The Church of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe in Oświęcim

kosciol

The Church of St. Maximilian in Oświęcim has a turbulent history. As early as 1958 a large crucifix was placed on the site where the new church was to be built. For many years the faithful gathered at the foot of this crucifix to pray for a building permit. This initiative was supported by the Metropolitan Archbishops of Krakow, first Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (later to become Pope and Saint John Paul II) and then Cardinal Francis Macharski. Both Cardinals personally prayed at the foot of this cross. During the years 1980-1988 this same crucifix witnessed the construction of the church and was the focal point of many parish prayer gatherings in thanksgiving for God’s blessing on the undertaking and in appreciation for the contributions and assistance of the people responsible for building a new House of God.

The church was designed by architects Elizabeth and Andrew Bilski.

prezbiterium

The entire construction and decor constitute an articulate memorial – a monument to the martyrdom suffered by prisoners from many nations at KL Auschwitz – Birkenau. The entire church including chapels and choir covers an area of 1700 square meters(18 300 square feet). The main altar is made of black marble. Its shape resembles a triangle. In the sanctuary on the left wall there is a large triptych entitled “The Crucifixion” painted by Fredrick Pautsch (1877-1950). The triptych on the right depicts Saint Maximilian’s presence in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and was painted in 1998 by Krakow artist, Peter Moskal. Fitted into the wall below the triptych is an urn containing the ashes of Auschwitz prisoners and a plaque listing their national origin.

Tryptyk

tablica i urna

The cast bronze front doors present the prisoners’ Way of the Cross (left entrance), St. Maximilian breaking through a huge crown of thorns to enter heaven (center entrance) and Edith Stein’s baptism at the foot of the Cross as well as her death in the gas chamber (right entrance). The center doors also depict Nazi atrocities and cans of cyclone B also known as “Zyklon B” (hydrogen cyanide) which was used in the gas chambers. The doors on the right show prisoners greeting the newborn Jesus in juxtaposition to the fate suffered by children at the hands of the Nazis. The church’s frontal facade is dominated by a large stained glass window depicting the Risen Christ surrounded by St. Maximilian and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).

On the sixth anniversary of the canonization of St. Maximilian Kolbe – October 9, 1988 – the church was solemnly consecrated by Cardinal Francis Macharski. Ten years later on the 11th of October 1998, Bishop John Szkodoń of Krakow blessed a newly funded statue of St. Maximilian which still stands in front of the church (to the right of the main entrance).

pomnik sw. Maksymiliana

The construction of the church was financed by the residents of Oświęcim and by the very generous assistance of benefactors in Bavaria. Deserving particularly honorable mention is the late (as of 1992) Monsignor J. Ritter who perseveringly supported church construction in a concerted effort with the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the parishioners of Auerbach. The Franciscan Sisters of Vierzehnheiligen helped fund the stained glass.

As soon as the church was built, the original crucifix – which had inspired years of prayer among both faithful and clergy – was embedded in an exterior wall as a silent witness to the articulate events involved in bringing the church into existence. The church’s former pastors – Monsignor Casimir Górny (currently retired Bishop of the Rzeszów Diocese) and the late Father Stanislaus Górny – were instrumental in obtaining the building permit and realizing the investment. The church is the fruit of their personal involvement, untiring dedication and consistent leadership of the faithful.  

The Parish also has some very valuable keepsakes commemorating the life of St. Maximilian:

a) A rosary which was a gift from Father Maximilian Kolbe to Wilhelm Żelazny, KL Auschwitz prisoner nr 1126

rózaniecb) A chalice used by priests imprisoned in Block 14 kielich obozowy1c) A Missal – i.e. the “encrypted, scrambled or smuggled” text of the “De profundis” Mass – which imprisoned priests used to offer Mass in the concentration campgryps mszalikd) A Cross of Reconciliation left in St. Maximilian’s prison cell during the 1980 pilgrimage of the German Bishops’ Conference. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (currently retired Pope Benedict XVI) was present among the visiting Bishops.

krzyz pojednania

The main feast days celebrating our church’s patron are August 14th (the Solemnity of St. Maximilian, Patron of the Bielsko-Żywiec Diocese) and the first Sunday of October (anniversary of the canonization of Father Maximilian Kolbe on October 10, 1982) .

Przełożyła Sylwia Tempel