Catholics around the world are mourning the passing of Monsignor Georg Ratzinger (15 January 1924 – 1 July 2020), brother of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who passed away today.
Monsignor Ratzinger was a German Catholic priest and musician, known for his work as the conductor of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir of Regensburg, Germany.
He was the elder brother of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). His grand-uncle was the German politician Georg Ratzinger.
Ratzinger was born in Pleiskirchen, Bavaria to Joseph Ratzinger, a police officer, and Maria Ratzinger, née Peintner.
He has a younger brother, Joseph (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) and a sister, Maria. Early in his life he showed musical talent, playing the church organ already at the age of 11. In 1935 he entered the minor seminary in Traunstein and had professional musical instruction there.
In 1941 he encountered for the first time the choir of the Regensburger Domspatzen, which he would later direct, when they performed in Salzburg on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Mozart’s death.
In summer 1942 Georg Ratzinger was drafted to the Reichsarbeitsdienst to serve Nazi Germany in World War II, and the same autumn to the German Wehrmacht.
On June 12, 1944 he was shot through the arm during a firefight in Bolsena, Italy. At the end of the war, he was a prisoner of war of the U.S. Army in the vicinity of Naples, but was released, and arrived at home in July 1945.
In January 1946, he and his brother Joseph entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to study for the priesthood. At the same time he pursued his musical studies. Georg and Joseph were ordained priests in 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. Afterwards, Georg studied Church music in Munich, while serving in different priestly functions for the diocese.
He completed his studies in 1957 and became chorus director in his home parish in Traunstein. In February 1964 he was made musical director, Domkapellmeister, at St. Peters Cathedral in Regensburg, thereby becoming the chorus master of the cathedral choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen. As director of this boys’ and men’s choir, Ratzinger oversaw the recording of numerous pieces (e.g. J. S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio and motets, H. Schütz: Psalmen Davids), concert tours (among others to the U.S., Scandinavia, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, and the Vatican; and a tour of Germany every year), and the liturgical activities of the choir. In 1976 the choir celebrated its 1,000th anniversary.
In 1977 Ratzinger conducted the Domspatzen at his brother Joseph’s consecration as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. They sang in honor of Queen Elizabeth II at her state visit in 1978, and at Pope John Paul II’s visit to Munich in 1980; they also gave a concert for the state guests at the NATO summit in 1982 under the auspices of then German president Karl Carstens.
Ratzinger retired from his position as director of the choir in 1994 and has been a canon in Regensburg since 25 January 2009. In 2005, during a visit to his brother in Rome, symptoms of heart failure and arrhythmia led to a brief admission at the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic.
On 29 June 2011 Ratzinger celebrated sixty years as a priest and gave an interview on the topic, during which he noted that during the ordination ceremony, “My brother was the second to youngest, though there were some who were older.”
He also noted that “I have the stole and the cassock from that day”. He celebrated his 90th birthday (15 January 2014) with Benedict XVI in the Vatican.
His birthday party was organized by Michael Hesemann and the guests included American journalist Lauren Green, who played the piano, violinist Baptiste Pawlik, English-Argentinian writer Molly Maria Hamilton Baillie, Georg Gänswein and Gerhard Ludwig Müller. The celebrations included a personal letter written by Maria Elena Bergoglio to Ratzinger.
Courtesy: Catholic Broadcast Commission, Nigeria