Alice von Hildebrand is now in the Father’s house… in her mother’s arms
Alice von Hildebrand, famed American theologian of Belgian origin, departed for “the Father’s house”—surely tucked in “our Mother’s arms”—on January 14, 2022. She died peacefully at her residence in New Rochelle (N.Y.) at 12:25 a.m., at 98 years of age, after suffering a brief and simple illness. Alice herself felt that her life was slowly being “extinguished”. In fact, she herself expressed, just before she died, her desire to finally see the face of Our Lord, to be reunited with her beloved husband Dietrich, to see again her parents and her close friends, with the peace that only true innocence and faith bestow. This was confirmed by John H. Crosby in his personal testimony concerning the last moments of Alice’s life.
Alice Marie Jourdain was born in Brussels on March 11, 1923. When World War II broke out, the young woman was forced to seek refuge in the United States in the face of the troubled Nazi invasion of her native country in 1940. Once in the United States, Alice began her university studies first at Manhattanville College and then devoted herself fully to philosophy at Fordham University, where she obtained her doctorate in 1949. In 1947 she began her teaching career at Hunter College, a solemn place where she reached her retirement in 1984, after 37 years of service and, eventually, being awarded the Presidential Award granted by that institution. It was in this perennially collegial and Christian environment that Alice met Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977)—the famed philosopher and theologian to whom Pope Pius XII referred as “the doctor of the Church of the twentieth century”—and he became her mentor and eventually her beloved husband and life partner from 1959. The von Hildebrand marriage lasted 18 years, until the death of the Italo-German philosopher separated them.
Among her various academic achievements, Alice developed The Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project in 2004, promoted and completed in collaboration with her late husband’s former students. Eventually, she and her work were featured on various television networks, such as EWTN, as well as her essays and specialized interviews published with frequency in news agencies such as the Catholic News Agency or ACI. Alice’s academic interests revolved around the real meaning of Christian life, with a view to establishing a genuine dialogue between classical philosophy, modernity and not least human love, marriage and the family. In this regard, the following texts are particularly noteworthy: Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (Word, 2017 2nd ed. Foreword by J. Ratzinger); Man and Woman: A Divine Invention (Ignatius, 2010); and Memoirs of a Happy Failure, co-authored with John H. Crosby (Saint Benedict Press, 2014). In an essay recently published in the book The Art of Living (Hildebrand Press, 2017), Professor von Hildebrand expressed her opinion regarding a topic of great controversy in our days: the relationship between professional life and family life:
Seeing professional work as the consistent part of life and viewing family life as simply a space for relaxation is a very serious perversion. No, the time we invest with our loved ones is not to relax or take it easy, but to put on our best clothes and achieve the true sursum corda (raising our heart to God). It is the moment to accept that the love I profess to another person is, humanly speaking, the most precious pearl of my life, and that I must prepare myself for every encounter I will have with that loved one, assuming the same grateful recollection that I experienced when I fell in love with him.
Following this same line of reflection, one of her most significant works was published in 2002: The Privilege of Being a Woman. This is a book of sublime content that is well above average in its treatment of a subject that will give unsuspected strength to the women of our era, who for now are far removed from Christian wisdom but unfortunately supported by the prevailing secular cultural orientation. I had the privilege of making the first translation into Spanish of this wonderful text, written for eternity, which the EUNSA publishing house happily published in 2019 under the title El Privilegio de Ser Mujer (The Privilege of Being a Woman). Its richness, softness and eloquence exceed the limits of this brief writing to capture. I limit myself to express a central idea, captured for posterity, that Alice left us in this great work:
We must find ways to strengthen Christian families and bring out the complementarity of masculinity and femininity, enjoying the same original dignity, so that they may recover their healing radiance in the midst of a world deeply darkened by the lies of the enemy […] Women must recognize that they play a fundamental role in the family and in society, that they are at the heart of the homeland and of humanity. Once again, there is an urgent need to become aware of the privilege of being a woman and to accept all the responsibilities and blessings implicit in it.
The late theologian invites us to this type of reflection, and I pray from now on will send us from heaven her clarity, her humility and her human and Christian beauty, in order to continue delving into these so necessary, but certainly forgotten, topics. When the translation of The Privilege of Being a Woman finally reached the shelves of several Spanish bookstores, I had the undeserved honor of receiving the following message from this “happy and exemplary warrior”:
Dear Sir, just read your kind note. Many thanks. Like you I believe that it is crucial in our decadent society to rediscover the beautiful and crucial role of women in a society, as wife and mothers. The health of any society depends, I was once told, upon how women understand… their role as wife and mother. I deeply appreciate your note. Let us remain in contact. In union of prayers and warm greetings,Alice von Hildebrand (5 Feb 2020, 14:16)