Remembering Sr. Hedwig Wahle (1931–2001)

Obituary by Sr. Mary Kelly nds. at the requiem of Sr. Hedwig on 30. August 2001

We have come together to give thanks for the life of Sr. Hedwig and to pay tribute to her. As small children Hedwig and her brother had to leave home and parents to find safety through the kindertransport in England as, although the immediate family was Catholic, their grandparents were Jewish. The Nazi laws marked them out for extermination and Hedwig soon found herself in the care of the Sisters of Sion here in Bayswater – so her early roots are in this neighbourhood. After university in Vienna she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Sion, in Paris.

Always a fervent Catholic Hedwig was proud of her Jewish heritage and knew it well. According to this tradition, as codified in the Talmud, among the questions that will be asked at the judgement seat of God are: Have you studied the Bible? And Have you hoped for the redemption? – she would have passed with flying colours! She not only studied, prayed and lived the Bible but did all she could to help others love it. As for looking for redemption; although she strove to live as long and as fully as possible, she was in no doubt in her last stressing illness that a wonderful future was just ahead of her. Someone who worked with her in Churches Together told me that Hedwig would never let them remain despondent in the face of the apathy of some but always looked for new life.

Another favourite Jewish text records a saying of an early Rabbi Susya: “In the world to come, the Holy One, blessed be He, won`t ask ’Why were you not Moses?’ But ’Why were you not Susya’“; that is why didn’t you become the person God meant you to be? This too illustrates something about Hedwig. Like the rest of us she was conditioned by early experiences. In exile in an alien culture, which has been a constant of Jewish history, she determined to settle down, to achieve the goals she set herself, taking all the means necessary – working hard, studying, etc., and letting nothing deter her. This did mean she made choices and, living in community with people of different tastes and their own goals, did not always prove a smooth ride for her and for others around her. In spite of difficulties she never faltered in this endeavour or tried to escape from its consequences but persisted in the religious community life until the end, whether in Austria, France, Belgium, Rome and England. I’m sure she has been recognised and welcomed as Anna Wahle, Sr.Hedwig of Sion.

It would be easy but too lengthy to list all her achievements but just a final thought. Hedwig was very gifted and acquired many skills. She was always eager to share these and we all benefited. After her retirement from professional work she asked to live in the English Sion, close to her brother and she found many new ministries for her tireless energy. She was happy and grateful to those who welcomed her in community and in this parish – and latterly for the devoted hospice care she received from staff and volunteers, which enabled her to die as she wished, “free from pain, comfortable and at peace”;. We too are very grateful for their living and effective ministering.

Probably the most important commandment in the Bible is the one in the Book of Deuteronomy: Choose Life. Hedwig chose it and obeyed this commandment to the full. May we who share faith and love with her follow this path.

Sr. Mary Kelly

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