In Memoriam of Professor Dagny Kjaergaard

On May 8, 2021 our beloved Professor Dagny Maria Hubertine Kjaergaard entered the house of our Heavenly Father. She passed away peacefully at the Barmherziger Brüder hospital in Vienna, concluding a life on earth that was marked by her deep and faithful service to the Church. As a consecrated virgin she dedicated her life fully to Christ and His Church. She longed throughout her life to see her Chosen One face-to-face. As she used to say: “My true wedding will be my death; then I will really see my Bridegroom.” She was the oldest professor at the ITI, but had a childlike demeanor and a wonderful sense of humor. At the same time, she took her role as uncompromising teacher and defender of the Truth and the Church seriously. She had a great love for the Triune God, and it was a great privilege for us as a community to celebrate her funeral liturgy in the octave of Pentecost and the Most Holy Trinity.


Determined Thomist Serving the Truth


His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) consecrated Dagny in the Order of Virgins in 1989. It was at his request that she finished her doctoral dissertation at the Angelicum, as well. In his letter of condolence to the ITI Rector, Dr. Christiaan Alting von Geusau and in the Rector’s name to the whole ITI community, the Pope Emeritus spoke of Professor Kjaergaard as a determined Thomist who served the Truth that comes to us in the Person of Christ. He was astonished by the fact that she lectured until ten days before her death, which according to him shows her enthusiasm for theological work, as well as her will to serve the Church. He sent his blessings to the ITI and included the faithful departed in his prayers.


ITI’s First Cornerstone in Heaven


His Eminence Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the Grand Chancellor of the ITI, was the second reader of Dagny’s licentiate dissertation, and she worked with him as an editorial assistant on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Schönborn testified about her earthly life in his homily during the requiem mass for her in the parish church of Trumau:


Dagny’s death is very important step for ITI. It is not first of all a loss - although it is a great loss. But it is mainly a gain, because an institution only begins to be truly founded when its foundation stones are in heaven. Dagny is a foundation stone of the ITI. St. Augustine meditated on this strange situation that the Church is a house that is built from heaven down. The cornerstones are up and we are down. Dagny’s death is so important because now the ITI has her first faculty member in heaven. All Christian realities have this double belonging: the heavenly and the earthly. Of course, through faith and grace we are all sharing in Christ’s life and this is a heavenly life, but it becomes, so to say, more real when the foundation stone is really on the other side, the heavenly side. We must first of all consider, therefore, what it means for the ITI to have a teacher who has taught so many students for so many years, and who has been a member of ITI’s faculty for so long, and who is now interceding for the ITI, for all of us here and for the alumni of the ITI.


It is good in this moment to meditate on the word of God in today’s readings. They were not specially chosen for this occasion, but they are perfectly fitting, because both readings – the Gospel and the text of the Acts of the Apostles – speak of the situation of saying farewell. The Gospel reading is the great prayer of Jesus in the Upper Room shortly before they went down to the Garden of Gethsemane and the passion began. In this great prayer in John 17 Jesus opens His heart to us, to His disciples. We can see that His innermost intention, His will, His mission, and the most important innermost secret of His life is His unity with the Father: “..That they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). The prayer of Jesus is what a mother would do when she has to die and her children are all around. What does she ask for them? It is very simple. “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me: I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition… but now I am coming to you” (John 17:12-13). What does He ask for us? First of all, joy. It is not mourning, it is joy. “Now I am coming to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). I think it is fully Dagny’s intention to invite us to ask for this complete joy. You all have known her and joy was very essential in her life. It is a joy that came from the joy that Jesus speaks about.


The second thing that Jesus asks is: “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus does not promise us that our way will be easy. The world is what the world is. But Jesus asks that we be protected from the evil one.


From here I want to switch to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles before I come to the last word of Jesus’s prayer of today’s reading.


The farewell of Paul from the elders, presbyters, episcopoi of Ephesus is like a testament. The description Paul gives of himself reminds me very much of some features of Dagny’s character. “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31). Paul speaks like a lion who defends his flock, with the heart of a lion. Dagny, whom I have known for more than forty years, had such a lion’s heart for defending the truth vigilantly. It is one of her strengths - this commitment to reveal the truth. This commitment was built not primarily on the great knowledge which she had or the life-long learning she undertook, but it came from what Paul says: “the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32).


Her life as a theologian, as a teacher of theology, came not only from her great knowledge but from something that I would call connaturality with the divine reality. It is the theme that St. Thomas Aquinas often taught and explained: the certainty of the knowledge of faith comes mainly from connaturality with the Object of which we are speaking. Judicium per connaturalitatem. Dagny had, as I often said to her, a kind of “theologale Haltung.” “Theologale” means to be shaped by the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity. They shape the inner life, the life of the soul, the mind, the intelligence which becomes connatural to the Object. The teaching which comes from someone shaped by these virtues is not merely conceptual on the level of intellectual knowledge – which, of course, is absolutely necessary and fundamental, especially in a theological institute – but the real power of such teaching comes from the gracious word of God that can “build you up and give you inheritance among all who are consecrated”. It gives you true belonging to what you are teaching. When this happens, the teaching is not only words. It is a reality, it touches the reality. It is a great gift when you have teachers of theology in whose teaching you can sense that they speak about what they are connected to. It is not only an intellectual process. It is a process of one’s whole, entire life, a process of connaturality with the Object.


I come to the end, to the last words of Jesus’ prayer from the passage we heard today. “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.” (John 17:19). Dagny lived her whole life as a consecrated person: first for many years in a religious community as a Carmelite sister and then as a consecrated person, later as a virgin consecrated by Cardinal Ratzinger, and finally consecrated through her total donation of self. Consecrated in truth. The consecration about which Jesus speaks here in his prayer to the Father is a consecration of sacrifice. “For their sake I consecrate myself” (John 17:19). It means self-giving, which only in Jesus is so complete that it fulfils the redemption of the world. But whoever follows Jesus consecrates himself to truth, surrenders himself. In this selflessness, in this self-giving, giving is more blessed then receiving. It is more blessed to give then to receive. In this complete self-giving, the life of a Christian becomes a holy sacrifice. We really can say that Dagny’s life was a self-giving in this sense of sacrifice, of consecration.


I end with a word from the Catechism, which is not a product of single persons. It is not meaningful to say this has been written by this or that person. No. It is the work of the Church. In the moment that St. John Paul II approved and promulgated the Catechism, it became a Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was an immense joy when in the working on the Catechism one day came out this very first sentence of the Catechism: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself...”. Names are not important and it is a perfect objectivity of faith that is reflected in this work, but today I may say the Lord gave these words to Dagny. And it is the very first sentence of the Catechism. This is not for the marketplace. This is for your hearts, because it is the heart of our faith. When you ask about the source of Dagny’s inexhaustible joy, and her humor and energy and her Danish readiness to battle with her blond hair like that of a Danish conqueror – these things came from this union with God, which was Jesus’ great longing that His unity with the Father may be our unity with Him and with the Father. Dagny has now, we can trust, reached this goal of her life and she will remain the first cornerstone of the ITI in heaven.


Here you can watch the requiem mass for Professor Kjaergaard and listen to the homily of His Eminence.



The Salt of the Earth


From her childhood until her death Professor Kjaergaard was known as a very stubborn woman. When she had an idea about something, she held on to it. The flip side from this particular fault was that she was incredibly tenacious about the teaching and belief of the Church. There was no way she was going to compromise that. She always defended God and the Church. We could only learn from that to turn our own faults into something of profit to God’s Kingdom. She lived out what the Gospel says about being the salt of the earth.


Professor Kjaergaard’s good friend Msgr. Larry Hogan (who was the second rector of the ITI) spoke about her life journey at the funeral liturgy:


She was born in 1933 in Greifswald, Germany a few months after Adolf Hitler had become chancellor. A year and a half before World War II began, her family moved to Denmark, where Catholicism was not a religion of the country. Although she came from a Protestant family, she attended a Catholic boarding school. She was not interested in religion, as such, at the time, but she was enthralled by masses and beautiful religious hymns. It was there that the Lord touched her heart through the simple words of a religious sister that changed her life forever. One day she asked the Sister what the object (oblate) in the monstrance was, and the sister replied: “It is Jesus and He loves you”. As Dagny said, it was that moment when Jesus took the possession of her heart, and since then on it always belonged to Him.


At the age of twelve she decided to become a Catholic. For two years she begged her parents, cried and prayed for permission to enter the Catholic Church. At the age of fourteen, she as a Lutheran should have made a confession of faith and when she was asked if she would like to do so, she loudly answered ‘no’ and thereby embarrassed her parents before everyone in the church. Her mother, knowing that she was a very stubborn daughter and she would do exactly what she said, gave up. In March 1947, Dagny made her first Confession and Holy Communion. A few months later, on December 8, she made her first private vow of virginity at the age of fourteen. She made a perpetual vow of virginity on the feast of Saint Therese five years later in 1952, after she had finished her studies at the Gymnasium.


She entered the Carmel in Belgium and made her perpetual vows as a Carmelite sister in 1959. At the end of the Second Vatican Council, she was transferred for missionary reasons to a Scandinavian Carmelite monastery in Sweden. In 1971 she left Carmel to take care of her father before his death in 1972. She asked for a year of exclaustration from the convent and at the age of forty she began a school of evangelization in Denmark. After three months of missionary work, which she did in the ambience of different confessions and beliefs, she began to study her own faith.


She wrote her licentiate dissertation at the Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and the second reader of the dissertation was Professor Dr. Christoph Schönborn, O.P.  It was he who recommended her for a doctorate at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas – the Angelicum – in Rome, under the guidance of the Dominican Benoit Duroux, O.P., who was also a consulter for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. At that time there were two other Dominicans at the Angelicum who worked for Congregations of the Catholic Church and she was able to make the best connections in Rome. On March 25, 1989 Cardinal Ratzinger administered to her the Consecration of Virgins, the rite that had been restored to the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.


When Dr. Schönborn came to Rome in 1990 for redaction work on the Catechism, she became his assistant. It was a perfect combination of the two scholars who work together on editing the Catechism in its original language, since they both were fluent in French. When Prof. Schönborn became an auxiliary bishop, he asked Dagny to join him in Vienna as his assistant for the Catechism and the Compendium that was going to be written. She finished her doctorate at the request of Cardinal Ratzinger in June 1995, and she defended her dissertation on the active and contemplative life in the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas entitled Le primat de la vie contemplative par rapport à la vie active dans la Somme de Théologie de Saint Thomas d’Aquin, II-II, qu. 179 et 182, et ses sources principals”.


In 2002 she began working at the ITI, although she did not yet live here. At that time, she still lived in her very tiny apartment in Vienna. The feedback from many ITI Professors about the necessity of a course on the Catechism gave her the opportunity to use the knowledge that she had gained over the years. From that time on, she taught courses on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas.


Here you can watch the funeral liturgy and listen to the original and full version of Dagny’s obituary by Dr. Larry Hogan, the farewell words and memories about common adventures from Mr. Henri van Lidth de Jeude, the former ITI Financial Director and a friend of Professor Kjaergaard, as well as to the Jewish wedding song sung by two ITI graduates and the ITI Dean Dr. Bernhard Dolna.


The Contemplative Heart and the Radiance of Joy and Wisdom


Professor Kjaergaard was loved by her students and colleagues. She was a wise woman, who taught the truth and imparted life lessons. She helped her students to come out of wrong understanding of the teachings of the Church and contributed to their intellectual healing and spiritual maturation. She taught them what it means to have fun, enjoy life, and laugh at oneself. She loved Latin and kept studying it until the end. She had a contemplative heart, because prayer was her life. Her life was a constant communication with the Triune God.


Here you can listen to beautiful testimonies from her students, her Latin teacher and friend and colleague Dr. Andrei Gotia, her confessor for the last fifteen years Rev. Fr. Yuriy Kolasa (the Vicar General for the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Austria), as well as more memories from His Eminence Cardinal Schönborn given during the Memorial Ceremony at the Allan and Radwan Riley Hall.


Life Credo


Professor Kjaergaard was an extraordinary woman. There is much to learn from her and her life, and we are grateful that she shared it with us. We are also grateful for the lines that she shared with one of our graduates, Fr. Basil Nixen, OSB, which she wrote when she was a nun. She said it was her credo, something which summarized her faith and love for God:

















Rest in Peace, Dear Dagny!

Christ is Risen!