Letter of St. Maximilian: From aboard a train
By Fr. Matthias M. Sasko, F.I.
It is well-known that, during his lifetime, St. Maximilian founded two flourishing Cities of the Immaculate: Niepokalanów in Poland, and Mugenzai no Sono in Japan. Less known is the fact that, for many years, he labored and prayed for the opening of a third one in India.
In one of his numerous letters to Fr. Cornelius Czupryk, his Minister Provincial, St. Maximilian wrote from Japan: “As far as future Cities of the Immaculate go, it seems to me that the time has come to find another group of four brothers to found a new City of the Immaculate” (Pisma 352). The letter was dated March 3, 1932, less than two years after his arrival in Japan; but, for St. Maximilian, anxious as he was to conquer the world for the Immaculate, the time had already come to expand his activity even further.
It took a lot of faith and courage on the part of St. Maximilian to embark on such an undertaking, as it had taken him two years earlier to decide to leave Poland and set out for Japan. And it required just as much faith and courage on the part of his Superior to even consider such a request. The Franciscan mission was taking root on Japanese soil very slowly and at the cost of great sacrifices. Within less than eighteen months, two of St. Maximilian’s original four companions were not able to bear the hardships of the mission anymore and headed back to their homeland. Soon afterward, two friar seminarians, the hope for the mission’s future, just a short time after setting foot in Japan, likewise left the mission. Moreover, Fr. Methodius Rejentowicz, who was sent to help Fr. Maximilian in the mission, 1 left after spending less than 6 months, giving an unedifying example and causing considerable grief to everyone, especially St. Maximilian.
But the Immaculate remained present and active, making her maternal protection felt. Other more generous souls consecrated to the Immaculate without reserve, were ready to live, work, suffer, be consumed and die for Her. While others were leaving, four new Polish friars arrived. In December 1931, two of the original four missionaries definitively said farewell to the world and to all it offers, making their solemn profession in the Franciscan Order into the hands of St. Maximilian. By that time, two native Japanese vocations were already in formation. In May 1932, while Fr. Constantine Onoszko and three other friars were on their way to Japan to strengthen the mission further, St. Maximilian began, against all human hope and prudence, to broaden his horizons once again.
Following his infallible principle, “the will of my Superiors is the will of the Immaculate,” St. Maximilian promptly submitted his idea to the judgment of his Provincial Superior back in Poland. Permission finally came when the group of friars in Japan was sufficiently numerous (13 friars stayed behind in Japan as St. Maximilian sailed off to India) and when a new missionary priest, the above-mentioned Fr. Constantine, had arrived to substitute for St. Maximilian.
Not wasting a moment, just two days after the new missionaries had arrived, St. Maximilian was already pursuing the acquisition of a ticket for India. He wrote in a letter to his Provincial: “I am writing briefly, because I am setting out for Kobe to look into the matter of getting a ticket for India in accordance with your letter, stating that, after the arrival of Fr. Constantine, it will be possible to start looking around for a new City of the Immaculate, and in accordance with an earlier letter stating that I am the one who must think of India and the Muslims, and in accordance with your thinking that India suits us better than China…
“When this letter arrives, certainly I will already be sailing south towards India, because the ship is setting out on the 31st of this month. I ask, therefore, for your Seraphic blessing and for your prayers; I also ask that the seminarians in Lvov pray very much for me, and [that the same be done] in other places as well, so that the Immaculate might deign to direct the whole matter Herself and to do whatever pleases her.” (Pisma 377, May 21, 1932).
What was St. Maximilian expecting in India? As the train carried him away from Nagasaki and towards the port of departure, he wrote a letter to
Niepokalanów and to the readers of the Knight of the Immaculate, the contents of which are reproduced below.
By St. Maximilian: From aboard a train, between Nagasaki and Mogi, May 21, 1932.
Saturday in the month of May. A “Kyuko” (express train) is taking me to the city of Kobe, where I am supposed to arrive tomorrow morning. Why? To acquire a visa and to buy a ticket to… India. And why am I going? The Most Rev. Fr. Provincial informed me—and, therefore, it is the Immaculate who wants this—that when Fr. Constantine arrives we can start searching for a new City of the Immaculate. He has already arrived with three other brothers from our Polish Niepokalanów; therefore, the time has come.
I have told the brothers today to entrust to the Immaculate the matter of my discerning Her will, and things have clarified. [The prospects for] China and its city of Haimen have dimmed, Vietnam and Saigon have had to wait, and the other ideas have receded to the back burner. India and Ernakulam have clearly presented themselves before our eyes 2. And I still have letters [of permission] from two years ago to [go to] these places, when we were heading out to the Far East for the first time. And so it is India.
But things are not without their worries. It is very hot there. And how will we be received? Here in Nagasaki we have already settled down in our little nest, things have calmed down, it is going well, work is going at a more routine pace. There you have to head out all over again into the unknown, facing uncertainty, unforeseen crosses… And perhaps we will have to come back empty-handed? Or maybe it will be necessary to lay down our lives extenuated by hardships?… But in the end, all this is for the Immaculate. She will lead us, and whatever she does will certainly be what is best.
But you, dear Brothers and readers, will pray, or rather you will accompany me and will help me by your prayers, in order that I might not hinder the Immaculate, won’t you?
I am writing while riding in a train, so my handwriting is shaky. The ship departs on May 31 and reaches Ceylon [Sri Lanka] on June 19, with perhaps another two days of journey by sea and land from there. I am not sure, however, whether the ship is already completely booked, and whether I will be able to get a ticket.
What peace this holy name of “Mary” gives! Let us repeat it often in the depths of our souls. May it become for us the life-breath of our hearts.
Br. Maximilian Ma. Kolbe
P.S. The Immaculate has safely brought the entire group to us 3—praise to her for everything. Strengthen your prayer offensive regarding the third City of the Immaculate. Some say [that this will be] the fourth [City], because they believe, and not without good reason, that we already have a City of the Immaculate in Heaven, where the Immaculate is the guardian, and the workers are Fr. Fordon, Fr. Venantius, Fr. Alphonse, Br. Albert 4…
1 – In one of his letters St. Maximilian wrote to his provincial “I am counting on Fr. Methodius very much, because I am in great need of help…” ( Pisma 267). It is also to this same Fr. Methodius that St. Maximilian wrote those memorable words of his: “Take courage, dear Brother, come to die of hunger, fatigue, humiliation and sufferings for the Immaculate” (ibid., 265).
2 – Just as in 1930, St. Maximilian had set out for the Far East without knowing which place the Immaculate had chosen for her new City to be built (cf. Pisma 190), so this time, he ventured in the direction of India, knowing only that a new City of the Immaculate had to be established, but not knowing exactly where.
3 – On May 7th, 1932 the following friars set out from Poland to Japan via Siberia: Fr. Constantine Onoszko, Br. Cassian Tetich, Br. Henry Borodziej and Br. Bartholomew Kałucki. They arrived in Nagasaki on May 19.
4 – Fr. Melchior Fordon (d. 1927) and Fr. Venantius Katarzyniec (d. 1921), two Conventual Franciscan Priests who, though not members of St. Maximilian’s communities, were nevertheless key figures in the life of the Saint and permeated with his same love for the Immaculate; Fr. Alphonse (d. 1930), St. Maximilan’s blood brother, on his departure for Japan took the Saint’s place in Niepokalanów as Editor of The Knight, but died unexpectedly at the age of 33 of a ruptured appendix; Br. Albert (d. 1926), who was praised by St. Maximilian in his diary—“10 Dec. 1926 – Br. Albert Olszakowski died today, the first worker and director of our printery. He was praying to the Immaculate until the very end. He died at the hospital of typhus, which he contracted on his way to Myszków to get paper. He was very obedient and he loved holy poverty and humility very much. He loved the Immaculate with all his soul” (Pisma 866).