Dolores R. LECKEY and Kathleen DOLPHIN, editors, Monika Hellwig: The People’s Theologian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. pp. 253. $30.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-300-14989-0.
Reviewed by Winifred WHELAN, St. Bonaventure University (emerita), 1415 W. Rascher Avenue, Chicago IL 60640-1205

The chapters of this edited book are written by friends and acquaintances of Monika Hellwig who died suddenly in 2005 at the age of 75. The book is written both to honor her life and to inform a general public about a woman whose life was almost unbelievably full. From her beginnings in Germany and her joining a religious order in England, to her leaving the order, earning a Ph.D., teaching at Georgetown, writing 25 books, raising three children on her own, being a member of a parish and a discussion group, Monika Hellwig is someone to be honored and studied. One can only look at her in awe.

Gerard Sloyan knew her as a student at Catholic University of America. William McFadden, SJ, knew her as a colleague and as a woman who adopted three mixed race children. Evelyn Haught tells of how Monika was always attentive to her children and of the problems they had both because of their being mixed race and because of Erika’s (the oldest child) health problems. Rosemary Carbine reveals how Monika always welcomed opinions and ideas other than her own. Lee Nelles Leonhardy is a member of a Christian Life Community discussion group started by Monika which continues to this day. John Haughey, SJ, writes that Monika spoke about a respect for life that involved growth in empathy, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, solidarity, and attention to the weakest in society as well as the vulnerable in the womb.

The last chapter by Suzanne Clark, a fellow parishioner, goes more deeply into the mind and heart of Hellwig. She tells of how Monika worried about her children and how she was concerned about having sufficient finances to care for them. Father Duggan, the pastor, is said to have remarked that he felt like an unworthy instrument in the hands of God. He hoped that he would not stand in the way of what God was doing in her life.

The editors made a wise decision to include a poem or an excerpt from Hellwig’s writings at the beginning of each chapter. These quotes reveal more of her thinking and her theology and could easily be used for meditative prayer. One of her poems is especially moving:

Deep into the shadowed silences of the earth
Love hides the flaming glory
Of the royal birth
For which the ages long.
Breaking the air with song
And the heart with yearning.
Just so again this year,
As seeking shelter here,
Love waits.

From a 1995 Christmas poem by Monika Hellwig.

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