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I had just started teaching in high school when Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest from Poland was beatified in 1971 and I remember the pride and joy of the Polish people when he was declared a saint eleven years later in 1982, just 41 years after his death. Modern saints were still few and far between and modern martyrs, even more rare in the Church. Father Kolbe swiftly became known the world over for his courage and generosity in taking the place of a young married man with children in a starvation group at Auschwitz. That man, Sargeant Francis Gajowniczek, lived to tell the story as a witness to the selflessness of Fr. Kolbe.

One thing I did not know about St. Maximilian was that by August 14, 1941 four of the ten men in the group were still alive. To “finish them off,” they were injected with carbolic acid, causing their death. Because of this, I presume, Fr. Kolbe has been named as the patron of drug addicts. How fitting that this title should be given to one who was so brave, since courage is the quality so necessary to those afflicted with drug addiction.

Let us be grateful for St. Maximilian Kolbe and all those who suffered like him, and let us pray for the end of the epidemic of drug addiction in our country and the world, especially in families that we know as victims of this terrible affliction.