A localized way to celebrate St. Teresa Benedicta/Edith Stein’s feast on this Province Blog during the 80th anniversary year of her passing into eternal life would be to express thanks for the person who translated the story of Edith’s early years for us into English, Life in a Jewish Family. Sister Josephine Koeppel of the Elysburg Carmel–beyond the translating skills she applied in the text of that prize-winning autobiography–did a great favor for the English-language world by assembling it for ICS Publications.
The richness of its scholarly study apparatus came from the painstaking work ethic she applied to her task. (She added in hundreds of contextual notes and a precious index that supply a raft of information, in all, 78 pages both taken together; not to mention her own supplementary “Chronology” of St. Teresa Benedicta’s life between 1916 and 1942 as well as a “Translator’s “Afterword” some 31 pages long.) As a solid basis to her work of supplying so much background material she needed to spend time traveling, too. From the day she got the approval of her Ordinary, Bishop William H. Keeler of Harrisburg PA, and afterward the encouraging blessing of Fr. General, Father Finian Monahan OCD, she used her language skills to meet with persons from Edith Stein’s world who had lived with the saint. Sessions of informed questions formulated by the Swiss-born Carmelite nun enriched her knowledge considerably. When she occasionally gave a talk, you knew she knew things in great depth. Her ability to coax the memory banks of important eyewitnesses served her well especially while bringing out the early translations of Life in a Jewish Family, and Self-Portrait in Letters (the correspondence then available of Edith Stein, and today much more extensive).
She made herself available to other persons active at spreading knowledge of our great contemporary Carmelite sister saint. For instance, Sister Josephine once came to ICS headquarters for a working session with the Dutch Carmelite Friar Father Michael Linssen. He was representing a newly established Edith Stein International Institute for the German Carmelite Province in Würzburg (now no longer in operation when a heart attack caused Fr. Michael’s untimely death). This picture shows her meeting with the group that included Stein experts from the United States in our monastery refectory in Washington, DC.
Afterwards she attended the beatification ceremony in Cologne. Around this time, still in Germany but in the city of Speyer on the Rhine River, she was present at the founding session of the Edith Stein Society for Germany. She became a charter member of that group which still promotes interest in Stein through meetings and tours to historical sites. The picture shows her with Benedictine Sister Placida Laubhardt, OSB who corresponded with Edith Stein. She posed with her for this photographer who also was present at the founding session. Sister Placida lived in a monastery on the outskirts of Freiburg where Edith had defended her doctoral thesis in 1916. Fräulein Doktor Stein visited it often in the nineteen-twenties after her conversion to the Church.
Sister Josephine’s friendly ways also endeared her to the Stein family, especially to Edith Stein’s sister, Erna, who lived in New York City after fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany before the outbreak of World War II. Her daughter, Susanne M. Batzdorff, received, ex-aequo with Sister Josephine, the Edith Stein Guild’s Edith Stein award on October 11, 1988 for their work about her beloved aunt and her Jewish family. By a curious coincidence, Sister Josephine was born in the same year as Susanne Batzdorff. Traces of what she learned from the Stein family are found in the rich spiritual biography that sister Josephine published with the Scranton University Press. (Her papers and other archival materials were donated to the University so interested persons can consult them there.)
Worthy of mention, too, are words of recognition recently included in a published set of papers given mostly by philosophers at a biannual Conference organized by IASPES (International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein). The theme of the Conference that took place in 2017 at Portland University (OR) was “Ethics and Metaphysics in the Philosophy of Edith Stein: Applications and Implications” (Springer, 2022).
Dr. Michael Andrews, co-editor with Prof. Antonio Calcagno, paid tribute to Sister Josephine’s contributions on the dedication leaf of the 253-page volume. They wrote these warm remarks: “There are two scholars—dear friends and inspiring mentors, really—without whom this work, and the entire corpus of Stein scholarship, would be tremendously diminished, if even possible at all. It is with the deepest gratitude and immense joy for their collegial spirit, sharing of resources, professional support, and especially their friendship that this book is dedicated in memoriam: Sr. Josephine Koeppel, OCD and Rev. Michael Linssen, OCD.”
Photography and text by:
John Sullivan, o.c.d.