The movie Two Crowns will have its US premier on October 26th through Fathom Events. It is a docudrama about the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe. The Franciscan priest martyr died at the hands of the NAZIs in the Auschwitz death camp in 1941. The story highlights his life from a vision he had as a child to his death in Auschwitz. Filmed in Poland and dubbed, quite well, in English, the biopic highlights the fruits of his profound devotion to Jesus and Mary. The films draws its title from a vision the young Kolbe had. As a child, Our Lady appeared to him and offered him two crowns for his life: a white one of heroic virtue and a red one of martyrdom. She asked him to choose. He chose both. I spoke with Oscar Delgado,
The film’s associate producer, about the movie and the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe. My words are in bold or in italics. Oscar Delgado’s are in plain text.
I learned so much about St. Maximilian Kolbe. I’m so happy, Father. So happy about that.
Well, he’s got such a powerful story. It’s already shown in Poland? Yeah, it’s already shown in Poland. I mean it was surprising that we had so many people go out to the theaters, obviously before COVID. It was really well received by the critics and by the population. So it was was very surprising. Very heartening.
Was it hard to make the movie both logistically and even legally?
Yeah, not legally, but logistically because we had to go to Japan and Italy and as you could see there were a lot of different locations to shoot but you know, the locals were very cooperative. We were able to move forward and obviously the friars are very helpful for us. You know, it was wonderful experience.
[In once scene Fr. Maximillian Kolbe is in Japan and looking to build a friary there. The authorities offer him a place in the center of the city and he rejects it to build on the side of a hill elsewhere. The reason for this change reflects a unique gift he had through his prayer.]
I remember you even featured a friar in the movie who survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.
Correct. Yeah, it’s powerful in all the different things. I think as you saw there’s a lot of things that we didn’t know. I mean the prophetic is very interesting about where they offered him the original site for the friary there in Nagasaki. [Fr. Kolbe] said “no, no a fire ball is going to come and we need to go over there.” So that was interesting and if you caught that in the film, he did have some prophetic gift. That was very interesting.
I don’t know if this actually happened like this but It comes across in the film almost like he made the remark in passing.
Yeah, you could say that, absolutely. He just had such a profound prayer life that he didn’t think that was like extraordinary. He was like : “No not here because the fireball is coming, but let’s go over there.”
[Offering a possible response by those around Kolbe at the time]“Fireball?! What are you talking about?”
[This incident in Japan happened in the 1930’s long before the US and Japan were at war. In fact, the priest died before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.]
[Earlier in the movie we learn that not only was the future saint interested in the concept of interplanetary travel, he drew sophisticated designs for a vehicle for this purpose.]
Two names that popped into my mind when he was designing the rocket ship: Leonardo Da Vinci and Jules Verne.
Oh, yeah, that’s true. People are very surprised. I mean what we heard back was like ‘Wait, he was into like interplanetary rocket ships?’ So they were very surprised. That’s one of the things that people were like shocked about. Yeah, he was very ahead of his time.
Something you hear from a lot of saints and as matter of fact you are hearing it from the quotes of the new blessed Carlo Acutis as well that the Lord takes our gifts and builds them up. We have these gifts or talents that he wants us to use to the fullest.
Right, and again the humility.
He’s very sickly. [Kolbe suffered from the ravages of tuberculosis] But God used that. I mean to be able to walk that mountain in Japan to be able to clear that out. I mean, he did that every day it was amazing the strength that he had. If you want to do God’s will, God gives you the strength to do it. You know, you just got to be accordance of what he wants from from us. So that’s what I thought of the physical strength that he’s able to do all these things, you know going to Japan and doing all things and being as sickly as he was.
I was fascinated by that scene because my father died of a heart attack years ago. I was in Ecuador with a priest friend of mine who had a had a triple bypass and we had to walk everyday up a huge hill. It was driving me nuts and I imagine the friars must have been going through the same thing. I said to the head of the program in Ecuador: “My father died of a heart attack and here this guy has a bad heart and he has to walk up the long stairs. We have to find another solution.” I probably know exactly what the friars must have been through and there he would say to them “I’ll be fine.”
There was the trust. I mean the trust factor in a lot of things. He trusted that if you turn yourself over to the Blessed Mother she will take care of it — just trust.
I’m not sure if that was your experience but the providence of God is so amazing if you really trust. If you surrender yourself to Our Lady, she’ll take care of everything. You have to do your part but I mean she’s got this and I think that is one of the things.
I think of the envelope scene. He says: “I have no money to do this.” And then there’s an envelope with exactly the amount of money that he needs to do his first run for the first newsletter, you know what I mean? I think that it’s just those things that I think that we’re definitely in need of today about trusting in the Providence of God. We’ve lost that little bit. You know, I know Mary has her own agenda.
I know two people who taught me that as well. Both of them said the same thing: “Just trust Jesus and Mary.” One of them was a wonderful woman who ran a house for homeless women and the other one was Cardinal Seán O’Malley.
I think that’s true. I mean, sometimes we try to schedule our lives and to such a way that the providence of God can’t wiggle in. If you just step back and say, all right you tell me what you want and I’ll figure that out and I’ll try to do it. I think that’s what St. Maximilian Kolbe did. “You want me to go to Japan? Okay.”
I mean it’s very interesting about being able to do that. Remember these are the 1930’s, so it’s very hard to do the traveling.
Yeah, that’s true. That’s a good point. [St. Maximillian Kolbe died at the hands of the NAZIs as a prisoner in Auschwitz. The SS hated his work of evangelizing and arrested him and sent him to the death camp.
A prisoner in his block escaped and the whole block was held to account for this action. The officer in charge ordered ten prisoners to die. They picked out men randomly. One man Franciszek Gajowniczek begged for his life after the officer chose him. Kolbe standing next to him just came forward and offered to die in his place. Gajowniczek was sent back in line and Kolbe was taken away with the other nine.
MSN News reported in August that Gajowniczek survived the NAZI era including five years in Auschwitz never forgetting what Kolbe did for him. He died in 1995.
Oscar pointed out that for Kolbe to come forward like this and not be shot for approaching the officer in charge some consider a miracle in itself. ]
I think the other miracle there I thought of and I think you bring it out in the movie, is that the officer didn’t just say: “Okay the two of you going to die.”
Right exactly. You know the providence of God. The Blessed Mother kept her promise right? ‘You want two crowns? Okay. Here you go. You got both crowns.’
When I first heard the story of Maximilian Kolbe, one of the things that popped into my mind is: “Why would God allow him to suffer and die in the concentration camp?” I realized he didn’t allow it, he sent him there to be the presence of God in the concentration camp.
Right, right. I mean there’s some light somewhere, right? So God said, I’m not going to abandon you. I’m sending him to you to show that I’m not abandoning you. So it’s true. It’s a really good point that we need somebody to be the light in the darkness, right? So God does not abandon us.
He still had that vision even suffering, always helping the poor — the other prisoners — while suffering in the camp but understanding that God’s will was still with him.
It’s important for these times to be reminded that there is a lot of darkness. As you just said he sent St. Maximilian Kolbe into that camp to show that he’s still around, that he is still in control.
I think we need to be reminded that sometimes when we’re looking around we are like: ‘What else can happen? How dark is it going to get?’ I think that your point is very well taken, Father, about being able to remind ourselves that God is still in control. He has control of everything but we just need to kind of keep searching out for that light wherever it might be.
How long did it take to do the movie? About 17, 18 months, you know shooting and editing and everything here to go out.
The cast members were all established actors?
Polish actors who also do other work in Poland and other places. Yes. They’re very talented. Yes.
Michal Kondrat was the narrator?
Right, he is narrator and director. So he fit a double role. So it was interesting to be able to do that. So I very much encourage people to see this. It’s a one night only. I think that in our world everything is a little bit dark, but we need encouragement. I mean he was in a death camp, you know, he was in Auschwitz. He was able to persevere.
[Kondrat also directed Love and Mercy: Faustina.]
I saw in his story in the concentration camp his vision to never give up hope was similar to what Victor Frankel said in a Man’s Search for Meaning.
Right. That’s exactly right. So there is there’s a common thread and that’s an excellent point about being a people of hope. We are people of faith and hope and I think that this more than anything else you really need to encourage people that are in the lockdowns that we have hope we are a people of hope, right? If we’re all people of darkness, dour and everything else, who wants to hang out with that?
People still gravitated towards Maximilian Kolbe because he had something that people needed at that point. He was very profound and even when he was they were locked in that room. I mean, he would pray with everybody and he didn’t die. I mean they had to execute them, right everybody else died and starved, but he was the last one. He’s last man standing, right?
I think God showed that as a testament. Despite being weak, despite having tuberculosis, despite every one of those men condemned with him died before he did and the NAZIs had to execute him. God will have the last word.