John M. Oesterreicher

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John M. Oesterreicher
Johannes Oesterreicher

2 February 1904
Died18 April 1993
CitizenshipAustrian, American
OccupationTheologian at Seton Hall University
Known forJewish-Catholic relations
Notable workNostra aetate

Monsignor John Maria Oesterreicher (2 February 1904 – 18 April 1993), born Johannes Oesterreicher, was a Catholic theologian and a leading advocate of Jewish–Catholic reconciliation.[1] He was one of the architects of Nostra aetate or "In Our Age," a declaration which was issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 and which repudiated antisemitism.[2]


Oesterreicher was born to a Jewish family in Město Libavá (Stadt Liebau) in Moravia (then part of Austria[3] and now the Czech Republic). He was a convert to Catholicism and became a priest in 1927.[3] He served as a chaplain in Gloggnitz, and there he founded the local Scout group and served at its chaplain.[2][4]

He was an anti-Nazi activist in the 1930s. In 1934 he founded the newspaper Die Erfüllung (The Fruition) to improve relations between Jews and Christians and to fight against antisemitism.[2][5][6] Together with Georg Bichlmair SJ, he founded the Pauluswerk in Vienna.[3][6] The Pauluswerk was a community for converts from Judaism to Roman Catholicism and prayed for Christianization of Jews.[2][6] Oesterreicher edited a document authored by Waldemar Gurian (a Russian-Jewish convert to Catholicism) and Karl Thieme (a German-Lutheran convert to Catholicism) in 1937 entitled "The Church of Christ and the Jewish Question", which called on all Christians, but especially the Pope and the Roman Curia, to oppose contemporary anti-Jewish sentiment and to take a public position on the movement against the Jews in Germany.[7] He would maintain a close intellectual partnership with Thieme for many years.[8]

After the broadcast of Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg's resignation on 11 March 1938, Österreicher went to Schuschnigg's office and burned all the correspondence, because he was aware that the Gestapo would search his office and home. Österreicher also burned all of his own correspondence as well as his books, in order to protect citizens of Jewish origin. His parents, Nathan and Ida Oesterreicher, later died in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. He fled Austria five weeks after the March 1938 Anschluss, or annexation of Austria.[2][3][6] Based initially in Paris, he condemned the Nazis in weekly broadcasts and writings. He fled to the U.S. after the German invasion of France in 1940.[2][3]

Oesterreicher founded the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University in 1953. He was appointed a Papal Chamberlain, with the title of monsignor, in 1961. In the 1960s, he was one of fifteen priests who petitioned the Vatican to take up the issue of antisemitism. Oesterreicher is probably best known for his involvement in drafting Nostra aetate.[2][9] The statement rejected antisemitism and repudiated the notion that Jews were responsible for the persecution and death of Jesus Christ. It stated that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held guilty.[10]

The statement thus repudiated the historic charge of deicide, which is a basis of antisemitism. It stated that "the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God." Oesterreicher was strongly pro-Israel and advocated improved relations between Catholics and the Jewish state. However, he was not always a supporter of Israeli government policies.[11] He was the author of several books and numerous scholarly articles. His books include The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews; Racism, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Christianism; and God at Auschwitz?.[citation needed]

He lived near the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, and he died on 18 April 1993 at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, aged 89.[1]


  • Nobody says anything against the Egyptian authorities for oppressing the Coptic Christians. No one protested vehemently against the forced closing of St. Joseph's College years ago in Iraq, nor against the laws in Jordan prior to 1967 which prohibited Christians from acquiring new property. If Israel did any of these things, everyone would cry bloody murder, from the authorities in Rome to Catholics all over the world... This is prejudice. (Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher, quoted by James C. O'Neill, Our Sunday Visitor, 10 July 1983)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wolfgang Saxon (20 April 1993). "J.M. Oesterreicher, Monsignor Who Wrote on Jews, Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2015. Msgr. John Maria Oesterreicher, who spent a lifetime nurturing understanding between Roman Catholics and Jews, died on Sunday at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, N.J. He was 89 and lived near the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange. ...
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Philipp Lehar (2008). "Persönlichkeiten der Zeitgeschichte und Pfadfinderbrüder". PPÖ-Brief (in German). Pfadfinder und Pfadfinderinnen Österreichs. 3/2008: 5.
  3. ^ a b c d e Jelinek, Gerhard (2008). Nachrichten aus dem 4.Reich (in German). Vienna. p. 149.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ Pfadfindergilde Gloggnitz-Wartenstein (October 2008). "Gedenktafelenthüllung für Prälat Johannes Österreicher". Der Gildenweg (in German). 3/2008: 14.
  5. ^ Christian Klösch (2000). "Ein mehr als schlampiges Verhältnis-Ständestaat und katholische Kirche und ihr Verhältnis zum Antisemitismus". Gedenkdienst Zeitung (in German). 3/2000: 5.
  6. ^ a b c d Wahle, Hedwig. "Das I.D.C.I.V.-Entstehen und Wirken des Informationszentrums im Dienste der christlich-jüdischen Verständigung" (in German). Archived from the original on October 27, 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
  7. ^ Elias H. Füllenbach: Die Kirche Christi und die Judenfrage (1937), in: Handbuch des Ant|isemitismus. Judenfeindschaft in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Bd. 6: Publikationen, hrsg. von Wolfgang Benz, Berlin / Boston 2013, S. 400–403.
  8. ^ Connelly, J. (2014). Eschatology and the Ideology of Anti-Judaism. Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, 9(1)
  9. ^ Karl Rahner; Herbert Vorgrimmler (2005). Kleines Konzilskompendium (in German) (32 ed.). Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. p. 351. ISBN 3-451-27735-2.
  10. ^ "Barnes S.J., Michael. "Nostra aetate -the moral heart of the Second Vatican Council", Jesuits in Britain, 2015". Archived from the original on 2019-05-16. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  11. ^ GOD'S 'LOVING WILL' SPURS CHURCH'S 'JEWISH CONNECTION' Archived February 5, 2002, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Elias H. Füllenbach: Shock, Renewal, Crisis: Catholic Reflections on the Shoah, in: Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust, ed. by Kevin P. Spicer, published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington, D.C., Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN 2007, pp. 201–234.

External links[edit]