Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Patron Saint of Amateur Radio Operators

Saints are different from patron saints. While various popes have named patron saints in the past, patrons can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well. This has led to a proliferation of patron saints.The studious may already know that the Archangel Gabriel is also the patron saint of communications workers. That includes all kinds of communications workers...postal workers, radio dispatchers, bike messengers, and virtually every stripe of radio and television worker. But that's a big bucket, there is also one more patron saint in radio.

Unlike Gabriel, a mythological character, our other patron a real person: Maksymiliana Marii Kolbego. his name is sometimes anglicized to Maximilian Kolbe. He was born Raymond Kolbe in 1894. He was a priest in Poland during the German occupation. He was also an amateur radio hobbyist with the callsign SP3RN. Ham radio was banned in WWII after the occupation, and it was suspected Kolbe may have continued broadcasting. The Germans believed Kolbe was involved in espionage. This isn't shocking... ham radio was suspended in the US in the same period.

But Poland had an active ham radio community before the war. The Polski ZwińÖzek Krotkofalowcow (Polish Amateur Radio Union) was 9 years old when the war broke out. Kolbe was certainly not the only broadcaster on the watch list. But he was probably the only one who was both a priest and a ham. His brother was also a radical who had fought the Russians for Polish independence and was hanged for his troubles. Yes, Kolbe was a man whose name was on a list. More here.

He was transferred to Auschwitz in May of 1941. After a prisoner break that year the Germans ordered that 10 prisoners be killed in retribution. Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of the condemned men. While many other radio men did many brave things in WWII, the martyrdom thing is big with the Catholics. In 1982 he was canonized by Pope John Paul II as St. Maximilian Kolbe. John Paul noted him specifically for chastity of all things. The ham radio title seemed to show up several years later.  (Previously the title had been bestowed upon Bill Gavin by Billboard magazine.)