The life of the former president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities Monika K. Hellwig was celebrated this past Friday at a Saint Mary’s College symposium titled “Monika K. Hellwig: The People’s Theologian.”
Former students, colleagues and friends all spoke on Hellwig’s behalf. Rosemary Carbine of Whittier College said her experience of Hellwig as a professor was extremely formative, and said Hellwig presented “wisdom’s feast” at each class.
“She invited, not coerced, college students to live Christianity as a dynamic tradition,” Carbine said. “Any educational institution, Catholic or not, that promotes wisdom’s feast will help students negotiate their religious and political identity.”
Suzanne Clark of the Shalem Institute was a fellow parishioner of Hellwig and highlighted her humility as one of her most outstanding attributes. Clark said she was shocked when she visited Hellwig’s home and saw the small size of her closet.
“Here is this woman, internationally renowned, traveling everywhere, whose lifestyle was so simple,” she said.
John Haughey of the Woodstock Theological Centerat at Georgetown University said in addition to her humility, Hellwig possessed a strong sense of courage.
“[I’m impressed] how she could be so courageous with the courage of her hope, faith and love,” he said. “It was a reconciling courage, not a dividing courage. She never alienated with her words, she only informed.”
Freelance writer Evelyn Haught said Hellwig’s most impressive role was as a mother. Hellwig lived with a British family during World War II as a refugee from the Nazis — an experience which influenced her decision later in life to adopt children.
Haught said Hellwig faced many struggles as a single mother, which were compounded by health issues, lack of monetary support and the controversy at the time of a white mother raising biracial children.
“Many people knew she had children,” Haught said. “[But] very few people knew the type of burden she carried in that act. Monika remained consistently loving towards her children and consistently hopeful.”
Freelance writer Paula Minaert closed the symposium with a reflection on the life of Monika K. Hellwig as a woman who fully lived her Catholic baptismal calling.
“We can see Monika as a model for women, men, Catholics and Christians in the sense that she lived her life wholeheartedly with the gifts she had been given out of her faith.”
The symposium was part of the college’s year-long celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Center for Spirituality.