1891 - 1981
1891 - 1981
Monsignor Martin Hellriegel of Saint Louis, who from the beginnings of the liturgical apostolate in the United States in the mid-twenties and for approximately the following four decades was its best-know exponent of pastoral liturgy, died at the age of ninety on April 10.
The outline of his life is quickly told. Born in Germany, he migrated to America with his family as a child. Ordained priest in 1914, he served for several years as assistant pastor at Saint Peter’s Church, Saint Charles, Missouri. For the next twenty-two years, he was chaplain to the Precious Blood Sisters in their motherhouse at O’Fallon, Missouri. His regular, carefully prepared sermons and instructions soon won them over to enthusiastic collaboration with his introduction of liturgical ideas of worship and celebration, so that O’Fallon before long became a sort of mecca for visitors from throughout the United States who had become curious about how this new movement could be put into practice. Skeptics, even if impressed by what they saw at O’Fallon, wondered however whether it would be equally successful if introduced into the average parish.
Such doubts received their answer when Hellriegel became pastor of Holy Cross Church on the outskirts of Saint Louis in 1940. Here he labored for forty years, even after his official “retirement” when, though almost totally blind, he continued to celebrate daily Mass with homily, and spent time daily in the confessional. To accommodate the visitors and inquirers who began to stream to Holy Cross, he had a third floor added to the rectory. And always he was the perfect host: cheerful, helpful, and respectful of others’ views. His people at worship were his weightiest “propaganda” argument.
When Virgil Michel founded Orate Fratres (now Worship) in 1926, Hellriegel was one of the original associate editors. In the course of the years, he contributed some 63 articles. Their distinctive style, plus that of the several books he authored, inevitably led to his being called the American counterpart of Pius Parsch, the famous pastoral liturgical popularizer of Austria.
It almost goes without saying that he was one of the founders of the national Liturgical Conference in 1940. And this writer has fond memories of meetings of the Board of Directors in Holy Cross rectory, planning the agenda of the next Liturgical Week. For years, too, his commentary on the Mass, while one of his priest-disciples performed the ceremonial at a mock-altar, was a highlight of the Weeks. The memorable 1964 Liturgical Week, the first after the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy by Vatican Council II, was therefore fittingly held at Saint Louis. For it was also, at the same time, a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Hellriegel’s ordination to the priesthood, and a vindication of the apostolate which he had carried out so single-heartedly, often at the cost of both private and public misunderstanding.
In our own day, the liturgical renewal faces different problems, and a new generation of leaders has appeared on the scene, many of them with the academic credentials that Hellriegel lacked. But all of us will continue to profit from the example of his zeal, and of his sure pastoral insights. R.I.P.
Tribute prepared by Godfrey L. Diekmann, OSB, published in Worship, Vol. 55, No. 3, May 1981. Reprinted with permission.