Trying to get started on my New Year’s resolutions, among which were taking better care of my blogs, a sad occasion does make me want to find the time to write.
Auxiliary Bishop Wolfgang Kirchgässner died on March 25 a few months shy of his 86th birthday. I really can’t add anything to the many wonderful obituaries that I have read, except that I miss him. He was one of the genuine good guys, someone I have been very fortunate to know and work with.
I didn’t meet the bishop until he entered the chancery office of Freiburg as auxiliary bishop back in 1979. However, my first boss, Dr. Franz Hundsnurscher told us how Bishop Kirchgässner had twice before been called into the chancery office, from 1960 to 1963 as the secretary and research assistant for Archbishop Schäufele and from 1974 to 1977 to organize the future planning of pastoral work and the structure of the chancery office. Both times he managed to flee and return to being a parish priest, the profession he truly loved and was dedicated to. In 1979 however, when they made him a bishop, he couldn’t flee any more.
This was a great loss for his parish in Breisach but a huge gain for those of us working in the chancery office. Bishop Kirchgässner was such a kind, considerate man, highly intelligent, well-informed, and very modest in his demeanor and appearance.
I will always remember one act of kindness to my then boss on the occasion of Dr. Franz Hundsnurscher’s 60th birthday. Dr. Hundsnurscher was never one to suffer fools gladly and tended to make his views known, especially concerning conditions and situations he thought were not right in the chancery office. As a result he had a fair number of opponents and too few friends at the workplace. He often felt unappreciated and predicted that no one among the higher-ups would take the slightest notice of his upcoming birthday. I thought the problem was more ignorance and therefore went through the building knocking on doors and asking people to please stop by and wish my boss a happy birthday the next week. Some people did then call, but Bishop Kirchgässner took the time to stop by in the archives, bring my boss a bottle of wine, and chat about things of mutual interest.
I have never forgotten this favor.
Bishop Kirchgässner was a tall man for his age group (born in 1928, not a healthy time to be a child in Germany), about 6′ 3″ (ca. 190 cm), but he wore his height like he wore his faith, matter-of-factly, an intrinsic part of who he was that needed no further explanation. After he retired at age 70, he and his housekeeper moved to a guest house at the Convent of the St. Lioba Sisters in Freiburg-Günterstal. Bishop Kirchgässner was quite busy in the next few years, and it was always wonderful to help him find books or periodicals. He continued to bless altars, administer all the sacraments, provide spiritual guidance, again doing the work he loved best. After his housekeeper died, his health also took a turn for the worse and he moved to an assisted living section of the St. Carolus-Haus nursing home where he then died.
I send out Christmas form letters and form letters from the U.S., and Bishop Kirchgässner never failed to write a personal letter in reply, thanking me for thinking of him. That’s just the way he was, kind and considerate. The world is a far poorer place without him.
One of the few things the good bishop and I have in common is that we are both not terribly photogenic. At least none of the pictures I have seen of him so far begin to do him justice.
However, I think this is the best of the ones I’ve seen so far:
Rest in peace, Bishop Kirchgässner. I’m grateful to have known you.