Sister Emmanuel Hofbauer has taken to heart St. Teresa of Avila’s instruction to pray for priests. At the age of 11, she was shown an ordination photo of Father Joseph Ratzinger and his brother Georg. She said this experience mysteriously confirmed her desire to become a nun and to pray in a special way for priests.
Now, one of them is about to celebrate his fifth anniversary as Pope.
Then-Father Georg Ratzinger served in her parish in a small Bavarian village at the foot of the Alps, near the town of Oberammergau, famous for its Passion plays. Father Joseph Ratzinger would eventually become archbishop of Munich, the archdiocese in which she lived.
After moving to the United States in 1955 and attending Seattle’s Holy Names Academy, she entered the Carmelite monastery in Seattle in 1959 at the age of 19. The following year, she formally received her new name and distinctive Carmelite habit. Sister Emmanuel remained in Seattle until 2009, when she moved to the Carmel of the Mother of God in San Rafael, Calif.
Her correspondence with Cardinal Ratzinger began in 1986, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of her first profession in 1961. Sister Emmanuel received a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, thanking her for all her years of dedicated service to the Lord and his Church. Thereafter, they corresponded a few times every year.
While in Rome for the canonization of Carmelite nun Edith Stein in October of 1998, Sister Emmanuel met with Cardinal Ratzinger.
Sister Emmanuel recently spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
What are some of your memories of the Ratzinger brothers from your childhood?
When the Ratzinger brothers were ordained in 1951, I was only 11 years old. One of my teachers showed me a newspaper clipping of the ordination. This photo of the Ratzinger brothers deeply impressed me.
I already hoped to become a sister like the Sisters of St. Elizabeth who lived near our house. One of the sisters told me of how she wanted to enter the Carmel in Cologne but was not allowed because of her asthma. She told me that the apostolate of Carmel is mainly to pray for the Church and for priests. I decided then and there that that is what I am called to do. I wanted to pray for holy priests such as the Ratzinger brothers.
Msgr. Georg Ratzinger became my pastor’s assistant in 1951-1952. Joseph Ratzinger was never my pastor, but became archbishop of Munich in May 1977. In June of 1977 he became cardinal , and in November of 1981 he became the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
When did you start corresponding with Cardinal Ratzinger?
Through my family, teachers and friends I received news, especially about then-Archbishop Ratzinger. Anything about him and Msgr. Georg interested me. For some mysterious reason, God bonded us. I found my vocation through them, and I was to pray and sacrifice my life for them and for all priests.
My direct correspondence with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger began around 1986. It was the year of my Silver Jubilee, and he wrote to me a beautiful letter which I will cherish as long as I live.
I read some of his books and booklets, and I often prayed: “Lord this man should be heard and seen more.” When I met him face to face in 1998 in Rome, I knew that he would be the next Pope. His election was a joyful, emotional moment.
What was your immediate response to Cardinal Ratzinger being elected pope?
I was so happy that the celebration of his festive inauguration fell on April 24, which is also my birthday. It was the best birthday present I could have received.
Do you think Cardinal Ratzinger in choosing the name Benedict (after Pope Benedict XV, but also after St. Benedict, the “Father of Western Monasticism”) thereby showed great respect for the religious life?
I do not know why he chose the name Benedict. I think he chose it more to follow Pope Benedict XV, who is known as the “Peace Pope” — he became pope just a few months after World War I broke out. He worked untiringly for peace and wrote the encyclical Pacem Dei Munus. I am sure he loved St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, and has great love and respect for the religious life.
What do you think of the latest media attacks on Msgr. Ratzinger and Pope Benedict?
The media attack on our Holy Father and on Msgr. Ratzinger is so unjust, so unfair. I have met through the years many Regensburger Domspatzen (members of the famous singing group once led by Msgr. Ratzinger), and they have the highest regard for Msgr. Ratzinger.
In instances of sexual abuse committed by some of the clergy, the devil uses priests in order to cast blame upon the entire Church, because he hates the Church and wants to destroy the Church. But we know Christ’s words: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Some people have accused our Holy Father of not following the Gospel, while in fact he is a living Gospel. He lives faith, hope, love, reconciliation, peace and justice — truly Christ-like.
What do you think of the criticisms of the Pope from people who have never met him or even read any of his writings?
People who criticized our Holy Father did not know much about him or his writings. They knew him only as a disciplinarian when he was the prefect. They did not know that in fact he is a deeply prayerful, spiritual, humble, gentle man. The same is true of his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.
Do you still get to correspond with Pope Benedict, or is that not possible?
Yes, I still correspond with His Holiness through his private secretary, who allows my letters to reach His Holiness, and I receive a few lines and holy cards through his secretary. I tell him of the highlights of our life here at the monastery and assure him of my prayers.
Could you tell us about meeting Pope Benedict in person?
In 2006, our Holy Father visited Germany. One of his visits was in Pentling, near Regensburg. My cousins take care of his house in Pentling. It is the house where he and his brother were going to retire, but God had another plan. My cousins invited me to visit them during that time and help prepare for the coming of our Holy Father to his house for the last time.
It was an unforgettable experience, like a family reunion. The police and his guards allowed us to come close to him. I remember him taking my hands and asking me to please not forget him in my prayers. Since I am celebrating my Golden Jubilee on May 22 of this year (dated from the Clothing Day, or Name Day, that took place in 1960), I hope to see our Holy Father once more within the next couple years, God willing!
In this Year for Priests, what thoughts do you have about praying for priests?
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as all Carmelite sisters, had a great love for priests and for the priesthood, but her love was not naive. She knew that priests were frail human beings like all of us. She wanted to support them in every way she could.
Do we love and support our priests as we should, and as they need us to? It can be easy to become annoyed and see the faults of our priests; sometimes we see only their weaknesses. However, Jesus has given us a priceless treasure in the priesthood. Through his priests we receive all the bounty of his graces through the sacraments — and his very self in the Eucharist.
Surely, we owe our priests immeasurable gratitude for their self-gift to God on our behalf. In this Year for Priests, let us renew our commitment to pray for our priests, to affirm our priests, to love and support our priests. They need us more than ever as they try to show forth God’s presence in a world that increasingly denies him and ignores his ways.
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.