Many have been inspired to imitate the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, however, Father Lucjan Krolikowski OFM Conv. is unique because he lived in community with the saint for several years as a Conventual Franciscan. The 96 year old priest has led an extraordinary life having lived in community with St. Maximilian, struggled to survive a Soviet gulag in Siberia during World War II, saved and became the foster father to 150 Polish orphans and broadcasted a Catholic radio program for 32 years in the United States.
Fr. Krolikowski entered the Conventual Franciscan friary of Niepokalanow in 1934 at the age of 15 due to his desire to become a priest like St. Maximilian Kolbe. At the time, Niepokalanow was the largest monastery in the world and St. Maximilian was the heart and soul of the community’s apostolate according to Fr. Krolikowski. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, he said, “I’ve met a few saintly people in my life, but Father Maximilian Kolbe was the most saintly, in my estimation. He had an impact on you; you wanted to imitate him.” The friars deeply loved St. Maximilian and many even volunteered their own lives for his release following his arrest.
Soviet troops arrested Fr. Krolikowski in 1940 and sent him from Niepokalanow to a labor camp in Siberia. At the camp, he cut down trees for 13 or 14 hours each day only occasionally receiving a piece of bread for sustenance. With the war incurring many causalities, soldiers were needed. As a result, Fr. Krolikowski entered training and went to the Middle East eventually becoming a priest in Beirut and spending time in East Africa.
In East Africa, Fr. Krolikowski met Polish children who had become orphaned after their parents had died in Soviet gulags. When the Communist government of Poland demanded their repatriation, Fr. Krolikowski heroically sought to aid them by emigrating with them to Canada. He recounted this trial in Stolen Children: A Saga of Polish War Children which he wrote with the hope that the book would, “draw attention to the parallel fate of the children of other races and nationalities who are ravaged by the uncontrolled passion for power, wealth, success and ill-understood independence.”
Once in the United States, Fr. Krolikowski continued to lead a life fashioned in imitation of St. Maximilian. He did this by broadcasting a Catholic radio program for 32 years and writing several books including his memoir, A Franciscan Odyssey. When reflecting on his life, Fr. Krolikowski says he would do it all over again because he chose the life of his spiritual father, St. Maximilian Kolbe.