Rare relic installed at Edgewater Catholic church

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St. Ita's Catholic Church installed a relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar martyred at the Nazis' Auschwitz concentration camp. (WLS)

St. Ita's Catholic Church has installed a relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar martyred at the Nazis' Auschwitz concentration camp.

Kolbe was a well known Polish leader, explains Father Bob Cook, who is also a Franciscan friar and pastor at St. Ita's.

According to Cook, Kolbe founded the largest religious house of modern times with 800 members and "was also the publisher of the largest magazine in Poland."

"He was incredibly driven. He accomplished so much in his life," added Cook.

This made Kolbe a target for the Nazis; he became prisoner 16670 at Auschwitz. Then, a prisoner from his barracks escaped.

"The retribution is that 10 of these prisoners who were in his barracks are to be murdered," explained Cook, continuing "one of those picked blurts out 'I have a wife and children, what about them,' and at that point St. Maximilian steps forward and says 'take me.'"

Cook says the 10 innocent victims were sent to a starvation bunker to die a slow death over two weeks. Throughout that time, Kolbe could be heard leading the prisoners in prayer.

At the end of those two weeks, "Kolbe is the only man left alive," said Cook, explaining that the Nazis then killed him by injection.

Pope John Paul II canonized Kolbe in 1982. He's known as the patron saint of prisoners, drug addicts and journalists.

The relics of Kolbe are beard trimmings, saved by fellow friars before Kolbe's imprisonment, sensing he would become a saint someday (before knowing of his self- sacrifice). Cook says Kolbe ordered the friars to put the trimmings in the furnace the day he learned of them; Kolbe didn't know the furnace wouldn't be lit that day, so the trimmings survived.

"St. Maximilian Kolbe is a role model and an example of sacrifice and putting others before self," said Cook.

This relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe is now on permanent display in St. Ita Catholic Church. You can participate in the prayer service and veneration Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
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religioncatholic churchreligionnazisChicagoEdgewater
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