Gertraud Wallbrecher (* May 18, 1923, † July 29, 2016) was a representative of the 20th century’s Catholic avantgarde. In post-war Germany, facing the horrors of the Shoah, she searched for a renewal of the Church starting at its very origins.

She had support from many sides: Church representatives such as the later cardinals Johannes Joachim Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger, agnostics like Gerhard Szczesny and artists like Alexander von Branca.

From the very beginning, her husband, business lawyer Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher († 1997), helped the newly formed “integrated community” to live “entirely in the world and entirely in God at the same time”. He set the conditions needed to serve the Church as a financially independent entity. The new approach was partly met with lack of understanding and resistance. Inspired by the communities of the New Testament, Traudl Wallbrecher envisioned that the modern Christian mission was to create the conditions for the secular people of the modern age to find interest in the Christian faith and live from its impetus. She inspired the love of God in many. With the help of those who shared her concern, places were formed where the notion of a “new heaven and a new earth” was not merely a utopia.

To many Jewish friends she instilled the hope that a profound reconciliation between Church and Judaism was possible. Those who had the privilege to get to know this tremendous determination and innovative spirit may have an inkling of the dimensions of what is possible but still needs to be done. This is an enormous encouragement.


Katholische Integrierte Gemeinde


Setting the course: Assembling instead of dissipating – by Ludwig Weimer

Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher (on the right) with Cardinal Johannes Joachim Degenhardt


What is a layperson? According to common parlance and understanding it is someone who depends on experts. If he wants to invest his wealth, he looks for an investment adviser; if he wants to build a house, he engages an architect. The predominant majority of Church members are lay people. Can the above also apply to them as lay people in the Church?

As an expert in theology, the then 36-year-old Professor Joseph Ratzinger took part in the Second Vatican Council and gave an account of what was negotiated there on the subject of “laity”: “What was noticeable was that in spite of every effort no one was able to give a positive definition of the laity. One has grown used to seeing the layman in antithesis to the priest and religious, as the person who is neither of the two.” Within the demand for office and ordination this understanding has remained prevalent until today.

Karl Barth, one of the most renowned protestant theologians, was invited to the Council to Rome as a guest, but was only able to come, as he called it, ad limina apostolorum to the doorstep of the apostles, to Peter and Paul, in 1967. He brought critical questions along with him, among others about the decree on the mission of the laity: “Why is the lay apostolate not based on the Church’s definition as polulos (laos) Dei [people of God], but instead on the reference to its contemporary necessity?”

Herbert Wallbrecher (*1922 †1997), like both his older brothers and Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, whom he was closely connected with in the catholic youth movement, considered joining the Jesuits. When his brothers did not return from the war and his parents’ insurance and tax office fell to him. After the end of the Nazi dictatorship and the catastrophe of the Shoah, it was impossible for him to go back to the way life used to be before 1933 as if nothing had happened, which many tried to do. But how to be a Christian now? In this time of questions, that worried him as well as many of his contemporaries, he, now a lawyer and working as an entrepreneur, met Gertraud Weiß from Munich, a psychology student and national head of the Heliand, who had the same question. They met, in Munich they attended a production of Paul Claudel’s “The Satin Slipper” at the newly reopened Kammerspiele; in the afterword, which Hans Urs von Balthasar added to his translation of the play, they found a clearer phrasing of what their question was: “How is it possible to live completely in the world and completely in God?”

Twenty years later the Integrated Community presented itself to the public as the fruit of this initial constellation; another ten years later she was recognized as an “Apostolic Community in the spirit of the decree Apostolicam actuositatem No. 18 and 19 of the Second Vatican Council” by the archbishops of Paderborn and Munich and Freising, the cardinals Johannes Joachim Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger. In the decree it says, i. a.: “Maintaining the proper relationship to Church authorities, the laity have the right to found and control such associations and to join those already existing. The group apostolate of Christian believers happily corresponds to a human and Christian need. Among these associations, those which promote and encourage closer unity between the concrete life of the members and their faith must be given primary consideration.“

Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher with his wife Gertraud – are they perhaps representatives of the modern laity of the Church, whom the fathers of Vatican II hoped for? ars

Archbischop Dr. Josef Stimpfle (1916–1996), Foto 1989 St. Ulrich Walchensee


For the homily he usually had a seat placed in front of the altar for him, as also during the festive mass he celebrated on Easter Monday 1995 in St. Ulrich in Walchensee with the parish and the Catholic Integrated Community. Unforgettable his words:

“On the Third Day the Lord rose from the dead. We now celebrate this Easter immediately before the dawn of the Third Day. The first millennium was the millennium of the proclamation of the Crucified and Risen One. Then came the second millennium; that is where the dispersion and division began. Now we are standing at the end of this second millennium. It is a kairos, a breathtaking hour, where, in spite of all the darkness and all the suffering of humanity and also a lot of strife within the Church herself, the Third Day is coming. It is the day of victory of the risen Lord. It is the day that wants to transform humanity again and bring about a change, as it happened during the Easter night two thousand years ago.”

Once, two members of the CIC drove to Fulda. The bishop’s conference was in session there and we wanted to put forth a request to him. In the cloister we looked for a niche. The throng of bishops and auxiliary bishops passed by. Short silence. Then a step rang out like of a farmer who walks across the cobbled yard, heavy, deliberate, not hurried, certain. It was he. That is what he was like. A man expecting, turned towards the expected and actively awakening pleasure to arrive, not just in his diocese.

In 1963, having been ordained a bishop at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council through Paul VI., he already proved his understanding of the approaching renewed view of the Church, also of his office, with his motto “for the journeying People of God” (Plebi Dei peregrinanti). His care for the entire Church became known worldwide. He traveled to the third world, even to countries under communist rule. With the organization “Church in Need” he did not only bring financial help to the bishops, priests and faithful, but especially encouragement and strong signs of solidarity.

In 1968 he traveled to Israel with the chairman of the Jewish community of Augsburg, Julius Spokojny. On the occasion of the consecration of the small synagogue in Augsburg in 1963 he had assured him: “Within the Catholic scope I will advocate the acceptance of the model about the Catholic Church’s relationships with the Jewish people and about the freedom of conscience prepared at the Second Vatican Council.” He welcomed new initiatives and charisms.

For a long time nobody realized what a bishop the Catholic Integrated Community had in him. Already since 1953 the CIC, their members mostly part of the Munich diocese, had been residing in the diocese of Augsburg with their house in Urfeld; that was a privilege and granted protection and safeguard. When he first came there on a visit in 1987, he surprised with a modified quote from the First Book of Samuel during a toast: “We didn’t go out to look for donkeys, and yet found a kingdom!” He entrusted the CIC’s community of priests with two parishes. He showed what is possible for a bishop when he ordained a construction engineer, a member of the CIC, as a priest with regard to his involvement in Tanzania.

How did the people in his hometown Maihingen talk about their great son? “He is one of us — and yet completely different”, that is how his nephew passed it on. “He had a lot of faith and went beyond boundaries”, a Ugandan priest said, in whose diocese the bishop had a cathedral built. ars

Dr. Annemarie Berkenheier (1919–2010), Foto October 2008


Conspicuous indicators of her upper-class catholic background were pieces of furniture of such dimensions that they would not have fit in any normal apartment; a meter-sized baroque sculpture of the woman in the Apocalypse; particularly: a portrait of her father, a doctor also known as doctor of the poor in Munich – looking out through the heavy frame, bearded and serious –, that she took with her to her first office in Schiller Street near central station. There she continued the treatment of fractures she had learnt from her father: without operation. Many patients came to her for that reason, especially from rural areas. Some stayed the night, paid in kind. One patient left her a car that would not drive, which she did not realize because she never owned a drivers’ license.

A conscious and loyal companion from the first hour on. She took on young doctors in her office and continued it with them as a joint practice. There are no great deeds known of her, except that she had a sound sleep in the mornings. She spent her last years in Urfeld by the Walchensee together with her friend Helene von Ungern-Sternberg. Later on she told of a nightly conversation with her:


One evening, as I was sitting with Helene in her room before going to bed, we started talking about the future and also about death. And Helene said: You know, I do fear dying a little; I think to myself: If I am expected to and must answer for everything I’ve done, then I don’t know… I didn’t always do everything as I was supposed to. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say and think then.

And then I said: You know, I also think about death. But when I do, I always think of the eternal city that comes down from the heavens, adorned like a bride. When God builds the eternal city, then He’ll sit there at the end of days and look at an enormous pile of stones, all of the people that belong to it; and then, first off, He’ll sort the stones. He looks for the precious stones, the semiprecious stones, then also those with slight marks, traces of damage. He says to himself: That doesn’t matter, we can work them in. Then He looks at the others that may be more damaged and says to Himself: There are so many spots in my city where you can’t see everything, they’ll fit there as well and will be beautiful and shine. And then He selects the blocks of marble, the beautiful ones, the grained ones and the ones that have small flaws, then the bricks – He will sort everything. And when He's done He will have a big pile of stones. He’ll say to himself: Pity, they’re living  stones, but I’ll have to throw them away. Suddenly it occurs to Him: I still have to make the foundation; a city like the one I am building needs a strong, sturdy foundation. Good, He’ll say, that I still have these stones, they will all go into the foundation and then I’ll add a lot of mortar, that will bind them together so that none of them are alone. That will make for a strong foundation, on which I will build my city.

As I was telling of the stones and the sorting, Helene sat there with big, fearful eyes; when I came to the foundation her eyes sparkled and she said: Yes, you’re right: it’s enough for the foundation. And when, at some point, I’m sitting in the foundation, I’ll call out: Annemarie, are you there, too? And then you’ll say: Yes, I’m also here, sitting in the foundation, really close to you. And then we’ll chat for all eternity.


Before her last wish was fulfilled, she still wanted to travel to Wladiwostok on the Trans Siberian Train. A beatification process has not been initiated. ars