Franz and Terese Mueller
Life in the Catholic Youth Movements of Germany in the 1920’s and early 1930’s stimulated intellectual, liturgical, social, and spiritual growth. In that world, Franz and Therese Mueller, with fresh doctorates in economics and sociology from the University of Cologne, gave birth to their first three children, daughters Mechthild, Hildegard, and Gertrud. These gifted parents laid a solid foundation for their family on the rocks of the domestic church, the parish church, the universal church, human society at large, the whole created world and the reign of God. But exuberance turned to struggle. In the mid-1930’s, they made a Nazi-enforced move from Germany to St. Louis, Missouri, where Franz became professor of sociology at St. Louis University.
Embracing Their New World
Helping give birth to a liturgical movement in the United States proved a prolonged task. Gone were the open and invigorating student social movements. Far away were the theological and liturgical giants: Guardini, Herwegen, Parsch, and Casel. But familiar values and resonances of a possible church rushed in from new giants (Huelsmann, Hellriegel, Reinhold, Ellard, Day, Maurin, Bethune, Vitry, Michel, and Diekmann) and new places (Holy Family parish and school, St. Louis, staffed by the liturgically aware sisters of the Most Precious Blood from nearby O’Fallon).
During the Muellers’ first St. Louis years, it was the local Catholic Worker people who “made us feel that we had something to give.” Later, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were houseguests of the Muellers whenever their paths crossed. One of the things Therese Mueller came “to give” was the baptismal garment. For even in these early years in the United States, through lectures, articles, and examples, she worked to bring the baptismal garment to the American church.
In mid-November 1938, William Huelsmann, pastor of Holy Family, invited Franz, Therese, and their daughters to meet Virgil Michel. Michel’s Orate Fratres and other liturgical, educational, philosophical, and social projects needed no introduction for Franz and Therese. Michel told Therese that the Orate Fratres staff in Collegeville considered her writings a real “find.” When Michel hurried off to board a train, the family quickly knelt down on the sidewalk for his blessing. A few days later, Michel died. With their newborn son Reinhold, the Muellers moved to Minnesota not long after.
Franz Mueller took a position in the department of economics at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He taught, wrote and published, served for two decades as a chairperson and gave generous leadership for almost 30 years. Mueller’s articles, monographs, pamphlets, and letters to the editors cover topics such as the future of the local church, the parish in an industrial society, a comparison of the social philosophies of individualism and socialism, the principle of subsidiarity, married saints, the theological use of sociology, liturgy and sociology, person and society according to Thomas Aquinas, beauty and sentimentality in Christian art and the social teachings of Vatican II.
The six Muellers increased to seven in St. Paul when son Francis was born. Each daughter attended the school for liturgy and spirituality run by the Ladies of the Grail, Loveland, Ohio, and each daughter lectures on liturgy and the home. Mechthild Ellis designs and crafts liturgical vestments. Hildegard Kerney is a member of her diocesan liturgical commission and works with Hospice. Gertrud Mueller Nelson lectures on education, art, and Jungian psychology. She has published liturgical clip-art volumes and the book, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. Reinhold teaches history at the University of Venice, Italy, and Francis practices family medicine and serves as a medical director for Hospice.
The Fullness of Catholic Life
When the children were young, despite a long-standing commitment not to become a two-income family, requests for Therese’s insights and words on liturgy and family came from all sides. Godfrey Diekmann asked her for many articles for Orate Fratres/Worship for more than two decades. Church bulletins sought her recipes related to religious customs, patters for baptismal garments, words and ideas. Both the College of St. Catherine and the College of St. Thomas employed her for part-time teaching. Parishioners of the Church of the Nativity, the Muellers’ home parish in the St. Paul years, know her as a Eucharistic minister, resource person on Christian home life, dedicated friend and faithful community builder. She served for several years on the archdiocesan speaker’s bureau, giving presentations on the liturgical seasons. Since the early 1970s, Therese has served as a staff member of the archdiocesan ministry for engaged couples. She is known as a kind and wise teacher of young people preparing for marriage.
In 1941, Therese delivered a paper, “The Christian Family and the Liturgy,” at the second National Liturgical Week. After the paper, a respondent said: “We are thankful to Mrs. Mueller for her estimation of the sacramental dignity and the mystical beauty of the Christian family.”
Therese has authored three books: Family Life in Christ, Our Children’s Year of Grace, and The Christian Home and Art. Forty-plus years ago, in The Christian Home and Art (Kansas City MO: designs for Christian Living, 1950), she did more than lament the secularization of Christmas, she met it head-on. In her books, talks, classes, and articles, Therese Mueller brought the Advent wreath to the American home.
She introduced families to the Exsultet of the great paschal Vigil: “One Exsultet 20 years ago in my home parish has never been excelled. To me it was the very ‘discovery’ of this great hymn; and this experience rings through each Exsultet I have heard since—and perhaps if God wills, through the one I want to pray at my life’s end.”
She acquainted people with customs appropriate to Sunday observances, including dress, decorum, and dinner. She opened families to the domestic meaning of the feasts and the seasons of the church year (the incarnational focus of exchanging gifts at Christmas, for example, the “most admirable exchange”). She offered ideas to celebrate more actively the sacramental life (the yearly anniversary letter from baptismal and confirmational godparents to their goddaughters and godsons, for example). She endorsed a healthy veneration of saints (including a “saint-of-the-month study club at home”).
Therese mirrors the empathic power of a woman, a wife, a mother. She witnesses the careful naïveté and encompassing creativity of a Christian for whom distance between faith and practice vanishes. She never loses the critical eye of a behavioral scientist: Recalling a rural vacation of her childhood on which she participated with delight in the custom of finding 40 species of wild herbs and flowers for a special blessing on the Feast of the Assumption, she asks, “Are we of the city too proud to admit our poverty?” Rural or urban, the domestic church remains the center of gravity for Therese.
The roster of leaders in the liturgical movement in the United States has too few laypersons and almost no married persons and parents. Franz and Therese Mueller, by word and example, brought all they could to the movement and in doing so gave it an essential dimension.
Tribute reprinted from How Firm a Foundation: Leaders of the Liturgical Movement Franz and Terese Mueller by James A. Wilde © 1990 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. 1-800-933-1800. www.ltp.org All rights reserved. Used with permission.