A few of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe’s recollections of Fr. Venance Katarzyniec
I have not had the good fortune to live long with Fr. Venance, but those few moments I spent close to him left an indelible and positive impression on me.
The first time I met him was in Lvov at a stone table in the garden of the Franciscans. At the time he had come to ask to be accepted [in the friary], or, maybe he had already been accepted as a candidate. I will never forget the humility that shone through his whole person. Dressed as a secular, about twenty years of age, rather shy, serious in his movements, but with no pretentiousness, rather sparing with words, but with prudence. His peacefulness, which made conversation with him pleasant, showed that he was fully master of himself. He joined the friary right after finishing college. I cannot remember the details of our conversation, but I have always treasured a positive impression of that meeting.
I saw him the second time in Calvary Paclawska, where for two months I was able to make the most of his holy example, I considered him one of the best, if not the best of clerics, and not without reason. In fact, I found out that the first impression I had received years before at the stone table was not at all due to a contingent cause, but due to his deep and unshakeable virtue.
Here are some facts: We went for a walk in the direction of the chapel of St. Magdalene. There in the woods, sitting on a fallen tree to speak about matters of which he no doubt had a good knowledge. Despite that, he would listen rather than show his superiority in the discussion. And he did so charmingly and politely, showing interest.
On another occasion, a cleric had highlighted the need for Gregorian chant, in keeping with the directives of Pius X and had proposed to give a talk in the academic circle, “Zelus Seraphicus.” Fr. Venance shared that view, but when it came down to carrying out the proposal, the above mentioned cleric would not undertake it. So, after returning to Krakow, it was Fr. Venance who drafted a report and, although he has far ahead in studies and more capable than the cleric, he humbly submitted his lecture to him for critical assessment.
When we went to swim in the river, he would always wander off a little, on account of his unique modesty. That virtue shone forth in his whole attitude and his way of acting.
Sometimes he would be found praying in the small balcony that from the friary overlooked the inside of the church.
On Kamien hill, in front of the friary, we used to play hitting a rubber ball to one another using sticks. He would also take part in the game, but every time he hit the ball with the bat, he missed the mark. Yet he endured even such lack of skill on his part with peacefulness and with a smile.
Once when I met him on the corridor with his head bandaged and I asked him what was wrong. Quietly and gently, as if he suffered no pain, he explained that it was an ailment that flared up from time to time.
He never tried hard to do extraordinary things but did all common things in an extraordinary manner.
He loved the Order. He yearned for all things to be good in it and thus committed himself to the care of the religious brothers, he was their teacher and spoke about unfortunate shortcomings.
The doctor had ordered him to eat something every two hours, to lie down and to spend some time in the sun. He followed that advice, even though it was a cause of great nuisance for him. He said, “for me eating is a real penance, but I force myself.” Sometimes he even threw up his food. “I would desire to continue taking care of the souls of my beloved novices and be present everywhere, but I must be here bound to this bed. Even though he had a fever, he did not want to waste time he read a lot, especially the Church Catechism of the Council of Trent, claiming that in it one could find everything about the faith. In order to fulfil all his obligations and be more efficient he learned shorthand so he could write his sermons faster. I even spotted a shorthand manual on his nightstand.
I never saw him angry. And I heard from his novices that when he felt a bit of tension getting the best of him – which happens easily when you are in a feverish state – instead of being carried away by anger he would choke it back into himself, to the point where you could even notice it on the outside.
He energetically cared for the little flock entrusted to him and demanded obedience. When he returned from Hanaczow intending to leave for the mountains once again after a short stay, he rang for a cleric. Since the cleric did not come right away, he told me with a smile, “Maybe they’re out of the habit,” and rang more vigorously a second time.
He was faithful to obedience, even hard at times. For instance, when Fr. Provincial ordered him to look after the novices, even though his health was already undermined, he set down to it earnestly, and it was this which eventually took his life. When Fr. Guardian proposed preaching a sermon or singing a Holy Mass, he gladly accepted, even though he felt at times that he lacked the strength. At one time during the novena to St. Anthony he fainted. In cases where obedience had leeway, or religious rules and laws matters of opinion, he used caution, and expressed his opinion with courage.
He worked zealously for the salvation of souls. Every day, even though he was weak, he would hear confessions for about an hour, sometimes for several hours. It was easier to tell the souls he was leading to perfection. He was a good confessor. He would not forget about sinners.
He established an MI group. He desired to start giving public talks, but death cut short the course of his life. His sermons were simple and understood by everyone. At the same time, he excelled in theology.
Maximilian M. Kolbe
The Beginnings of the Knights of the Immaculate
How could we possibly start the publication of a magazine in such hard times, when instead of opening, publishing houses were being shut down? I asked Fr. Venance, among others, what he thought on that idea. “If my advice may be useful at all,” he wrote modestly, “I am of the opinion that the publication of the voice of the Knights of the Immaculate should begin as soon as possible.” Later he committed himself to writing a few words of introduction.
Meanwhile tuberculosis, which was slowly consuming him, forced him to bed and took him to the grave. A year has gone by since I set down to carry out the advice of +Fr. Venance. On the day of November 25, 1921, the Knights of the Immaculate could rely on a find of less than 40 marks. It was impossible to predict revenue or even count on any form of subsidy. We were all of the opinion that it would be impossible to start the publication of a monthly magazine at the beginning of the new year.
In fact, one of the fathers expressed himself in these terms: “If the magazine comes out in January, it would be a miracle, but since there will not be a miracle, then in January there will be no magazine.” Turning to the clerics, I said: “Pray to the Blessed Mother, through the intercession of Fr. Venance, that the magazine will come out in January.
If the Knight is issued in January, it will be the work of Fr. Venance.” Not even I know how it happened, but the first edition did come out in January. So, I though it would be my rightful duty put his photograph in that issue and write a few words about him, acknowledge that he is the patron of the publication.
The entire capital collected for the publication was used up for the first edition. In fact, with those proceeds we were able to print another thousand on top of the other four thousand already in print. Humanly speaking, an enterprise of that kind could not possibly succeed, since the first three months of a new magazine is a time of great expenses, and in February there was no money left. Father Provincial was correct in remarking that there was no possibility of further publications. Furthermore, I was taken seriously ill, so my above plan of soliciting wealthier people, showing them the January issue had gone up in smoke.
Overcome by high fever, helplessly lying in bed, I turned to Fr. Venance: “You see that there is no money for the February edition, so if you find the amount required and if some money remains I will have your photograph printed.” And quite unexpectedly, not only did we get the needed money, but even a surplus, thus in keeping with my promise, I had his photograph printed with a brief biographical sketch.
Occasionally in difficult times, when prices rose sharply and wrecked many a publisher, I commended our plight to the Immaculata, through the hands of Fr. Venance, and I was never disappointed.
In this way the Knight of the Immaculate made it to the end of the first year of publication.
At this time in Krakow unrest broke out, including strikes by printers. The “Knight of the Immaculate” was moved to Grodno. With great difficulty the November and December editions came out, and it would seem like the end is in sight, but it was not.
Once again, I turned to Fr. Venance and promised I would as soon as possible print a simple biography if we could acquire a printing press within the year.
Without money here, how could one think about printing presses? However, totally unexpected it so happened that during the Novena and the octave of the Immaculate Conception, we were able to buy a printing machine and a minimal set of typefaces. We are now setting up the printing press as well as a publishing house.
I cannot possibly pass over in silence the obvious work of Fr. Venance, the words that the Deceased said when he was told of our need for a publication come flowing from my pen: “You can see that I am ill and I can no longer do anything, but after death I will do much for the Order”.
Maximilian M. Kolbe