realised that it goes all the way back to St Francis, we trace our roots right back to the original foundation and we never branched out from anyone else.
“The cherry on the cake for me was when I realised St Maximilian Kolbe was a Conventual Franciscan because it changed my perception of what a Franciscan was.”
When talking about his vocation story, Brother Bernard says that it was St Maximillian Kolbe that led him to know St Francis.
“It was looking through his [St Maximillian Kolbe] life that I realised he did all this because of his Franciscan charism he was living and then I grew to learn and love St Francis as well,” he said.
The Polish saint who was killed in the infamous German death camp in Auschwitz is known for the way he died but Br Bernard said that many don’t realise he was living a very saintly life even before then.
Speaking passionately about the saint’s early years, Br Bernard enlightened those present to the great turning point in St Kolbe’s journey which paved the way for his life’s work and his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“There were masons picketing the Vatican and had very despicable placards. One of the images was of St Michael being trampled by the devil and it really struck him to the core,” Brother Bernard said.
“It made him open his eyes that evil existed in the world and, especially in war-time, made him contemplate the ways that us as faithful people can counteract the movements of the secular world.”
During this time, St Kolbe learned about the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne who was converted by possessing a Miraculous Medal and reciting the Memorare.
“Kolbe was so inspired by the power of the Miraculous Medal he started handing out medals encouraging people to consecrate themselves to the Blessed Mother and pray for the conversion of sinners particularly the Freemasons,” Brother Bernard said.
“This is what started him on this path to a deeper relationship with Mary.”
This path led to the formation of the world-wide marian movement known as the Militia of the Immaculata (MI), whose members pray for the world through Our Lady’s intercession and encourage others to consecrate themselves to Our Blessed Mother.
As the numbers of friars increased in the friary, up to 800 at the onset of WWII, so too did St Kolbe’s work which included a global magazine, a radio station and a new community in Nagasaki, Japan.
Even in Auschwitz, St Kolbe was able to continue his work and mission up until his last moment.
“He administered to them by celebrating Mass in secret using some bread and wine smuggled in and he had written a missal from memory,” Brother Bernard said.
“He would listen to their confessions by going for walks with them.”
Brother Bernard Mary will be making his Solemn Profession of Vows on 23 September at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville, starting at 7pm. All are welcome to attend.