Generations of UD students remember Professor Wilhelmsen as one of the legendary figures in the history of the university. Along with the likes of Louise Cowan, Melvin Bradford, and Willmoore Kendall he helped shape the intellectual character of the University of Dallas over several decades. Moreover, Dr. Wilhelmsen had a special pedagogical gift—the ability to make philosophy come alive in lectures that drew his students in because they felt that their teacher had committed himself in an existential way to the quest for philosophical truth. We are publishing this brief biography for the benefit of the many alumni who still remember Dr. Wilhelmsen fondly.
One of the noted American Catholic metaphysicians and Thomist philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century, Dr. Frederick D. Wilhelmsen was also a political thinker. Born in Michigan, in 1923, he died in Texas, in 1996, after a distinguished forty-five year career as a professor, lecturer, and writer.
Professor Wilhelmsen held full-time appointment at four Catholic institutions of higher learning: the University of Santa Clara, in California, the University of Al-Hikma, in Baghdad, Iraq, the University of Navarra, in Pamplona, Spain, and the University of Dallas, in Irving, Texas, where he had a dual appointment in Philosophy and Politics. When Dr. Wilhelmsen taught at Navarra in the early 1960s, he was the only foreigner to hold a chair at a Spanish university. In the eighties, he spent three years in Italy at the University of Dallas Rome campus.
A tall man with a booming voice and a charismatic personality, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen was a dramatic classroom performer. He received teaching awards from several universities and six grants from the U.S. government to teach abroad. His summer teaching included nine intensive sessions at various universities in California, many in Texas, appointments in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, as well as almost twenty summer sessions at various institutes in a number of towns in Old Castile, Spain. Wilhelmsen also lectured in over forty universities and institutes of various kinds in many countries. A good number of his students became priests, high school teachers, university professors, attorneys, and political analysts. In 2009, three were Catholic bishops. Wilhelmsen’s three daughters and one son-in-law were his students and also followed him into the teaching profession.
Frederick D. Wilhelmsen published seventeen books, four of them in Spanish. The Metaphysics of Love appeared in Spanish and French, as well as English. Man’s Knowledge of Reality was used as a textbook in various universities for forty years. The War in Man (co-authored with Jane Bret) won the Broadcast Preceptor Award. Wilhelmsen also wrote over two hundred and fifty articles. Some of these texts are gathered together in Christianity and Political Philosophy, Citizen of Rome, Being and Knowing, The Best of Triumph, and Los saberes políticos (published posthumously).
Dr. Wilhelmsen’s scholarly work was in the fields of philosophy, political thought, and communications. Dozens of his popular articles span a broader spectrum, particularly the religious and political scene of the second half of the twentieth century. He contributed to many journals in the United States, Europe, and Spanish America, and was one of the founding editors—with L. Brent Bozell and Dr. Thomas Molnar—of the Catholic monthly Triumph. In June of 1970, Wilhelmsen was one of the speakers in Washington, D.C., at the first anti-abortion rally in The United States, which was organized by Triumph. The story of this journal has recently been told by Dr. Mark D. Popowski in The Rise and Fall of Triumph. The History of a Radical Roman Catholic Magazine, 1966–1976 (Lexington Books, 2012).
The American traditionalist intellectual who lived in Spain for many years was held in high esteem by the Carlists (Spain’s traditionalist, Catholic, legitimist monarchists). Various Carlist institutions and associations published two of Dr. Wilhelmsen’s books in political theory, made him an honorary member, declared him philosopher-in-residence, and honored him in other ways.
On the occasion of Wilhelmsen’s seventieth birthday, colleagues, friends, and former students presented him with a Festschrift entitled Saints, Sovereigns, and Scholars. Studies in Honor of Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, edited by Dr. Robert A. Herrera, Fr. James J. Lehrberger, O. Cist., and Dr. Melvin A. Bradford (Peter Lang, 1993).
At the time of his death, Wilhelmsen was remembered in some sixty obituaries and printed eulogies, published on three continents. An award was given in Frederick D. Wilhelmsen’s name in 1997 by the Hernando de Larramendi Foundation (Madrid). The Galardón Profesor Federico Wilhelmsen was for research in the fields of Carlist history and political thought. In 1998, the University of Dallas produced an illustrated volume in his memory entitled Frederick Daniel Wilhelmsen (Eminent Professor and Catholic Intellectual). A Tribute from the University of Dallas. Chapters about Wilhelmsen have been included in a number of books published in the United States about influential twentieth-century intellectuals. Since his death, some of Frederick Wilhelmsen’s articles and excerpts from his books have been translated and published in Spanish, German, Czech, and Polish.
Soledad Drive, a short lane on the University of Dallas campus, is named in memory of Dr. Wilhelmsen’s little sailboat, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, in which he spent many afternoons on Lake Dallas with colleagues and students.