Rest in peace, Dr. Bechtold.

There are many wonderful tributes to Dr. Otto Bechtold.

for example (all in German):

from Father Wolfgang Sauer,

from the Archdiocese of Freiburg,

from the Konradsblatt (weekly diocesan magazine of the Archdiocese of Freiburg),

My thoughts, on the other hand, are certainly neither extensive enough nor adequate nor probably even worthy of the man. My memories are limited yet heartfelt. When I remember Dr. Bechtold, the first thing that comes to mind is that he was a consistently kind and good man, honest, helpful, and humble. These qualities are rare enough in the general population, but Dr. Bechtold was a “higher-up” in administration of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, where such qualities were indeed exceptional.

In his 45 years in the chancery office, Dr. Bechtold was in charge of two important departments in the chancery office, the finance department and the department of buildings and properties before becoming vicar general of the Archdiocese of Freiburg from 1988 through 2003. For those not completely up on Catholic jargon, the bishop or archbishop of a diocese is like the chairman of the board and the vicar general like the CEO, i.e. the one in charge of managing the whole organization.

I first worked in the archdiocesan archives in 1973 to 1974 and was a librarian in the archdiocesan library from 1976 to 2016. Dr. Bechtold was an enormously popular and extremely considerate library user.

It’s still hard to know where to start. I miss Dr. Bechtold. He left us far too soon (though he was almost 91 when he died in January). So I’ll begin with the obvious: Dr. Otto Bechtold was one of the good guys, one of the genuinely and thoroughly good inhabitants of this planet.

He made it his business to know everything that went on in the chancery office but never acted like a bombastic know-it-all. He always assumed that people knew what they were doing and that they would try to do their best at their jobs. However, I remember a few specific occasions when he stepped in after the personnel department made yet another deplorably wrong-headed decision (details about these and other memories will provide material for future blogs) and simply said, “No, we won’t do that.”

He was always available as the last level of appeals in the very top-heavy bureaucratic structure that was the chancery office. In the 1990’s when the person (feel free to supply your own epithets; I certainly have mine) in charge of all computer activity in the chancery office (a responsibility he took on with the justification that he had a computer at home) only allowed the library a daisy-wheel printer that barely had enough memory to print one and a half single-spaced pages, Dr. Bechtold, my last hope, somehow persuaded said individual to grant us a functional printer.

When Dr. Bechtold learned that my mother had been diagnosed with cancer, he came into the library and said that he would pray for her.

He attended every company trip and went on the strenuous “long” hikes, even only eight months after getting new heart valves.

He had hoped to retire in 2001, but when Archbishop Saier retired in 2002, Dr. Bechtold had to stay on until the new archbishop could name his own vicar general, which didn’t happen until late 2003.

His calm, tolerant, and benevolent presence in the chancery office was sorely missed. But I continued to hear from him. I worked on “Dialog”, the company magazine, and after every issue, Dr. Bechtold called to say how much he liked it. I sent people Christmas form letters and form letters from the U.S. throughout the years, and Dr. Bechtold never failed to call and thank me for the letters. He called to thank me for every birthday greeting, even after I had retired.

At the funeral Mass for Dr. Bechtold, Archbishop Stephan Burger read some messages Dr. Bechtold had placed in his will and requested to be read. Dr. Bechtold wanted everyone to know how grateful he was for all the kind help he had received throughout the years and wanted to apologize to anyone he might have neglected or disappointed. This was so typical for him; even after death he wanted to continue to comfort and help people.

Dr. Bechtold’s religious convictions weren’t any kind of in-your-face proselytizing. Rather, he lived for and through his beliefs. As long as it was physically possible for him, he said Mass every day, either in the cathedral or in nursing homes. He always saw himself as a simple priest trying to do the best he could for God and the people entrusted to him. Occasionally you could see him physically wince when someone wished him a “good weekend”. He preferred wishes for a “blessed Sunday”, since Sunday was the highpoint of the week for him.

With all the babble about training people to help them develop leadership qualities, more and more I’m convinced that the really good leaders are born and not educated. In my humble opinion Dr. Bechtold was the best possible manager, if not the perfect manager. Despite all his responsibilities for a huge organization (In Germany both the Catholic churches and the Protestant churches have large amounts of money at their disposal due to the government-collected church tax. Large amounts of money result in large bureaucratic structures), Dr. Bechtold was unfailingly kind and considerate in his dealings with everyone. Without exception he gave every employee the feeling that he was valued and respected, probably because Dr. Bechtold did value and respect every individual he ever met.

I am very skeptical about the value of canonization, naming saints, especially considering the no-longer-credible demand for verified, medical miracles. However, when you have the vastly good fortune of encountering someone like Dr. Otto Bechtold, you do begin to see a certain value in naming role models, giving credit where credit is due. If anyone I ever met deserved to be considered a modern saint, it was Dr. Bechtold.

Rest in peace, Dr. Bechtold. You made your part of the world a better and kinder place.


About maryjorabe

retired librarian, science fiction fan and writer
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