This week the Church will honor both St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and St. Maximilian Kolbe, saints who were both killed at a Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) celebrates her feast day on August 9. Born in 1891 in Breslau, Germany to a Jewish family, Stein was very intelligent, studied philosophy and received her doctorate at the age of 25.
She converted to Christianity at the age of 31 and entered the Carmelites in Cologne, Germany, in 1934 at the age of 43, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
In 1938, with the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Germany, her prioress helped her escape to the Netherlands. She hid there and continued her studies until Aug. 2, 1942, when the Gestapo arrested her and her sister due to their Jewish heritage.
Teresa never denied her Jewish heritage and was killed in a gas chamber seven days later in Auschwitz along with her sister.
Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1998. She is co-patroness of Europe.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day is August 14. Fr. Kolbe lived his priestly ministry spreading the Gospel message through the use of media-newspapers, magazines and radio, but he died laying down his life for another man in a Nazi concentration camp.
He was born Raymond Kolbe in 1894 to poor and pious Catholic parents. At age 12, he had a vision of the Mother Mary in which she asked him to choose whether he would accept a white crown, which meant that he should persevere in purity, or whether he would accept a red crown, which meant that he should become a martyr. He told Mary that he would accept both.
He entered the Franciscan seminary the following year and was tempted to leave to join the military, but he persevered and made first vows with the Conventual Franciscans in 1911. He took the name Maximilian and was ordained a priest in 1918 at the age of 24.
In 1922, he began a magazine in Poland, called Knight of the Immaculate, which at its height had a circulation of 750,000 copies per month. Eight years later, he became a missionary to Japan and began a similar publication there.
In 1932, he moved to India, but returned to Poland in 1936 due to poor health.
At this time, Nazism was becoming more widespread. Fr. Maximilian was first arrested with several other friars in 1939, but they were released. The friars continued their media ministry and housed 3,000 Polish refugees, most of whom were Jewish. But many of the friars were arrested again Feb. 17, 1941, including Fr. Maximilian.
He was transferred to Auschwitz in May and was assigned to harsh labor and beaten often. He was once beaten and left for dead, but the prisoners managed to transport him to the camp hospital where he spent his recovery hearing confessions. When he recovered, Fr. Maximilian ministered to other prisoners by offering mass and delivering Communion using smuggled bread and wine.
In July 1941, there was an escape from the camp. Camp rules required that 10 men be executed in retribution for each escaped prisoner. Fr. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a married man with young children, who had been chosen by the Nazis to be killed.
Fr. Maximilian was killed with lethal carbonic acid injection. His body was then burned and his ashes were scattered.
Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1982, declaring him a martyr of charity. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, journalists and prisoners.