Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Myrick Daniels (August 14)   9 comments



Above:  Kolbe and Daniels

Images in the Public Domain



Polish Roman Catholic Priest, and Martyr, 1941



Episcopal Seminarian, and Martyr, 1965


For Jesus Christ I am prepared to suffer still more.

–St. Maximilian Kolbe


…in the only sense that really matters I am dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.

–Jonathan Myrick Daniels, August 1965




By coincidence, on separate calendars, the feasts of Jonathan Myrick Daniels and St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyrs from different times and places, yet with much in common, fall on the same day.  August 14 is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and much of the Anglican Communion.  The Lutheran calendars pair Kolbe with Kaj Munk (d. 1944), a Danish Lutheran minister, playwright, and martyr.  The Episcopal Church celebrates the life of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a seminarian from New Hampshire who died in Alabama in 1965.  August 14 is the anniversary of his arrest in Lowndes County, Alabama, while picketing whites-only businesses.

Both saints had much in common.  Kolbe was a priest; Daniels was studying for the priesthood.  Each man acted out of his faith, informed by Jesus and St. Mary of Nazareth.  Each saint died resisting institutional racism–in Kolbe’s case, genocidal racism.  Each man died voluntarily so that another person might live.

Merging these feasts on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days makes sense.

Before I proceed with biographies, some housekeeping is in order.  First, this post depends primarily on four books:

  1. Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997);
  2. Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge:  America in the King Years, 1965-68 (2006);
  3. Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010); and
  4. A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016).

Second, sometimes historians and biographers quote statements they consider execrable.  Paraphrasing such statements would not flesh out the description of circumstances and settings as well as quoting does.  In the Daniels section of this post I quote some execrable, racist, even profane statements.  I make no excuse for doing so, nor should I have to do so.  Any reader who does not know that I disapprove of those statements and the sentiments behind them should pay closer attention.




Raymond Kolbe came from a devout family.  He, born at Zdunska Wola, Russian Empire, on January 7, 1894, was a son of Marianne Dabrowska and Julius Kolbe, weavers who worked at home.  Eventually Julius operated a religious bookstore and fought for Polish independence.  Russian authorities executed him as a traitor in 1914.  (Empires disapprove of wars of independence.)  In time Marianne became a Benedictine nun.  Alphonse, Raymond’s brother, became a priest.  Raymond was a wild child for a while.  In 1906, however, the twelve-year-old reported a vision of St. Mary of Nazareth.  In it she offered him the white crown of purity and the red crown of martyrdom.  He accepted both.

Raymond continued his studies.  He matriculated at the Franciscan junior seminary, Lwow, in 1907; there he was an attentive student of physics and mathematics.  He felt a call to military life, but the call of God was stronger.  On September 4, 1910, the sixteen-year-old Raymond Kolbe became a Franciscan novice and took the name Maximilian.  He made his first vows on September 5, 1911, and his final vows on November 1, 1914.  Meanwhile our saint studied philosophy at the Gregorian College, Rome (1912-1915).  Next Kolbe studied theology at the Collegio Serafico, Rome (1915-1919).  He, ordained a priest at Rome in April 1918, received his doctorate in theology on July 22, 1922.

Kolbe and six friends founded the Knights of Mary Immaculate on October 16, 1917, in Rome.  The Knights promoted devotion to St. Mary, the Mother of God, as well as evangelism.  Kolbe took this evangelism as far as India and Japan, founding monasteries, radio stations, newspapers, and a journal.  He did all this despite his consistently poor health; he suffered from tuberculosis occasionally.  Failing health forced our saint to focus on ministry in Poland, starting in 1936.

The invasion and partition of Poland in September 1939 made matters worse for Kolbe.  The Gestapo targeted the Roman Catholic Church, including the Knights of Mary Immaculate.  Nazis dispersed the order in Poland.  Monasteries of the order had sheltered Jews.  Kolbe became a prisoner of the Third Reich in February 1941.  He arrived at Auschwitz in May.

At Auschwitz Kolbe endured much.  He continued to suffer from tuberculosis, the labor was intentionally hard, and guards abused him.  Through it all our saint was a faithful priest, ministering to other prisoners, hearing their confessions, and conducting Masses.

The escape of a prisoner in July 1941 led to Kolbe’s martyrdom.  Policy held that, whenever a prisoner escaped, guards executed ten prisoners.  One of the ten prisoners selected to die that day was Francis Gajowniczek, who protested that he, a husband and a father, did not want to leave his family behind.  Kolbe volunteered to take Gajowniczek’s place.  After three weeks of starvation and dehydration, our saint died of an injection of carbolic acid.

The Church recognized Kolbe.  Pope Paul VI declared him a Venerable in 1969 then a Blessed in 1971.  Pope John Paul II canonized Kolbe as a martyr of charity in 1982.  Gajowniczek was present at the ceremony.




The Episcopal Church added Jonathan Myrick Daniels to its calendar of saints in 1991.  The Church, in doing so, fast tracked him, for the usual waiting time has been at least fifty years or two generations after someone has died.  Other ecclesiastical recognitions of Daniels have occurred at Canterbury Cathedral, where he and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the only Americans recognized in the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time, and at Washington National Cathedral, where he is one of the heroes in the Hall of Heroes.  His alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, has also honored him with the Daniels Courtyard and a plaque bearing a quote from his valedictory address of 1961:

I wish you the decency and the nobility of which you are capable.

For more than twenty years there has been an annual Jonathan Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama Pilgrimage in Hayneville, Alabama, each August.  The tradition has been to begin at the Lowndes County courthouse, walk to the old jail and the store where Daniels died, and to conclude with Holy Eucharist in the courtroom in which a jury acquitted his murderer.

Daniels, a Yankee, died in Alabama.  He, born in Keene, New Hampshire, on March 20, 1939, was a child of language teacher Constance Weaver Daniels and obstetrician Philip Brock Daniels.  Our saint grew up a Congregationalist, but he converted to The Episcopal Church during high school.  He graduated first in his class from Virginia Military Institute in 1961 then pursued graduate studies in literature at Harvard University.  On Easter Sunday 1962, at the Church of the Advent, Boston, Daniels resolved to study for the priesthood.  He matriculated at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, the following year.  He was on track to graduate in 1966.  Then came the events at Selma, Alabama, in March 1965.

In March 1965 civil rights protests at Selma, Alabama, were prominent in the news.  Martin Luther King, Jr., made a televised appeal for people to travel to Selma to march for the right to vote.  At Evening Prayer at Cambridge the words of the Magnificat confirmed Daniels’s sense to calling to go to Selma.  He and ten other seminarians from Cambridge flew there on March 9, 1965.  Daniels thought he would remain for just a few days, but he changed his mind.  That was the first of three visits.

With permission Daniels took time off from seminary to work for civil rights in Alabama.  He and Judith Upham, another seminarian, returned to Selma late in March.  They, sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, lived with African-American host families at the Carver Homes Apartments.  Daniels and Upham also took residents of these apartments to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Selma, integrating it, thereby causing much controversy.  On Palm Sunday one parishioner confronted the African Americans and called them

You goddamn scum.

County judge (and chief usher at St. Paul’s Church) Bernard Reynolds told Daniels and Upham that they were welcome at the parish, but that their

nigger trash

were not.  Daniels wrote,

There are moments when I’d like to get a high-powered rifle and take to the woods, but more and more I am beginning to feel that ultimately the revolution to which I am committed is the way of the cross.

Daniels, when asked on Easter Sunday 1965 why he was integrating St. Paul’s Church, explained,

We are trying to live the Gospel.

Reality dictated that the seminarians return to Cambridge to complete their academic work for the term.  They had tests to take and papers to submit.  Daniels, after completing those tasks, returned (sans Upham, who was fulfilling a seminary obligation) to Selma on July 8.  By then he was contemplating pursuing ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood instead of the Episcopal priesthood.  In Selma Daniels had found a mentor, Father Maurice Ouellet, a pastor to African Americans.  Soon, however, Archbishop Thomas Toolen banished Ouellet to Vermont.  Daniels’s presence more than irritated Frank Matthews, the Rector of St. Paul’s Church, as well as Charles Carpenter, the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama.  Once Carpenter had had a reputation as being liberal (certainly by Alabama standards) on matters of race, but his public conduct during the Civil Rights Movement tarnished his reputation.  He had been one of the moderate white clergymen to whom King had addressed the seminal Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963).  Carpenter’s public position during the Civil Rights Movement belied his private, pro-civil rights activities, which he kept very quiet for political reasons.  His public statements and activities mattered, though.  Regarding Daniels, Carpenter wrote to Matthews:

If he is hanging around causing trouble, I think I will just have to write his bishop and tell him to take him on back to Seminary.

Daniels, who made no secret of his disapproval of Carpenter, just as Carpenter made no secret of his disapproval of Daniels, called African Americans his friends.  He lived among them and marched with them.  In Hayneville, in August, he marched with a group of African-American parents.  They had applied, under a freedom-of-choice school integration program, for their children to attend Hayneville High School.  Authorities had rejected those applications.  So the parents marched in protest.  When some hostile white people asked Daniels why he was doing this, he replied,

I’m with my friends.

Daniels also emphasized with white segregationists, in his words,

absorbing their guilt as well and suffering the cost which they might not even know was there to be paid.

For Daniels racism was a sin and Christian ethics mandated civil rights.  Segregationists, not evil, needed to repent.

Police arrested a group of 30 protesters, including Daniels, Father Richard Morrisroe (a Roman Catholic priest from Chicago), and Ruby Sales (Daniels’s friend and a 17-year-old African American who had marched at Selma), at Fort Deposit, Alabama, on August 14, 1965.  The protesters had been picketing whites-only businesses.  For six days the prisoners endured substandard conditions.  They had no opportunities to shower, the food was inedible, and the toilets in the cells backed up routinely, spilling their contents onto the floors.  Release came on August 20, when the temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was no transportation back to Selma, so they had to walk.

Tom Coleman was a road construction supervisor and a part-time deputy sheriff in Lowndes County, Alabama.  He was standing inside Varner’s Cash Store when Daniels et al, thirsty and unarmed, approached.  Coleman told them,

The store is closed.  Get off this property or I’ll blow your goddamned heads off!

Then Coleman aimed for Sales.  Daniels, however, pushed her out of the way and took the bullet, dying immediately.  Next Coleman shot Father Morrisroe, wounding him seriously.  Then the shooter drove to the sheriff’s office, from which he called his son, a state trooper.  Coleman told his son and the son’s superior,

I just shot two preachers.  You better get on down here.

Morrisroe survived after a surgery that lasted for 11 hours.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson summoned federal forces to arrange for the delivery of Daniels’s corpse to New Hampshire, where the family held the funeral.  There was no memorial service for our saint at St. Paul’s Church, Selma; that was fine with Matthews and Carpenter.

Coleman went on trial for manslaughter, not murder, and got off, of course.  The bases of his defense were the state stand-your-ground law and the lie that Daniels and Morrisroe had carried weapons.  The all-white jury acquitted him in an hour and a half.

Sales has dedicated her life to human rights activism.  She, a graduate of the successor to Daniels’s seminary, founded The SpiritHouse Project, devoted to racial and social justice.




There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s brother or sister or friend or neighbor or a complete stranger.  A martyr is one who dies because of one’s faith.  A martyr, out of faith, might choose to offer his or her life so that another may life; that is one form of martyrdom.  The Roman Catholic Church calls it martyrdom of charity.

The process of drafting this post drained me emotionally.  As I sat at my desk in silence and wrote longhand in a composition book, I became sad and pensive.  Tears came to my eyes.  In a better world Kolbe and Daniels would not have had to suffer as they did.

The world is what it is, however.  Society is another word for people.  Society is what the consensus of people make it.  Society also influences value judgments.  By the power of God may enough people change society so that the decency and nobility of which people are capable will transform societies so that good individuals, such as Kolbe and Daniels were, will no longer have to suffer and die for being merely decent human beings.








Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servants Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Myrick Daniels,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


9 responses to “Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Myrick Daniels (August 14)

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  1. Thank you so much for the information!

  2. Pingback: Feast of Cynthia Clark Wedel (August 23) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. Pingback: Feast of Alfred C. Marble, Jr. (April 4) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  4. Pingback: Feast of Ruby Middleton Forsythe (May 29) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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