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Alphonsian Academy

Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R.

"God has blessed me, I have worked long and hard, and now I await sister death".

With these words in his heart, so often repeated in his letters during his final months, Father Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R., humbly greeted ‘sister death’ on July 3, 1998, at the age of 85 in the Redemptorist Community in Gars-am-Inn, Germany.

 

Father Häring, one of the founding forces of the Alphonsian Academy, is regarded by many as the foremost Catholic moral theologian of the 20th century. Father Häring’s contribution to the field of Moral Theology is truly remarkable. He wrote 104 Books with over 300 translations. He published over 1,000 articles in various languages. Father Bernard was showered with honors and awards including the National Catholic Book award from the Catholic Press Association and the prestigious Wlodzimierz Pietrzak Prize in Poland. In addition to these, he was listed in Who’s Who in America, Europe, Germany and in the World. He is cited in the Dictionary of International Biography and the International Authors and Writers Who’s Who. Father Häring lectured at many prestigious universities including Fordham University, Yale, Brown, Temple, the University of San Francisco and the Kennedy Institute for Bio-ethics of Georgetown University to mention but a few.

Father Häring was born on November 10, 1912 in Böttingen, Germany to Johannes and Franziska Häring. He grew up surrounded by family and love. He was one of 12 children who enjoyed ideal parents who lived their faith and passed it on to their children not only through words, but through their example as well. Three of his sisters entered religious life. As a young boy, Bernard was more apt to be found outdoors riding horses or playing than in the classroom studying. An anecdote is told in an article by J. Gadoua that on his first communion day the young Bernhard exclaimed: "I want to be a saint!", to which his sister simply responded "Well, why not?" It was this event that encouraged him all through his life to constantly strive to be the person God had meant him to be.

When he was 12 years old, Bernhard entered the seminary at Gars-am-Inn and graduated first in the class. He entered the Redemptorist novitiate in 1933 completed his studies and was ordained a priest six year later. Father Häring became a Redemptorist with the dream of being a missionary. With bags packed and everything ready to leave for his missionary assignment in Brazil, Father Häring was asked by his Superior to study Moral Theology. This was a very difficult moment for Father Häring and yet, a moment of grace for he wholeheartedly committed himself to his new assignment.

He had barely begun his studies when they were interrupted by the Second World War. After the war, he resumed his studies and earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology at the University of Tübingen in 1947. He then taught at the Redemptorist Seminary in Gars-am-Inn until 1949 after which he came to his beloved Alphonsian Academy. He was one of the driving forces in the early days of The Academy and helped establish the world class faculty which has characterized the institution throughout its history.

In 1954, Bernhard Häring published his first major work in Moral Theology: The Law of Christ. According to noted theologian and student of Father Häring at the Alphonsian Academy, Charles Curran, this opus "proposed a biblical, liturgical, Christological and life-centered moral theology. He pioneered a new approach to moral theology that opposed the method of the manuals with their concern for training confessors for the sacrament of penance by learning how to distinguish what is sinful and the degrees of sinfulness.

Curran goes on to say: "Häring’s moral theology was based on the covenant - - the good news of God’s loving gift for us and our grateful response. Christians are called to growth and continual conversion in their moral life and in their multiple relationships with God, neighbor, and world and self.
He staunchly opposed any legalism that made God into a controller rather than a gracious savior."

The Law of Christ has been translated into some fourteen languages and has established Father Häring as one of the foremost moral theologians of the 20th century.

Father Häring was named to the Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII. The same pontiff mentioned in his diary that he was in complete agreement with Häring thoughts on what the Vatican Council should accomplish. Father Häring was chosen by Paul VI in his first year as pope to give the annual retreat to him and the Roman Curia. After having served as secretary to the editorial committee that drafted the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, he was publicly referred to by the Cardinal president of the commission as "the quasi-father of Gaudium et Spes".

In 1978, Father Häring published his second three volume moral theology, Free and Faithful in Christ. In this work, Father Bernhard demonstrates a moved "toward a more relational model for the moral life and the rejection of a legal model".

After his public disagreement with the encyclical Humanae Vitae which condemned artificial contraception in 1968, Father Häring was investigated in the 1970's by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To this Father Bernhard answered "I have received many more blessings than suffering at the hands of certain Churchmen, for whom I constantly pray".

In 1979 he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. He bravely fought the disease, never losing his spirit. After a series of surgical treatments, he lost his larynx and was no longer able to speak normally. It became quite difficult to understand his speech. How difficult this must have been for a man who was a born preacher and lecturer. But, strong faith in his Beloved Redeemer and Our Mother of Perpetual Help strengthened and nurtured him.

Yes, Father Häring was a world famous theologian, noted author, lecturer, spiritual director, Church reformer. But to the Alphonsian Academy Family and the Redemptorists he was first and foremost our brother. The thousands that studied under him, attended his seminars, made his retreats, went to him for spiritual direction, and who lived with him remember him first of all as a humble man of God. A Redemptorist through and through. A Redemptorist confrere shared "The times that I met Father Häring I was always impressed by his humility and his gentleness. In his later years, when I met him, he was like the kindly grandfather, full of wisdom, full of knowledge, full of experience that anyone would be proud to have. His presence exuded prayer and holiness."

Although he retired from the Academy in 1987, after 38 years of service the love he bore the Academy lives on. We shall never forget our beloved brother Bernhard Häring. We shall never forget how he made St. Alphonsus’ dream come to life. He Taught the Teachers and through them sent the gentleness and freedom which is as much the hallmark of St. Alphonsus’ moral theology as it is his, to the far corners of the earth.

Most Reverend Father Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Moderator General of the Academy and Superior General of the Redemptorists, and Father Bruno Hidber, C.Ss.R., President of the Alphonsian Academy as well as many confreres, colleagues, relatives and friends were present in Gars-am-Inn, Germany on July 7, 1998 to bid adieu to this truly great and saintly priest, confrere and friend.

Please remember Father Bernhard in your prayers and please remember all the faculty, staff and students at the Academy as we continue the work to which he gave so much of himself.


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The Alphonsian Foundation Office and friends of Father Häring have started the Bernhard Häring Memorial Professorship Fund. This fund will assist the Alphonsian Academy maintain its tradition of world class lecturers by helping to fund a professor in the Moral Sciences teaching at the Academy. If you would like to make a memorial donation in honor of Father Häring or would like further information, please contact:

Mr. Victor L. Ottenlips
Alphonsian Foundation Director of Development
One Liguori Drive
Liguori, MO 63057
U.S.A.

Telephone: 800-464-2555 or,
314-464-2500

Fax: 314-464-8449

E-Mail: foundation@alfonsiana.edu

 

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