Monika Hellwig, the second woman elected president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, noted that her career was not one she had chosen. Rather, she said, being a theologian was “a task that somehow landed in front of me to be done.”
She was born in the German city of Breslau. Her father died when she was six. With the rise of the Nazis, her mother’s Jewish heritage put them at risk. Monika and her two younger sisters were sent to Scotland. Their mother survived the war in the Netherlands, only to die shortly after. The orphaned girls were taken in by a childless couple in Liverpool.
Monika showed early brilliance as a student, but her experience left her with a hunger for prayer. At twenty-two she entered the Medical Mission Sisters, expecting to be sent to work in India. Instead, she was sent to the United States to study theology. After fourteen years she decided to leave her congregation. Upon earning a doctorate, she went on to teach at Georgetown University for thirty years, becoming one of the most influential theologians in America. She also adopted three children, an experience, she said, that vastly expanded her theological horizons. She died on September 30, 2005.
“In my journey . . . as a Catholic scholar, what have I really learned? First of all, that we cannot keep the Holy Spirit out of the church, no matter how much we try to domesticate the whole enterprise. Secondly, that the church is wiser and more faithful when it listens discerningly to many voices, even those from outside its own boundaries.”