Reinhild Traitler-Espiritu was born in Berlin in 1940, from where the family migrated to Austria. As a child in a Protestant family she experienced the life of a minority early on, which was central to her sensitivity to injustice and which would play an essential role in her professional life. Traitler held a Doctoral degree in English and German linguistics from the University of Vienna but became known as a teacher and lay theologian.
She served as general secretary of the Austrian Protestant Student Federation from 1966-1969. In 1969 she joined the WCC and shortly after became the first (and youngest) staff member of the newly created Commission on the Churches Participation in Development (CCPD) under C.I. Itty. Traitler worked at the WCC under the leadership of Eugene Carson Blake and Philip Potter for 14 years. During this time, CCPD’s activist stance and overtly political orientation became central to defining the focus and outlook of the WCC for the next decade and beyond. Questions of justice and God’s preferential option for the poor were central. Thus, issues of domination and dependence, of empowerment of churches in their solidarity with the poor and North-South equality were key elements of CCPD. These also defined Traitler’s life and guided her in her lifelong engagement for justice and peace.
Shortly after joining CCPD she was named moderator for the newly created Caribbean Task Force and worked closely with the Christian Action for Development in the Eastern Caribbean, which eventually led to the foundation of the Caribbean Council of Churches. Her spiritual gift was expressed in her work for the worship-committee for the WCC 5th Assembly (Nairobi 1975).
From 1975-1983 she was director of the task force for Development Education and was instrumental in developing and implementing new methods of mutual and communal learning between the churches, which led to a redefinition of relationships between churches.
Looking for pedagogically viable relationships between churches around the world, she developed “tri-country programs” with partners Europe and Asia, redirecting the learning structures in ecumenical relations. This later formed the conceptual and methodological basis for programmes of “Visiting Communities” in lay-leadership. Traitler coordinated some 80 team visits during the global “Visiting Letters” programme that led up to the WCC 6th Assembly in Vancouver (1983). For this assembly she also was part of the preparatory committee for the women’s programme.
She continued to be attached to the WCC after her departure and was a guest at the WCC assemblies in Canberra (1990), Harare (1998), and Porto Alegre (2006).
From 1984-2003 she was programme director at the Protestant lay academy Boldern in Switzerland. In this capacity, she created, stimulated, and facilitated a myriad of programmes and is remembered especially as a pioneer of women’s studies in Switzerland, in particular through the establishment of the European Women's College, which she co-founded in 1994, and her training courses in feminist theology. She also pioneered Judeo-Christian, later also -Muslim dialogue from the perspective of women, and in 2002, together with other longstanding WCC staff, co-founded the European Project for Interreligious Learning, a two-year course for women that continues to be taught today.
Among other things, she was a guest at the convocation on Justice, Peace and integrity of Creation in Seoul (1990), an election observer in the newly created Republic of South Africa, member of the board of directors of the German Protestant Kirchentag, moderator for the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, board member of the Interreligious Conference of European Women Theologians, and co-founder of the Interreligious Think Tank in Switzerland. She was a member of the Iona Community and pivotal for its local group in Switzerland. She also published several fiction and non-fiction works and led writing workshops for some 20 years. She was writer and editor for the Bolderntexte until her death in October 2022.
Traitler was married to Filipino lawyer, economist, and human rights activist Augusto Cesar Espiritu (1929-1993), himself frequently advisor to the WCCs Programme on Church and Society, with whom she had one son, himself father of two children.
Her unwavering hope, faith, and confidence that we are promised a better, more just world; her lifelong dedication to recognising and shaping what we have in common, despite all our differences; her joy for life, compassion, and commitment to peace were shared with many, and will be missed by many.