Respected Vatican II reporter and author shed light on Council proceedings

Father Ralph Michael Wiltgen, 1921-2007

Wiltgen,_Fr_Ralph_for_webThe Reverend Father Ralph Michael Wiltgen, a Divine Word missionary and international authority on the Second Vatican Council, died on Dec. 6, 2007, after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years.

During the Catholic Church’s historic Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Father Wiltgen founded and directed the Vatican Council News Service, which published and dispatched twice-weekly news summaries in nine languages to more than 3,100 subscribers in 108 countries.

His interviews with hundreds of cardinals, bishops and theological experts during the Second Vatican Council gave him the material for The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: The Unknown Council. The book was universally acclaimed, reviewed in more than 125 publications and translated into five languages.
Father Wiltgen was born in Chicago on Dec. 17, 1921, and grew up in the Rogers Park neighborhood. He professed religious vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1943 and was ordained a priest in 1950 at Techny.

During his seminary years, Father Wiltgen dedicated his spare time to preparing individuals for baptism through a use of convert instructions. During the summer months, he would use his spare time to distribute printed materials on the Catholic Church, the Lord Jesus, the Blessed Mother and more to people in and around downtown Chicago.

After ordination, he went to Rome to study and received a doctorate in mission science (missiology) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1953. He then was assigned for several years to missionary work in Papua New Guinea.

Father Wiltgen served briefly as communication director for the Society of the Divine Word in the United States. From 1959 through 1995, he worked in Rome first as the international communication director for the Divine Word Missionaries and then as a dedicated and devoted researcher and writer.

He authored numerous articles and several books. He traced the growth of the Catholic Church on the West Coast of Africa in Gold Coast Mission History 1471-1880. In 1981, he completed The Founding of the Roman Catholic Church in Oceania 1825-1850. The sequel, The Founding of the Roman Catholic Church in Melanesia and Micronesia 1850-1875, will be published in early 2008.

In retirement, Father Wiltgen resided at the Divine Word Missionaries residence in Techny, Ill., until his condition required that he be moved to a nursing home in Des Plaines, Ill.

In his younger years Father Wiltgen was considered to be indestructible. He was strong, sturdy and tireless. Some years ago this sturdiest of the sturdy began to show signs of Alzheimer’s and was hospitalized at Holy Family in Des Plaines.

Occasionally, he came back for a meal and a visit with his brothers at Divine Word Residence. Lately, his visits to Techny ceased to be as his memory vanished. The last several weeks his memory disappeared all together. Father Wiltgen came home to Techny on Dec. 5, and at 6:45 a.m., the next day, he died just as the community began gathering for morning prayers and morning Mass.

Father Wiltgen was one of six children. He is survived by a brother and numerous nieces, nephews and their children.

The Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence on Dec. 11 with burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Techny.

Memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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