In my father’s house there are many rooms. Were there not, I would have said to you that I was going to make ready a place for you. (John 14:2)
Of your charity, dear readers, pray for the repose of the soul of my grandmother Marie Theresa (Esi) Waldstein, née Froehlicher, who passed away on January 2nd. She had been ill for a long time, and was ready to pass over to the next life. She was very week in the last days, but prayed with an intensity of longing. For my grandfather it is of course a great blow to lose her after 65 years of marriage. It was very beautiful to see them together during her final illness— the beauty of a great love purified by long fidelity, by continual kindness and forgiveness. She had a very different temperament from her husband, but their love made them similar in another sense. I do not think it will be long till he follows her to the house of the Father.
That expression “the house of the Father” is one that I have been reflecting on since her death. St. Thomas teaches that the Father’s “house” has two meanings; it means the saints in whom God dwells, but it also means God Himself, who is in Himself and who calls us to dwell in Him through love and vision: “he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16). My “Omi,” as we grandchildren called her, gave was a marvelous instantiation of that image. She was in the fullest possible sense what is called a “homemaker.” The love that she shared with my grandfather was the foundation of a great house in which many were at home, because they were warmed by her love. Warm and loving— those are the words that spring to mind in thinking of her. Her love was like a hearth that filled her home with warmth. And many could find therein an image of our heavenly home. Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est.
She was amazingly patient and good natured. I remember one winter when I was a little child and we were visiting my grandparents, my brother and I took off our shoes and socks so that we could climb the walls of the house, and we were discovered by my grandmother. She scolded us, telling us that we would catch our deaths of cold or whatever, and asked us what we had done with our socks. We produced them from our pockets, and she burst out laughing with a warm, joyful laugh. We knew that we had been naughty, but we were comforted because we also knew that we were loved.
My grandmother had suffered much in her long life— especially from worry and sorrow over the worries and sorrows of her many children and grandchildren, but she was nevertheless one of the happiest people I have ever met. She was happy because her life was devoted to loving others and making them happy. She did small things with great love. I think, for example, of her cooking. She was a very good cook, and spent a long time cooking, and it was really an expression of love.
She came from a Swiss family, being indeed a direct descendent of the Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, but she was born in New Jersey, where my great-grandfather was working. She had both Protestant and Catholic relatives. One of her sisters became a nun and ended up in Rome, while another, who is still alive today, stayed in the US and married H. Lyman Stebbins, the founder of Catholics United for the Faith. One of them was roommates in college with Alice Jourdain, who was later to marry the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand.
After school, my grandmother went to Europe. She went first to Switzerland to her relatives, and I remember saying how much she disliked the cold austerity of Protestant Switzerland. But then she went to Austria to stay with the Seifert family, whom she knew through Dietrich von Hildebrand. She was enchanted by the warmth of Catholic Austria. It was at the Seiferts that she met my grandfather. They were married in New Jersey, with Dietrich von Hildebrand serving as best man, and long afterwards my grandparents would speak of the toast that Hildebrand gave at their wedding reception, and how it came true in their lives.
They lived first in Salzburg, then for a time in Innsbruck, and then for the rest of their lives in Salzburg again (apart from one year in Rome). For most of that time they lived in a wonderful old farm house on the Essergasse, near the Hellbrunner Allee. That house was the beau idéal of a family home. After my grandfather’s retirement from teaching Roman Law at the University of Salzburg, they spent a year in Rome, where he taught at the Lateran. After returning from Rome, and beginning to feel the weight of age that made it hard to care for such a large house, and having got used to the a little Roman apartment, they decided to move into a little flat on the Paris-Lodron Straße, with a view of the cemetery of St. Sebastian, the Church of the FSSP in Salzburg, where they had already been attending Mass for many years. On my second-to-last visit there I celebrated Mass for my grandmother, who was already bed-ridden. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
The funeral is to be on January 18th in Salzburg. I will be singing the Requiem in the Usus antiquior, and the sermon is to be preached by the auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg, H.E. Andreas Laun. May the Lord take her up into his House for ever. And may she become a powerful intercessor for her six children, 24 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren, whom she loved so well.