The Catholic Archdicese of Birmingham Archives

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HCG - Papers of Hilda Charlotte Graef

Dates: 1843-1969

Number of records in this collection: 137


Hiltgunde Charlotte Graef was born into a Protestant family in Berlin in 1907. Graef's early life was affected by both social and private upheavals. Her father (Harald) died in 1917, and, owing to a declining income, Graef and her mother (Mietje) were forced to move into a smaller flat. Germany's defeat in World War I and subsequent hyperinflation only added to the family's difficulties. Despite this, Graef was able to complete her degree in English and German Literature at Berlin University, and found a job as a teacher. In September 1933 Graef was forced to abandon her teaching career; her mother had Jewish parentage and she was dismissed under Nazi attempts to curtail 'Jewish influence' in the civil services. Graef took up a number of different jobs, predominantly housekeeping, to make ends meet. In 1935 she was engaged to be married to Professor Erich Frank but the engagement was cancelled with mutual consent. Graef briefly stayed with relatives in Holland in February 1936 before moving to England later that year. In England jobs were equally hard to come by, but Graef found employment as a German Mistress at a small private school near Maidenhead. She stayed at Silchester House for four terms and it was here that she penned her first English literary effort, 'A German Girl's Cure for Road Grumblers'. In 1937 she was offered a place at King's College London to study Women's Theology as part of the Lambeth Diploma course, also travelling to Oxford for Biblical Study at St Hilda's College. In January 1938 Graef moved to a Church of England foundation for social and charitable work in the slums, Talbot Settlement, Camberwell. Whilst at the settlement, in spite of her agnosticism, Graef was confirmed into the Church of England. It was during this time that her friends began to call her Hilda. Following the Munich Agreement of 1939, as the threat of war loomed over Europe, Graef's mother emigrated from Germany to England to join her and took up work as a housekeeper for Graef's tutor, Miss Hippisley. At the outbreak of war Graef was evacuated to Bexhill to complete her studies and she obtained a 1st Class degree. With the Diploma course over, Graef's time at the Talbot Settlement also came to an end. For a time she was only able to obtain short-term teaching positions and typist jobs and relied heavily on support from the British-German Foundation. It was during this period that Graef was increasingly attracted towards Roman Catholicism and was received into the Church in March 1941. Shortly afterwards she began work on the 'The Oxford Lexicon of Patristic Greek', on which she worked for the next twelve years. After moving to Oxford with her mother, Graef was briefly attracted to the religious life and entered a Carmelite convent, but soon left. In 1948 she became a citizen of the United Kingdom, and her writing career began in earnest. Graef wrote numerous books and articles on a variety of religious subjects, particularly in the area of mystical theology. Perhaps her most controversial work was her analysis of the German stigmatist Therese Neumann, which generated praise and rage in equal measure. As well as her own writing, she undertook the translation of several German theological works into English. During the 1950s and 1960s she gave a number of lectures in the United Kingdom and a lecture tour in the United States. Hilda Graef died in 1970. Graef's books are listed below: 'Way of the Mystics' (1948) 'The Case of Therese Neumann' (1950) 'God in Our Daily Life' (1951) 'St Gregory of Nyssa's Commentary on the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes', translated and annotated by Graef (1954) 'The Scholar and the Cross '[Biography of Edith Stein] (1955) 'From Fashions to the Fathers' [Autobiography] (1957) 'The Light and the Rainbow: A study of Christian Spirituality from its roots in the Old Testament and its development through the New Testament and the Fathers to recent times' (1958) 'Modern Gloom and Christian Hope' (1959) 'The Word of God in the World of Today' (1960) 'Mystics of Our Time' (1962) 'Mary; a history of doctrine and devotion', 2 vols (1963-1965) 'Adult Christianity' (1965) 'The Story of the Mystics' (1965) 'God and Myself: the spirituality of John Henry Newman' (1967)

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