Cardinal Burke: Remembering My Friend, Alice von Hildebrand

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a longtime friend of Alice von Hildebrand, shared his reflections on the Catholic philosopher who just passed away.

Cardinal Raymond Burke pictured at Alice von Hildebrand's 90th birthday in New York.
Cardinal Raymond Burke pictured at Alice von Hildebrand's 90th birthday in New York. (photo: Hildebrand Project)

Catholic philosopher Alice von Hildebrand (1923 – 2022) made an impression on many people in the Church, with her wit, wisdom, and witness to the Catholic faith.

Among them was her longtime friend, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who shared with the Register his memories on Alice von Hildebrand, her message on authentic femininity, and how to carry her legacy forward today. 

In what way did Alice von Hildebrand make an impression on you? 

Alice von Hildebrand was a person of extraordinary intellect and cultural refinement, who, at the same time, had a child-like faith, in the highest sense of the word. It was clear that she lived daily an intense relationship with Our Lord in the Church. The depth of her philosophical and theological knowledge found its consummation in an intense life of faith. She came from a distinguished, faithfully Catholic family in French-speaking Belgium. She faithfully handed on to others the faith which was handed on to her in her family and in the wider Church. Of course, meeting Dietrich von Hildebrand and eventually entering into Holy Matrimony with him was the greatest gift – after family, life and the Faith – which Our Lord gave to her.

 Is there a particular experience that stands out for you?

She was always in spiritual communion with her beloved husband whom Our Lord called to Himself during this month in 1977. In my visits with her during her last years, she spoke frequently of how she longed to go to Our Lord and thus to be once again with her dearly loved Dietrich. It was a great blessing to have met her and to enjoy her friendship which was deeply loyal.

How did Alice von Hildebrand witness to authentic feminism? What message did she give the world about the true, good, and beautiful, especially when it comes to womanhood?

Even though she did not give birth to a child, Alice von Hildebrand had a keen sense of her feminine and maternal identity. Her students at Hunter College received from her an excellent education delivered to them with the grace and affection of a true woman of God, of a spiritual mother. To be in her presence was to experience the wonderful gift of womanhood and spiritual maternity. In the present time, marked by so much confusion about our identity as male and female, she frequently spoke and wrote about the gift of being a woman. In a particular way, she understood and expressed the fundamental importance of the practice of the virtue of purity, in order to grow in one’s sexual identity and to give fullness of expression to it. She has many wonderful writings about human sexuality, about God’s plan for man – male and female – and about holy purity. She was not one “to mince words,” as we say. She spoke the truth clearly and firmly, and with deep love.

What would you say is the enduring legacy of Alice von Hildebrand? How can we carry it forward today?

We will honor the legacy of Alice von Hildebrand by dedicating ourselves to the study of philosophy, especially metaphysics, and theology, in order to know the truth about God, about ourselves and about the world, and to live that truth in practice, as Our Lord teaches us in the Church. Her life and writings are a source of direction for our lives and, what is more, of inspiration for responding to the call which Our Lord gives to each of us in the Church. I am certain that Alice von Hildebrand will continue to exercise her spiritual maternity on behalf of all who strive to live a good and holy life, especially on behalf of young women.

Read related coverage by Peter Jesserer Smith: 

Authentic Femininity: Alice von Hildebrand’s Unfinished Legacy

Alice von Hildebrand: Humble Giant of ‘Authentic Femininity’