St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe is most keenly associated with where he met his end, as a martyr imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz, who ultimately gave his life in exchange for the life of another man. But, if you happened to be on a pilgrimage to Rome rather than Poland, you could nevertheless bring your intentions to St. Maximilian.
Near the Spanish Steps, is the basilica of Sant’Andrea della Fratte (St. Andrew “of the bushes”). St. Maximilian said his first Mass there in the side chapel known as the “Chapel of the Miracle” or the “Chapel of the Miraculous Madonna” on April 29, 1918. The pews in the basilica are normally oriented in the direction of this Chapel, in honor of the miracle (story in greater detail found here) that occurred there.
A French Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne was visiting a Roman nobleman (a Catholic), and in the midst of a conversation with this Baron, Ratisbonne became very critical of the “superstitions” of Catholics. The Baron challenged Ratisbonne to wear the Miraculous Medal and recite one Memorare each day, and Ratisbonne agreed, reasoning that even if it did him no good, it would do him no harm either. Meanwhile, the Baron and his aristocratic friends began praying for Ratisbonne’s conversion.
On January 20, 1842, Ratisbonne encountered the Baron on the way to arrange the funeral of a friend who suddenly died at Sant’Andrea della Fratte, and asked Ratisbonne to accompany him into the church while the Baron went to the sacristy to make the arrangements. As Ratisbonne stood before the side altar dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him.
According to this account:
Standing over the altar, Our Lady appeared wearing a crown and a simple long white tunic with a jeweled belt around her waist and blue-green mantle draped over her left shoulder. She gazed at him affably; her hands were open spreading rays of graces. Her bearing was quite regal, not just because of the crown she was wearing. Rather, her height and elegance gave the impression of a great lady, fully conscious of her own dignity. She transmitted both grandeur and mercy in an atmosphere of great peace. She had some of the characteristics of Our Lady of Graces. Alphonse Ratisbonne saw this figure and understood that he was before an apparition of the Mother of God. He knelt down before her and converted.
Returning from the sacristy, the Baron was surprised to see the Jew fervently praying on his knees before the altar of St. Michael the Archangel. He helped his friend to his feet, and Ratisbonne immediately asked to go to a confessor so he could receive Baptism. Eleven days later, on January 31, he received Baptism, Confirmation and his First Communion from the hands of Cardinal Patrizi, the Vicar of the Pope.
Following his conversion, Ratisbonne went on to become a Jesuit priest, and the Catholic world learned of the miracle associated with his conversion and was “impressed by it”.
It’s interesting to ponder that 99 years after Our Lady’s miraculous appearance and Fr. Ratisbonne’s conversion at the same altar where St. Maximilian said his first Mass in 1918, St. Maximilian was martyred.
Fr. Ratisbonne, pray for us!
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Miracle, pray for us!