Servant of God Brother Alois Ehrlich (September 20, 1868 – June 21st 1945)
Brother Alois was born in the village of Massing, Eggenfelden, in Lower Bavaria, Sept 20, 1868. He was the fifth of ten children born to John Baptist and Margaret (Strasser) Ehrlich. At his baptism the next day, he received the name of the parish priest, Franz Seraph. He received first Communion at the age of nine on April 28, 1878 and was confirmed on July 17th the next year.
He was known for his piety when, as a young boy, he served Mass, and later as assistant sacristan. When he made the sign of the cross, it was obvious to all that he was not just going through the motions. He earned the nickname of “St. Aloysious” – a premonition of the name he would receive in Carmel in honor of St. Aloysious Rabata.
After elementary school, he learned carpentry as an apprentice with his father in his workshop. Soon he was recognized as a master of the craft. When his parent died in 1896, Franz was able to fulfill his longtime desire to enter Carmel. He sold his inheritance to his uncle and was admitted to the convent of Straubing on December 27, 1896 at the age of 29. He made his simple profession one year later taking the name Alois in honor of Bl. Aloysius Rabata who had just been elevated to a Venerable by the Holy See.
He remained at Straubing until October 2, 1902 when he was appointed ‘head carpenter’ in Bamberg and began renovating the newly acquired convent and adjacent church. In 1908 he returned to Straubing until he was called back to Bamberg in 1913 to work on the side altars and wall paneling behind the main altar (which can still be seen today). He was also sent to Springserback four times and Bad Reichenhall three times to build confessionals and altars and to Vienna to refurbish the church and convent. The major superiors in Rome called him to build the choir stalls, which became a model for other religious communities. While he always praised God for each work of carpentry completed, he was just as grateful to have been asked to perform the most menial tasks in the monastery.
Not only a carpenter though, he was known for his solid and deep spiritual life. As a boy he was known to kneel for hours in front of the crucifix with outstretched arms. As a Carmelite, he would get up before the 4am community call so the he could have more time to pray. Prayer was never a duty to him; he felt that it wasn’t necessary to use a lot of words, but that the prayers should be said “…well and slowly in union with God…”.
For him, prayer was an attitude; a way of being in God’s presence. On the way from his workshop to his room, he would stop before a crucifix in the hall, raise his eyes to the crucified Lord, and formulate a prayer in His honor. He would spend hours in choir kneeling, absorbed in prayer, appearing “to be in another world” and was considered by his fellow Brothers to be a deep contemplative. He preferred to meditate on the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments. One Thursday, when asked about the topic of his meditation he replied “I thanked the angel who strengthened the Lord on the Mount of Olives”. He loved the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, and the lives of the Saints.
Br. Alois pursued holiness in a very traditional way, that of following the Carmelite Rule and Constitutions. For him faithfulness to one’s duties in life and to one’s profession was the surest way to holiness. The vows, the Rule, the Constitutions and the daily schedule were not formalities to him. They were the ways to do God’s Will, which was all that mattered.
He was deeply devoted to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. His fellow brothers noted that “…he used every opportunity to visit the Lord in Chapel; in his free time and on Sundays he spent long hours before the Tabernacle…” Once in the Church of St. Egidius where he was putting up the side altars and wall paneling, he overhead two Altar ladies and the Fr. Superior arguing. The ladies wanted holes in the ceiling for hanging decorations; however Father didn’t feel the ceiling was sturdy enough. Br. Alois intervened ‘Psst! There should not be such loud arguments before the Blessed Sacrament!’. The three sheepishly departed. He also had a notable devotion to the Sacred Heart. A note found recently (see bottom of page 6) contains his consecration to the Sacred Heart. In it, he expresses his willingness to accept whatever God’s Will was for him; especially he pledged his hardships and sufferings for this goal.
Shortly before his entrance into Carmel, he had joined the local Fraternity of the Perpetual Rosary which centered on assistance and comfort of the dying. As a Carmelite, his Marian devotion was strengthened. After one of his retreats he wrote “I wish to avoid venial sin in honor of Our Lady and strive to imitate her virtues.” He was also noted for the traditional Carmelite way of saluting Mary that whenever he passed an image of the Blessed Mother, he bowed respectfully and kissed his scapular.
Br. Alois suffered from stomach problems for most of his life, but the details are not known because he was never heard to complain about them, and would not see a doctor. He did not say much about his own physical or spiritual trials; he did not want to give the impression that he did not accept whatever cross was sent to him. He remembered Christ’s own way “…But Jesus kept silent, and would not say a word…” (Mk 14:61). At the age of 26, while working in his father’s workshop, he became so ill he received Extreme Unction. After his recovery he spoke of a vision he had while ill but, as a man of silence, he did not provide any details.
After he died, it became evident his rationale was to join Mary silently and patiently beneath the cross and to imitate his beloved Jesus Crucified. He believed he was invited to suffer together with Jesus. During his daily meditation he would be either on his knees or standing and did not accept creature comforts, foregoing even an easy chair in his room.
Br. Alois’ earthly pilgrimage ended with the end of World War II. He had helped the people recover after the Allied bombing attacks. The second attack on February 22, 1945, had been especially devastating. By this time, he was 77 years old, and was worn out by a life of hard work and bad health.
On May 8th, 1945 he received the Sacrament of the Sick from the Father Provincial who asked Br. Alois if he had any wish. He replied “I long to leave this life and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23). He was admitted to the Bamburg Hospital the next day. X-rays revealed advanced, inoperable stomach cancer. Br. Alois was called to eternal life on June 21st 1945.
Msgr John Grellener who knew Br. Alois was a witness to his final days in the hospital testifying that “His modest appearance and constant recollection reflected a very rich interior life and extraordinary communion with God.”
Br. Alois was buried in Carmelite tomb in the Bamberg public cemetery on June 25th 1945. When thoughts of a beautification process emerged, his remains were moved on November 28, 1948 to the conventual church of St. Theodore in the Chapel of our Lady next to the choir chapel where the friars celebrated the daily Liturgy. When this area was renovated in 1981, his remains were again transferred, this time to the Chapel at the entrance of the Church.
On September 24, 1953 Archbishop Otto approved the introduction of the diocesan process for beatification. The commission failed to meet though and when the vice-postulator of the cause died; the process came to a standstill.
Even today, more than 50 years later, the German people are persistent in their veneration for Br. Alois. Visitors continually leave their intentons and fresh flowers are regularly offered as symbols of grateful beneficiaries of his intercessory power. Because of the esteem that is still given to him, his cause for Beautification was taken up once more. During the 1997 Provincial Chapter the members requested the renewal of the process and on May 17, 1999, in Bamberg, the first session of the process for the cause of canonization was re-opened.
Last content update 08/30/09
For more information on Brother Alois Ehrlich and other notable Carmelites:
“Profiles in Holiness” – 3 volumes by Redemptus M. Valabek, O.Carm – Edizoni Carmelitane, Rome.
“SWORD” November 2004 published by the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, 1317 Frontage Road, Darien, Illinois