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Her Life

Four resources to learn more: 

1. Ida Friederike Görres: A Forgotten Catholic Rediscovered

2. "Only the Lover Discerns," Dr. Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz

3. Remarks by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

4. Encyclopedia entry from 1948

Ida Friederike Görres:
A Forgotten Catholic Rediscovered

by Jennifer S. Bryson

At One Peter Five. October 24, 2023.

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“Only the Lover Discerns”:
A Brief Introduction to Ida Friederike Görres

by Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz
translated by Jennifer S. Bryson

reprinted with permission from LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture vol. 23, no. 4 (Fall 2020): 117 to 122.

About Ida Görres: Part One [1]

The author was born December 2, 1901, and given the mellifluous name Friederika Maria Anna von Coudenhove, as the sixth child of the Austrian diplomat Dr. Heinrich Graf von Coudenhove-Kalergi and the Japanese mother, Mitsuko Maria Thekla Aoyama at the Ronsperg estate in the Bohemian forest. In appearance, she clearly reflected her twofold European-Japanese ancestry. She also experienced her spiritual ancestry, from two so very different cultures, with intensity and not infrequently painfully: “Whether this great sadness, the merciless view of the world, is my inheritance from Asia? It may well be that I am part of something very old, wise in an ancient way, yet an unredeemed ancientness and wisdom.”

Her father, whom she barely remembered, died already at the age of fifty. Regarding her mother, she wrote:

Oh, her deeply tragic destiny could only be written by a great next-generation novelist, like Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Do you think she was even asked if she wanted to marry a European when all she knew of Europeans was that they were “white devils with red hair and fisheyes”? Her later bitter comment was that “It was worse than death. But Japanese girls obey.” A command from the father, not to be disobeyed. . . .Of her seven children, my mother only liked the two oldest, who were born while she was still in Japan, and she left us no doubt about this. . . . When I hear people here complain about “lack of warmth at home,” I almost have to laugh. We did not even know that there is such a thing to miss.

Having grown up in Austrian convent schools, the young girl first encountered the Church in its sheltering, though also its rigid form. It was not until the Catholic youth movement after 1918, in the Austrian Confederation of Neuland, that this image of the Church deepened to unanticipated vitality. She played a leading role in this religious renewal.

From 1923–1924, this young woman (she had chosen the name Ida as a childlike form of Friederike) was a novice with the Maria Ward nuns in Sankt Pölten for a brief period. Studying political science from 1925 to 1927 in Vienna, then the social sciences (1927– 1929) in Freiburg at the Women’s School for Social Work, then his- tory, church history, theology, philosophy from 1929 to 1931 at the university there brought her into contact with the concrete challenges of the era. She served from May 1932 until Easter 1935 as a “Diocesan Secretary for Young Women’s Ministry” in the diocese of Dresden-Meissen, more precisely as a spiritual thought-leader for Catholic youth. In Dresden, in particular, her lively, even fiery way of developing her thinking was already pronounced; her leadership was inspiring.

At this time of palpable external success, however, she was also burdened by a personal loneliness that she experienced deeply, grounded in “a childhood of bearing the weight of a stone,” a peculiarly loveless and parentless education. This loneliness was resolved by surprise, and yet not without a reluctant struggle, by attracting a slightly younger man.

When Ida Coudenhove met Carl-Joseph Görres (1905–1973), from Berlin, in Dresden, some people were almost disappointed with their engagement in the fall of 1934 and their marriage at Easter 1935 in Leipzig, because their ideal of a “Virgin of Orleans” seemed destroyed. Through his work as an engineer and business consultant, her husband, who complemented her in his spirituality on par with hers, selflessly made it possible for her to have the opportunity to work as a writer and theologian. In quick succession, her lengthier works emerged alongside many lectures and shorter writings on current issues, revolving around the Church and the saints. “Since I have no family,”—sorrowfully, she did not have children of her own, “all my strength . . . has been focused on the Church.”

In these years, the creative output of Ida Görres was astonishing. In 1943, in the middle of the war, she published a significant book about Therese of Lisieux,[2] and in 1946 a consequential, critical Letter about the Church. In 1949 three books followed simultaneously, which had ripened in the preceding years: The volume of poetry The Hidden Treasure; then Nocturnes: Diary and Notes; and On Marriage and on Being Single. [3] This “brood” continued in 1950 with The Incarnate Church. This astonishing, indeed exuberant, output was curbed in October 1950 by fierce episodes of illness, which of course, did not entirely interrupt this creative force and which she experienced as a purification.

The suffering did not leave her but was alleviated to the extent that she continued to write tirelessly. She lived through the Second Vatican Council at first with joyful attention but later more anxiously and continuously occupied with the consequences, which in her eyes were ambiguous. She made an effort to be open to new articulations and expressions, but she instinctively saw that which is indispensable in limbo. A telling title of hers reads: Demolition Squad in the Church. In 1969 she received an invitation to take part in the Würzburg Synod, at which the council was to be implemented in a timely manner. On May 15, 1971, Ida Görres presented her perspective on Worship Service and Sacrament[4] and collapsed immediately afterward. Although she had recently felt rejuvenated and refreshed, her brain hemorrhage was fatal. She died the same day in the Frankfurt Marian Hospital.

About Ida Görres: Part Two [5]

The current generation has almost forgotten the once famous author of the [early twentieth-century] German renouveau catholique, i.e. Catholic Renewal. Thirty years after her death [in 1971] and 100 years after her birthday, historian and theologian Ida Friederike Görres . . . has effectively been overtaken by silence—not only from the “classic” fading in the memory of the next generation, but also due to the cultural break after 1968, which was painful for her to observe.[6] Nothing seemed so distant then as her issues: the Church, the saints, marriage and virginity, woman in a highly charged complementarity with man. Concern with transmitting the truth of Christ consumed her towards the end of her life; she died in the very heated atmosphere of the Würzburg Synod in 1971, where she collapsed after passionately making a statement in a presentation about “Sacrament.” Her friends, of course, and those who met her, who were even accompanied, indeed led, by her, remember her—if they are still alive—with a veneration that indicates reverberation from a deep impression.[7]


Nevertheless, some harbingers of new recognition are surfacing today: Theological doctoral theses have been written in Innsbruck and Vienna,[8] in memory-rich Mooshausen,[9] they observed her centenary,[10] after several small depictions of her life,[11] a new edition of her poems appeared,[12] and a collection of letters is forthcoming.[13] Efforts to preserve the material with traces [of her] have begun.The existing publications, by no means exhaustive, testify to passionate yet restrained thinking, a supple and sparkling intellect, a youthful, romantic, and then more vocal faith tested by suffering.[14]

The newly accessible significance of Ida Friederike Görres is—apart from her sometimes enchanting language and analytical sharpness—undoubtedly in her hagiographic achievement, which encompasses an image of the Church that is equally established as well as open to development. Starting in the 1930s she became a public figure through striking biographies of saints, above all about women: Elisabeth of Hungary, Mary Ward, Redegund, Hedwig of Silesia; among male [saints] she dealt with Francis, and figures such as Heinrich Suso and Teilhard de Chardin. Her books were standard in the collections of Catholic libraries. With her master- piece about Therese of Lisieux,Görres opened the door to a new way of looking at not only the “great little one,” but also a complex approach to the phenomenon of holiness. While she presumably did not underestimate the word “modern,” it could be said that she initi- ated “modern hagiography”—a grasp of the inner, “human” face of the saints. Or as she wrote in her diary, “[...] the story of a person who turns from an ‘arch-Catholic’ into a Christian; a path within the Church from the exterior of ‘denomination’ to the interior of divine reality.”[15]

It was her request to be buried in her white kimono and with a “white requiem” at the Bergäcker cemetery in Freiburg. White is the Japanese color of mourning; this may have expressed “reconciliation” late in life with her mother. Joseph Ratzinger, who was then a professor at Tübingen, gave the memorial address at the Freiburg Cathedral on May 19, 1971. On her tombstone, next to the warrior Archangel Michael, so dear to her, are the words Cave adsum! —“Take heed. I’m here!”

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"St. Michael the Archangel"

by Timber and Sky.

Used with permission.

Remarks about Ida Friederike Görres

by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999)
excerpt translated by Jennifer S. Bryson

Excerpt from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Weltweite Kirche: Begegnungen und Erfahrungen in sechs Kontinenten 1909-1999. Stein am Rhein: Christiana Verlag, 2000, 202-203.    

Speaking of Jesuits and the Rahner brothers: I repeatedly visited a home run by the Vincentian nuns in Freiburg, Baden, where the Rahners often came to see their mother who lived there. But for me, there was a great source of inspiration there, one of the few women who can not only be called clever but brilliant: Ida Friederike Görres, née Countess Coudenhove-Kalergi, a sister of the founder of the Pan-European Union and who was thus also the intellectual precursor of a united Europe. (549) She was also the sister of one of my schoolmates the Theresianum [Academy]. On her father's side, her ancestry ranged from Flemish to Greek, as her maiden name indicates, but her mother was Japanese. (550)

​​She married a cousin of the psychologist Albert Görres and the unforgettable Joseph v. Gorres was a collateral ancestor of theirs. It was a very great anguish for her that she had no children and she envied me my three offspring. (We would like to have had more!) She wrote books on female saints, beginning with Mary Ward, since she had been brought up by the English sisters, then on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; later she wrote a whole series of books on the Church and faith, in which she offered very astute judgments and made witty remarks. Her thick volume Broken Lights is a real treasure trove.

She was a loyal daughter of the Church but an independent thinker and observer, and was therefore originally seen as “avant-garde.” Friedrich Heer, who visited her, congratulated her as the protagonist of an “internal Church resistance,” which made him suspicious of her.

Then, when the great confusion broke out after Vatican II, she tried valiantly to break this evil storm surge and disappointed some of her small-minded readers, but inspired others in return. She did not pitch her tents halfway between the obstinate and uptight Catholic “bourgeoisie” and the characterless assimilationism, but viewed things independently and confidently from a bird's eye view...

Ida Friederike Görres was appalled by the liturgical disintegration, and also by efforts to ordain women as “priestesses,” because she was very knowledgeable about gender psychology. (Too bad we never talked about the issue of women's orders, since she was very familiar with them.) She found the project to consecrate “priestesses” downright grotesque and full of unintentional comedy. She died far too early for all of us. 

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549. In his memoirs, Richard Coudenhove only mentions his brilliant sister in a footnote. He called his wife [Ida Roland] Idel to distinguish her from Ida. That's all!

550. Ida Görres' father, a very wealthy landowner in Bohemia, suffered a riding accident in Japan while he was a diplomat and married his nurse, Mitsuko Aoyama. (There are Japanese ancestors in some German and Austrian noble families.) Count Heinrich wrote several works, including against anti-Semitism.

 Ida Friedrike [sic] Coudenhove
(Mrs. Carl Görres) 1901-

Source: M.S. “Ida Friedrike [sic] Coudenhove (Mrs. Carl Görres) 1901-” in Catholic Authors, Contemporary Biographical 
, 1930-1947, Hoehn, Matthew, OSB, ed. Newark: St. Mary’s Abbey, 1948. 166-168.

In the last decade, translations have appeared from the distinguished German of Ida Coudenhove and have won acclaim. She began writing when very young. She intended to enter the convent but was convinced by Father Peter Stone, S.J. that she could do better work for the Church by her writings. Her book The Cloister and the World emphasizes a single perfection for all Christians. It points out that Joan of Arc gained her sanctity by the very secular job of routing the English and restoring order in France. Ida Coudenhove believes that the vocation to holiness in the world is not only real, but common rather than exceptional. If the laity are to be enticed into trying to be saints, the humanness of the saints must be stressed. Modern hagiography is beginning to do this and a notable example is the discussion of Elizabeth of Hungary’s humaneness in The Nature of Sanctity. “We are not human enough to be saints,” declares the author.

Ida Coudenhove was educated first in the College of the Sacred Heart in Pressbaum near Vienna, then in the Lyceum of the Loretto nuns in St. Polten, Austria. When 20 years old, she entered the novitiate there but the Lord had other plans about her vocation so she left the convent in 1925. In her book Mary Ward, an Historical Romance, about the saintly though not canonized foundress of that congregation, she says: “I have tried to acknowledge something of the deep and, I trust, undying gratitude to the spirit of the House.” She intended Mary Ward “to revive the memory of one of the most extraordinary women of the seventeenth century, indeed perhaps of the whole history of religious orders, and to re-tell, in a reliable, if romantic tale, the wonderful and enthralling adventure of her strangely tragic life.”

About 1925 she joined the then authentic German Youth Movement in its Catholic League, called Neuland in Austria. In Germany, she worked for many years as one of the leaders of the girls. She believes this Catholic movement is “the origin of the religious revival in Germany and Austria.”

From 1925 to 1932 she trained for social work in the Caritas College for Social Work in Freiburg, Breisgau and studied sociology and history at the Universities of Vienna and Freiburg. She broke off her studies to take the post of Secretary for Catholic girls work in the Diaspora — Diocese of Meissen. After three years she married Carl Josef Görres. They have no children.

She was born on December 2, 1901 in Ronsperg in Bohemia. Count Heinrich J. M. von Coudenhove-Kalergi was the author’s father. While engaged in diplomatic work for his government, he married a Japanese, Mitsu Aoyama. When the Countess was baptized she took the name Maria Thecla. Count Richard Nicolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi is Ida Coudenhove’s brother. He is president of the Pan-European Union and author of Europe Must Unite (1940); Pan Europe prefaced by Nicholas Murray Butler (1926); The Totalitarian State Against Man; Crusade For the Future (1943), and other works.

Ida Coudenhove is the author of The Nature of Sanctity (1933); Burden of Belief (1934); The Cloister and the World (1935); Mary Ward (1939). Other books are Zwei deutsche Heilige, a contribution to the very lively debate in the first years of the Nazi regime about “nordic spirit and Christianity.” It is a sketch of the Blessed Henry Suso, O.P., the great German mystic of the 14th century and St. Radegund, German princess, prisoner of war of the Merovingian King Chlothar. In 1940 she wrote Des Andern Last, ein Gespräch über die Barmherzigkeit a vindication of Christ’s charity, alms, works of mercy, etc., against the claim of the totalitarian state of having rendered all that kind of thing obsolete and superfluous. In 1942 she wrote a rather bulky book Das Verborgene Antlitz about St. Therese of Lisieux. It is considered to be her best work. The first edition was totally destroyed by an air raid on Freiburg in the autumn of 1942. It has been republished since 1945.

During the last three or four years of the war her books were not allowed to be sold in Germany. They could be exported. T. S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral” was translated by her into German verse and awaits publication.


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