The Founding of the MI
Testimony of Don Alberto Arzilli, former Friar Minor Conventual and intimate companion of Father Kolbe. Letter of April 26, l942.
1) The Genesis of a luminous Idea.
THE TRUE FOUNDER (of the MI) was Fr. Maximilian Kolbe alone. He was convinced of what he had to do precisely on the anniversary day of the apparition of our Lady to (Alphonse) Ratisbonne, January 20, l917 (75th anniversary: l842-1917). The inspiration came to him during the morning meditation conducted by the Most Reverend Father Rector (Stefano) Ignudi. In the meditation Fr. Ignudi told the story of Ratisbonne's miraculous conversion and commented on it. With a face beaming and bubbling with joy at the power of Our Lady shown in the conversion of Ratisbonne, Friar Max spoke to me of his inspiration. Smiling, he told me we had to beg Our Lady to crush the Devil and all heresies, and especially the error of Masonry. From January until vacation (July-August) of that year he returned many times to the same subject...
2) Its Maturing During Nine Months: January-October, 1917
Friar Maximilian (in July, 1917) went to Bishop ( Francesco Maria) Berti, (OFM CONV.) who ordained him subdeacon (July l6, 1917). Returning to "La Vigna" he told me several times: "A bishop of ours has said that Our Lady will do great things through one of our friars; she will renew the religious spirit in many hearts in our Order and in other Orders. And much more: She will reawaken the Christian spirit among the faithful of many nations." I who by then knew him and believed him a saint, was convinced that this religious, this instrument chosen by Our Lady for such great work had to be Friar Maximilian himself, and the bishop, Bishop Berti. Since I was a little sick, we took our walks together apart from the others at the Vigna. We always spent the time speaking on this same subject. When he was sure he had won me over to his project he sought to persuade other confreres too....
In the meantime in Paris, in Rome...the Masonic movement grew, there were public insults to the Pope....
3) The Time of Decision
When vacation was over and he had returned to the College (Friar Kolbe) conferred with Father Master Ignudi, and with his permission he took me to the superior of the Vincentian Fathers at Piazza San Apolinare from whom he had me get the faculty of blessing and imposing the "Miraculous Medal."
4) The First Meeting and Gathering Together of the Knights of the Vanguard
The evening of October l6, 1917, in anticipation of October l7 (Feast of St. Margaret M. Alacoque) we met together in the room next to Fr. Rector's and Friar Maximilian read to us from a little piece of paper the program outlined by him alone, which is the same one now known and published.... He asked us to consent to it and sign it. I was the first to sign as I was a priest and the oldest. It seems to me Friar Maximilian signed last. I do not know if this sheet is kept at the Principal Center. It would be very interesting for it shows how Maximilian paid no attention to external appearances, since he used an eighth of a piece of paper to launch such a great work of holiness and apostolate.
5) The Consecration of the First Seven Knights of the Foundation of the MI
From the room we all went to the Chapel of the College and unknown to the rest of the College, I blessed the medals and imposed them on the first comrades-in-arms of the Immaculata, and myself, and on Friar Maximilian. Afterwards we furtively and silently went back each to his own room. Everything was done secretively; only Father Rector knew, but he was not present. The foundations were laid. From that time on Friar Maximilian sought to gain new adherents to the "Knights of the Immaculata" among the more exemplary and friendly friars. In a short time there was a good group of "Comrades-in arms." Friar Maximilian began to sign the initials MI after his name (signifying "Miles Immaculatae", i.e. "Knight of the Immaculata")...(thus the testimony of Father Peter Joseph M. Pal - the priest who blessed...- Sept. l, l942)
Now a few other particulars on the "Maturation" of the idea of the MI.
At first the plan and the idea of the Knights in the mind of Father Maximilian were more limited: his thought, his preoccupation and passion was Poland, his fatherland, martyred by the Russians. He did not exclude other people, but he dreamed of an apostolate in his fatherland. He saw the Knights as composed of Poles, and the name of the Knights, he told me as I recall, in preference to so many other sanctuaries, would be taken from his most dear Lady of Czestochowa. It was in 1917. They were sad days. The European war was bloodying Europe and the forces of division were laying the foundations for that spirit of irreligion and rebellion which Fr. Max intuitively sensed and foresaw. He didn't talk about politics, but he readily listened when someone spoke to him about them, especially when they touched upon religious concerns. He used to speak with feeling and passion about missionary work, and one day I saw him more than usually shaken and agitated when I told him not only Poland, but Europe, China, Japan, the whole world needed the Knights.... I don't know if my observation and insistence influenced him, or if it was his own reflection. Whatever it was, the early ideas were corrected, or better, perfected. His passion, his torment was for three main things: l) the Union of the Churches, 2) the purity of the peoples' way of life, 3) and the sharing of all persons in the holiness of God. For these goals his energies flowed and for this cause the members of the MI fight. Already from the first month was sure of success, because Father Max refused to be blocked by obstacles; the most arduous difficulties seemed to him as nothing insignificant.... Subsequently the initial excitement cooled, and an idea accepted with joy was reached, and Father Max waited for nothing but the opportunity to proclaim his crusade to the world.