Meet the Volunteer Friar Firefighters Started by St. Maximilian Kolbe

For Father Jacek, the brigade was a vocation and a childhood dream realized.

The volunteer friar firefighters started by St. Maximilian Kolbe.
The volunteer friar firefighters started by St. Maximilian Kolbe. (photo: EWTN News In Depth / EWTN News In Depth)

A group of firefighters from Poland looks just like any other firefighting brigade, with heavy uniforms, hard helmets, and a red truck ready to go at a moment’s notice. But these men are something else, too: friars dedicated to God.

“Being a firefighter, for us, is one of the aspects of religious life and the priesthood,” Father Jacek Szczepanik, who recently joined the unit, explained to EWTN News In Depth in an episode that aired on Oct. 1. He and another friar shared the history and daily life of their volunteer brigade founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1931.

Each day, five friar firefighters are on call in the Niepokalanow brigade. Another assists them by staying on constant vigil. Brother Janusz Kulak, who has 35 years of experience in firefighting, heads the unit.

“We have a lot of work because there are always different accidents each year,” he said. “These range from the cat in the tree to the flooded basement and disaster relief. You can say that any accident that requires help is work for the religious firefighters unit.”

They stay particularly busy during the summer and fall, when the weather is hot and dry. 

When it began in 1931, the brigade responded to the local community’s need: fighting fires that threatened wooden construction and houses. According to Father Jacek, it was a challenging task. He remembered a miraculous event where one brother fought a stable fire. 

“At one point, hot tar fell on him, both on his helmet and habit,” he said. “Theoretically, he should have been dead, but it turned out that he was just a little injured where he had no clothes or habit.”

For Father Jacek, the brigade was a vocation and a childhood dream realized.

“My favorite reading, as for many boys in elementary school, was a book called How Wojtek Became a Firefighter, he remembered.

“Each of us performs many other services, each of us is fully prepared to embrace various professions, and the firefighter is one of the ways — a very spectacular way,” he concluded, “because it’s the only one in the world that allows me to be a monk, priest, and brother at the same time.”

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