Alice von Hildebrand: Reflecting on a Life of Teaching, Scholarship, and Prayer | Jim Graves | Catholic World Report
With her memoirs due out later this summer, the prolific writer and scholar looks back over decades of service to the Gospel and to truth.
Pope Francis recently recognized Alice von Hildebrand as a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory in recognition of her lifetime of work on behalf of the Church. She is originally from Brussels, Belgium, and came to the United States in 1940, as World War II began ravaging Europe.
Unable to find employment at a Catholic college, she began a 37-year career teaching philosophy at Hunter College, a public university in New York, beginning in 1947. She married Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) in 1959, two years after the death of his first wife. Since her husband’s death in 1977, she has devoted her time and energy to promoting his work. She is a prolific writer and gifted public speaker, eloquently sharing the message of the Gospel with Catholic audiences throughout the world.
Later this summer, Mrs. von Hildebrand will release her memoirs, Alice von Hildebrand: Memoirs of a Happy Failure (Saint Benedict Press). She recently spoke to CWR.
CWR: In your memoirs, you go into detail about your 37 years of teaching at Hunter College, and the trouble you experienced in its anti-Christian environment.
Alice von Hildebrand: Yes. I was a perfectly harmless little foreign girl, teaching in a secular university, and I experienced much persecution. I began writing my experiences after I left Hunter, because I wanted my memory to be exact.
I had first applied for jobs teaching at Catholic colleges. They would not hire me because I was a woman. The same thing, incidentally, happened to Edith Stein in Germany. She couldn’t find a university job because she was a woman.
There was an opening at Hunter College. They needed someone to fill in for a professor who was going to be out for two weeks. Having never taught college before, I began on December 8, 1947. At the end of the two weeks, I thought I was going to get a pink slip, but was allowed to stay on.
I became an adjunct, but after many years of teaching I received no promotion, and no medical coverage. After 11 years I became an instructor, but at the lowest possible salary on the scale.
One day I received a terse note telling me to report to the dean’s office. I went, and found 17 other professors who spent the next two hours questioning me about my teaching. They said I was injecting my religious ideas into the classroom. When I left, I was totally exhausted. I had not experienced such exhaustion in all my years teaching.
Remarkably, I was given tenure, with nine professors voting for and eight voting against. I bumped into a friend at that time who asked me, “Do you believe in miracles?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He replied, “Well, your receiving tenure was nothing short of a miracle.”
Not everyone was happy I was tenured.