Vital Signs

Frederick Wilhelmsen, R.I.P.

Frederick Wilhelmsen (1923-1996) is still revered in Catholic circles of the Hispanic world, where he is praised as a friend and a scholar and a kind of honorary Spaniard, and to crown it all, an incarnation of Don Quixote. The latter title has been awarded to him in a noble sense: fighting impossible battles, following his own road, assuming that people are better than they appear. One of the times we met (1958) was in his temporary home while teaching in Spain. No question that it was his natural environment: Avila, a walled city of marvelous beauty which was in harmony with Fritz Wilhelmsen's own inner world. I understood why Avila was his chosen habitat: traces of St. Teresa, but also the good wine, the strong sun, the central stage of Castille, the heart of Spain.

It was not our first encounter. Three years before, we had met at the University of Santa Clara, in California. I was teaching at Sacred Heart in San Francisco. These were times just before the ingathering of conservatives around National Review, Modern Age, Triumph; controversy and reaction to liberalism were in the air; it was natural that Fritz and I should meet, and it may have been the idea of Mother Casey, who was my unforgettable dean at Lone Mountain. She knew that we were two nonconformist souls, somewhat lost on our respective campuses. Indeed, after half an hour we knew we thought alike on most essential issues. Soon after,...

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