Certain things live in the memory.
It’s 1980. The Los Angeles summer is hotter than the fire door of hell. I’m at the office. I get a late afternoon call from Suann, my lovely bride. I ask about her day. She says, “I was at Universal Studios.” I ask her why. She says, “Andrée’s community has a visitor, and he wanted to see Universal. So they asked me if I could take him.”
Andrée’s community is the L.A. branch of Our Lady of the Way, a secular institute for consecrated women working in the world. “Andrée” is Andrée Emery, the community’s superior and a family friend needing some help. So Suann straps our three-year-old son John into the back seat of our beat-up VW bug. Then she picks up Andrée’s visitor and one of her community sisters, and the four of them spend the day in 100-degree heat at Universal Studios. The visitor insists on trying every attraction. He takes special delight in the Jaws ride.
“He’s a nice man,” Suann says over the phone. “A little odd, though. It was brutally hot, but he wore an Alpaca sweater the whole time. Also, he has very long nose hairs. John kept trying to pull them.” When the four get back to the community, Andrée is there. She offers everyone cold drinks. The visitor wanders out onto the back porch. It has a breathtaking view of the L.A. basin. John trails along after him. Ten minutes go by. Suann goes looking for them.
“It was cute,” she tells me. “The old guy was asleep in a rocking chair. He had John on his lap, curled up against his chest.” I ask, “Where’s the old guy from?” She says, “Europe someplace. He had a German accent.” I ask, “What’s his name?”
“Hans,” Suann says. “Hans something or other.” I say, “von Balthasar?” “Yes,” she says brightly. “Hans von Balthasar. That’s it.”
Andrée Emery, Hungarian by birth, rates barely a footnote in Church history: Check Google. She’s Andrée the Obscure; Andrée the Forgotten. But she mattered. She was a trusted confidante of Hans Urs von Balthasar, a friend of Joseph Ratzinger and other post-conciliar luminaries, and one of the founding editorial board members of the American edition of Communio, the international theological journal. She was a brilliant, kind, deeply faithful Christian woman. She was also formidable. Andrée had strong views, with a special dislike for the idea of women priests. Her reasons were theological, but also baldly practical. She once told me that ordaining women would be “the perfect excuse for men to do nothing at all in the Church….”
(Entire story by Francis X. Maier in First Things)