Our Brother Erwin died gently in the early morning hours of 13 April at the advanced age of 88. Having received the viaticum, he prepared for his death through prayer. The day before his relatives came to bid him farewell. Confreres accompanied him in his last hours.
Our confrere was born on 7 May 1932 as the first of two children of Friedrich Wetzler and Karolina Wetzler, née Ehrle, in Wasserburg am Bodensee. At baptism he received the name of his father Friedrich. His parents, who ran a farm with a fruit-growing business and a distillery, gave Fritz—as he was called—and his four-year younger brother a deeply religious upbringing. Participating in Mass in his home parish, the quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the devotion to the Blessed Mother in the parental home and daily prayer were part of the family’s busy everyday life. Living close to nature on his parent’s farm and knowing frugality and material sacrifice shaped his childhood. Since his youth fell during the Second World War, he was naturally occupied with questions of faith and looked for the “anchors of his life,” as he later once wrote. He was actively involved with the farm from childhood and rooted himself with passion and great interest in the way of life of a fruit grower. Thus it is not surprising that Brother Erwin appreciated the value of manual work throughout his life.
From 1939 to 1947 he attended the primary school in Wasserburg am Bodensee and the agricultural vocational school there until 1949 when he went to work on his parents’ farm. In the winter months of 1950/51 and 1951/52 he continued his training at the agricultural school in Tettnang. With a course in the spring of 1953 at the Obstbauschule Schlachters in Sigmarszell on Lake Constance, he sharpened his expertise in fruit growing. In the years that followed, he worked on his parents’ farm that his younger brother Karl would later take over. During these years, the thought grew in him to make prayer and the many prayer practices that he did privately a regular part of his life. After making a retreat, he decided in January 1960 “to make himself available to the Lord” and “to dedicate his life to God in the service of the missions.” His spiritual director in his home village, Alfred Höpfel, encouraged him and made contact with St. Ottilien.
And so on 28 January 1960 he entered St. Ottilien Archabbey and was admitted into the postulancy in March the same year. On 11 May 1961 Archabbot Suso Brechter admitted him with five other postulants into the Brothers’ novitiate where he received the religious name Erwin. He made his first profession on 11 May 1962. Archabbot Suso received his perpetual profession on 7 June 1965.
From 1961 until old age, Brother Erwin worked without interruption in the archabbey’s orchard and fruit production. His broad view of placing fruit growing in the service of the cultural landscape must be mentioned. He further developed the orchard by special tree grafting that was suitable for the local climate and planted new varieties of apples. He laid out orchards and professionally looked after fruit tree alleys as well as fruit tree espaliers and meadow orchards. In addition, from 1976 to 2015 he also ran the distillery and was responsible for the production of our liquors: monastery liquor, fruit schnapps, plum brandy and Williams-Christ Monastery Brandy. In 1980 he became the Cellar master. Connected with this was not only the production and storage of the cider the monastery produced but also the responsibility for the Mass and table wine. With his open, friendly manner, paired with his charming dialect, he succeeded every year without any problem in winning helpers for the fruit harvest and pressing the apples for cider. He not only sent a word of thanks to the large circle of helpers but warmheartedly and in a very sociable way invited everyone involved in the harvest to a celebration at the end. Brother Erwin loved socializing but for the appropriate occasions. He was cordial, talkative, but now and then could be heated when it came to theological questions. He was always ready for action as a member of the St. Ottilien fire brigade to which he belonged from 1960 to 1992. He mostly spent his vacation with a group of confreres in the Alps. But he also regularly visited his family at home.
Even though Brother Erwin interested himself in prophecies and private revelations, he remained true to his vocation. He consistently participated in the choir prayer and the community Mass and performed the so-called Hours of Prayer done at every full striking of the hour during work. He prayed the rosary daily or, if possible, spent some time in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. When the refectory was renovated in 1984, he held that the crucifix have a place in the room besides the newly installed wall painting of the Last Supper. This was an expression of his deep religious faith.
At the age of seventy-five, he answered the question about the “anchors of his spiritual life” in a three-fold sense: He named as his anchor, the Eucharist, devotion to Mary and the true faith. Simply and credibly, his life among us bore witness to this. May he now rest in peace!
The Funeral Mass with burial is on Friday, 16 April 2021, at 10:30 a.m. in the abbey church of Sankt Ottilien.
Archabbot Wolfgang and the Community of Sankt Ottilien