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Alice Von Hildebrand . . . The Passing Of A Legendary Catholic Woman And Scholar

January 23, 2022 Frontpage No Comments

By PEGGY MOEN

Early in the morning of January 14, John Henry Crosby, president and founder of the Hildebrand Project, emailed to us and others a “Farewell to Alice von Hildebrand (1923-2022).” It read:
“With sadness suffused by joy, I write to share that our beloved friend and sister Alice von Hildebrand went home to the Lord at 12:25 a.m. this morning. She died peacefully at home after a brief illness.
“Those who knew Lily often heard her say that the wick of her candle was growing ever shorter. In fact, she yearned for death — to see the face of Our Lord, to be reunited at last with her husband Dietrich, her parents, her dearest friend Madeleine Stebbins — with the peace that only true innocence and profound faith can grant.”
According to a tribute by Dorothy Cummings McLean in LifeSiteNews, Alice von Hildebrand was born Alice Jourdain on March 11, 1923, in Brussels, Belgium. Known as “Lily” to her friends, Alice moved to the United States as a refugee in 1940. In 1947, she began a long career as a teacher at New York City’s Hunter College. She was named a professor of philosophy there and retired in 1984.
In the 1940s, Alice pursued graduate studies at Fordham University in New York City and took 18 courses with fellow refugee Dietrich von Hildebrand. Alice and Dietrich married in 1959. His first wife, Margarete, had died two years earlier. Dietrich himself died in 1977. He was the subject of Alice’s noted 2000 Ignatius Press biography The Soul of a Lion: Dietrich von Hildebrand.
It was my privilege and joy to do the copy-editing on many of Alice von Hildebrand’s priceless contributions to The Wanderer. One of the most outstanding of those essays was “The Treason of the Intellectuals,” which we are reprinting on p. 3A of this week’s issue. It first appeared in our issue of September 17, 2015 — not terribly long ago, but the article’s conclusion was clearly prophetic:
“The damage done by these ‘intellectual traitors’ — which like termites have undermined our schools and our society — is so grave that all that one can say is: Wake up before it is too late. May God have mercy on a society which has apostatized!”
I spoke by phone a number of times with Dr. von Hildebrand, and some of her comments during those conversations also heralded the present moment.
In the spring of 2007, Alice von Hildebrand met with Pope Benedict XVI, whom she greatly admired, for the fourth and final time. They spoke in German during that meeting in which, she told me a short time afterwards, Benedict praised her husband’s work. She told the Pope then — as she had before — of her hopes that the Traditional Latin Mass would be allowed more widely.
In a February 26, 2013 recollection for Catholic News Agency, she recalled this about that 2007 meeting:
“I once again requested his support for the Tridentine Mass. With a sweet and radiant smile, he said to me, ‘Very soon, indeed very soon.’ Some 100 days later, to my joy and immense gratitude, he granted an indult to all priests wishing to say Mass following the Traditional liturgy.”
That 2013 recollection was written in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, the news of which broke on that February 11.
Alice von Hildebrand commented there:
“From the moment the future Pope left his beloved Regensburg until February 28, 2013, he accepted a mission which was not of his own choosing. Let me repeat emphatically: He did not like the limelight. He was never tempted by ambition. He did it in obedience, but an act of obedience which was to him, a subtle form of crucifixion. . . .
“When elected almost eight years ago, Benedict accepted the ‘crown of thorns’ in obedience, convinced that he had a mission to perform. I suspect that even then he had firmly decided to step down as soon as what he could contribute to the Church, was accomplished: to strengthen the holy cord of tradition, to give us back the treasure of the Tridentine Mass, and to further true ecumenism by opening the door of Holy Church to Anglicans distressed by what was happening in their community.”
Shortly after Pope Francis’ election, I again spoke with Dr. von Hildebrand. She seemed concerned and uneasy about the new Holy Father, saying that she hoped the College of Cardinals had picked the right one.
If it now seems like ever-darkening times in the Church, we can hope that the work of Alice von Hildebrand and other giants of the faith will yet bear fruit, through those whom they have taught and through the written works they have left behind.
Among Alice’s most noted written works are: The Privilege of Being a Woman, Man & Woman: A Divine Intervention, and By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride.
Here are some quotations from two of her other most outstanding contributions to The Wanderer:
From “Blindness and Blindness,” the issue of July 2, 2015 (commenting on how students do not object to conclusions reached by empirical sciences, but react quite differently to questions raised by philosophy):
“But quite different are the questions raised by philosophy: Is there a God? What is His relationship to us? Is there an objective truth? Is there an objective moral good and evil? Do we have an immortal soul?
“Once these questions are raised, many are the students who will wake up from their lethargy and start challenging the arguments offered them in defense of these crucial truths. Not only have they entered the classroom with their minds already made up, but they all realize that the answers reached might be very ‘uncomfortable,’ because these answers challenge them to examine their lives in their light.”
From “Holy Bashfulness V. Shame,” the issue of June 21, 2018, p. 5A:
“The twentieth century (which Chesterton calls the century of uncommon nonsense), under the leadership and inspiration of Freud, reacted to puritanism with a vengeance, and today to discuss sexual matters on talk shows, in books and magazines, in the classroom, in public places, in the living room, is not only highly acceptable, but a matter of course. We are now comfortable with the fact that we are trousered apes and that animals’ behavior can give us valid norms for our own conduct.”

A Catholic Icon

In comments to LifeSiteNews about Dr. von Hildebrand’s passing, Wanderer publisher Joseph Matt stated:
“The readers of The Wanderer have been blessed to read the wisdom and vast understanding of the Catholic faith that Alice von Hildebrand shared in her columns for over four decades.
“Her contribution to the Church and to the defense of Catholicism is immeasurable. The countless people she touched in her witness to the Catholic faith will not be fully known until the end of time. Her words are even more valuable today as our world continues to distance itself from our Creator.
“Alice von Hildebrand, a Catholic icon, will truly be missed. May her soul rest in peace.”

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