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Who Was Romano Guardini?

Part I: His Early Years

From the book: The Essential Guardini
by Heinz R. Kuehn


Romano Guardini was born on February 17, 1885, in Verona. His father was an importer of eggs and poultry. When Romano was one year old, the family moved to Mainz, Germany, a city whose origins go back to early Roman times. His childhood was an unhappy one. His mother kept the children virtually captive in their home.

His youth was a time of inner tumult, uncertainty about his vocation and painful attacks of depression. In 1903 Guardini graduated from the gymnasium in Mainz and began the study of chemistry at the University of Tubingen. Depressed, he left the university after two semesters and in 1904 enrolled at the University of Munich for the study of economics.

In 1905, he had a deep crisis of faith from which he emerged with the decision to study theology at Freiburg in Breisgau. But depression again took hold, to such a degree that he considered suicide. Still, he stuck to his decision, and from then on he knew that the priesthood was his only and true vocation.

He continued his theological studies in Tubingen and during that time he had his first exposure to true liturgy at the Abbey of Beuron, whose monks were early pioneers of liturgical renewal. Liturgy from then on became a lifelong interest.

In 1910, he was ordained. The next 13 years he served as associate pastor in Heppenheim, Darmstadt, Worms and Mainz. During this period he continued his studies at Freiburg and received his doctorate in theology with a dissertation on the teaching of St. Bonaventure on salvation.

From 1916 to 1918 Guardini served in the military as a hospital orderly, but also directed Juventus, a Catholic organization of students of higher education.

His work with Juventus was a precursor to his later involvement in the Quickborn movement, a youth movement.

The German youth movement in the beginning of the 20th century rebelled against the world of adults against their untrustworthy conventions, their superficial amusements, against orders unjustified by any true authority, against a sexual morality that confused external civility with purity and who hid their helplessness behind a deliberate attitude of ignorance, and against the urbanization of an existence alienated from nature.

What was at stake for them was the acquisition or restitution of true relationships between person and person beyond the barriers of class and gender. These wandering singers of songs wanted to be poor so that they could join in living the beauty of their youth among the joys and burdens of the open sky.

Guardini let himself be seized by the mental and spiritual beauty of this youth and at the same time recognized the danger to which they were exposed: the threatened waste of their energy in an anarchic effort and, consequently, their vulnerability to intellectual seduction and incapacity to find their way back into the life of active adulthood. Out of love and sorrow the thought arose in him to subject this fermenting youth to the holy discipline of the church, not in order to gag their freedom, but to save them to show these young people who so resolutely rebelled against "the old" (yet which was a rather modern "old") the never-aging youth of the oldest truths.



To Be Continued . . . .