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Karl Stern

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Karl Stern
Born 8 April 1906(1906-04-08)
Cham, Germany
Died 7 November 1975 (aged 69)
Occupation neuropathologist
Nationality German, Canadian
Writing period 20th century
Genres memoir, essays
Subjects psychiatry, religion
Literary movement Catholic convert
Notable work(s) Pillar of Fire (1951)
Spouse(s) Liselotte von Baeyer
Children three

Karl Stern (1906-1975), German-Canadian neurologist and psychiatrist, and Jewish convert to the Catholic Church. Stern is best known for his account of his conversion in Pillar of Fire (1951).


Stern was born in the small town Cham in Bavaria in 1906, to socially assimilated Jewish parents. There was no synagogue or rabbi in the town, and although regular services and classes were held under the direction of a cantor, Stern's religious education was patchy. As a teenager he sought to re-engage with the Jewish faith, and began attending an Orthodox synagogue, but he soon became an atheist Zionist.

He studied medicine at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt, and came to specialize in psychiatric research. In the course of undergoing psychoanalysis himself, he regained belief in God and returned to Orthodox Jewish worship. He emigrated from Germany in 1936, finding work in neurological research in England, and later as lecturer in neuropathology and assistant neuropathologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, under Wilder Penfield.

In 1943, after much soul-searching, and ultimately influenced by encounters with Jacques Maritain and Dorothy Day, Stern received baptism as a Catholic.



Much reprinted, most recently by Urbi Et Orbi Communications, 2001. ISBN 1884660126.
French translation, Le buisson ardent. Paris: Seuil, 1951.
Dutch translation, De vuurzuil. Antwerp: Sheed and Ward, 1951.
German translation, Die Feuerwolke. Salzburg: Müller, 1954.
French translation, La troisième révolution: essai sur la psychanalyse et la religion. Paris: Du Seuil, 1955.
German translation, Die dritte Revolution: Psychiatrie und Religion. Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1956.
Dutch translation, De derde revolutie: psychiatrie en religie. Utrecht: De Fontein, 1958.
  • Through Dooms of Love: a novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960.
  • The Flight from Woman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965. :Reissued New York: Paragon House, 1985. ISBN 0913757519.
German translation, Die Flucht vor dem Weib: zur Pathologie des Zeitgeistes. Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1968.
French translation, Refus de la femme. Montréal: Éditions HMH, 1968.

Other writings

  • Preface to Henri Gratton, Psychanalyses d'hier et d'aujourd'hui comme thérapeutiques, sciences et philosophies: introduction aux problèmes de la psychologie des profondeurs. Paris: Cerf, 1955.
  • Essay on St Thérèse of Lisieux, in Saints for Now, edited by Clare Boothe Luce. London and New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952. Reprinted San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993. ISBN 0898704766.

Works about Stern

  • Bernard Heller, Epistle to an Apostate. New York: Bookman's Press, 1951.
  • "Karl Stern", in F. Lelotte (ed.), Convertis du XXème siècle. Vol. 2. Paris and Tournai: Casterman; Brussels: Foyer Notre-Dame, 1954. Reprinted 1963.
  • "Karl Stern", in International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Émigrés 1933-1945. Vol. 2, part 2. Edited by Werner Röder and Herbert A. Strauss. Munich: Saur, 1983.
  • "Karl Stern", in Charles Patrick Connor, Classic Catholic Converts. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. ISBN 0898707870
  • "Karl Stern", in Lorene Hanley Duquin, A Century of Catholic Converts. Our Sunday Visitor, 2003. ISBN 1931709017.
  • Robert B. McFarland, "Elective Divinities: Exile and Religious Conversion in Alfred Döblin's 'Schicksalsreise' (Destiny's Journey), Karl Jakob Hirsch's 'Heimkehr zu Gott' (Return to God), and Karl Stern's 'The Pillar of Fire'". Christianity & Literature 57:1 (2007), pp. 35-61.

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