This week, as the new semester started with a votive Mass for the already passed feast day of our patron Saint Thomas Aquinas, we all had the opportunity to for the first time see the marvel of the recently completed mosaic floor in the Byzantine Chapel. This has been a project made possible by the students themselves, some of whom have worked diligently during the semester break to complete the meticulous work of hand-laying the individual stones.
During Mass, our Chaplain Fr. Juraj Terek noted that this beautiful floor represents very accurately the many members of the ITI: students, staff and benefactors, all being part of the Universal Church and serving and supporting it with their individual gifts and dedication.
As so often in the history of the ITI, the mosaic floor represents a miracle of how much can be achieved with little means but much dedication from many people.
Strengthening the family has, from the very beginning, been essential the work of the ITI and many of its graduates. In keeping with this tradition, graduate Maruška Healy (2005) has written a wonderful guide for families about how to bring the celebration of Advent into the home. Steeped in theology and drawing from the great Advent traditions of the Church Maruška gives a beautiful witness for the domestic church on the USCCB Marriage web site. You can see for your self here!
It seems that the season of dancing is beginning here, and just the other weekend a group of students had the opportunity to go to a ball in Innsbruck, a town about four hours west of our little Trumau. The fellow-students who invited us are brothers who have had the privilege of spending many winters in Innsbruck. What was so remarkable about this visit to Innsbruck with them was how much their eyes were opened to the privilege that they had unwittingly been immersed in for years.
Innsbruck is a town tucked away in the beautiful mountains of northwestern Austria. They are craggy and soar straight up into the sky, and what made it all the more significant was that there was more than one member of our party who had never seen a mountain before. As you can imagine, this was utterly awe-inspiring for them. They were gazing, motioning and gasping at the beauty that surrounded us. For the brothers, who had been going to this scenic location ever since they were small boys, it was striking. They began to look around as well and say to one another, “I never noticed before—this place is incredible.”
At one point when the group of us was taking a wander through Innsbruck, one of the brothers even pulled out his phone to take a picture of a mountain which he had been “seeing” since he was a kid, saying in an awed voice, “wow, that is really beautiful.”
This event captures something I experience over and over at the ITI, the value of community for making me recognize beauty. Sometimes it takes the eyes of another to wake me to the beauty of something that is so everyday that it no longer strikes me. Perhaps it is simply that when you share with another, it forces you to slow down and see through their eyes, which makes the sharing itself a great gift.
There is a light burning in an un-renovated room of the Schloss. Students trickle in and out at all hours of the day and night. Some come to look and they stay to work. They stay for hours discussing their studies, talking and singing. But what are they doing?
It started as a joke and a dream. Fr. Juraj Terek, the Byzantine Chaplain at the ITI, was surveying the ugly concrete floor of the Byzantine chapel in the Schloss and trying out different types of stone tiles. A student from Slovakia, Ondrej Vlcek, was with him. Ondrej said, “What about doing a mosaic floor?”
Fr. Juraj quipped in return, “and who will do it? You?”
“Yes, I can,” was Ondrej’s response.
It has always been like that at the ITI. When there is a need at the ITI, a student will arise who has a gift; a talent to supply that need. One has a gift for decorating, another for choir music, another for recording sound or taking photos, another for gardening, and yet another for organizing. Most of the work on campus is done by students. For the Byzantine chapel renovations, students knocked down the walls to reveal the original arches for the space. All the iconography in the chapel has been done by ITI alumni, so it is fitting that the floor will have the same quality.
Ondrej was trained in mosaics by a priest in Slovakia who had studied under Reverend Mark Rupnik, SJ. The technique the students are using was practiced in Ravenna. Ondrej spent the summer of 2014 getting donations of stone for the project – stone which is as international as the ITI. Stone which is in different colors and from places like China, Italy, and Brazil. Ondrej was excited when he spoke about the stone from Cappadocia (today’s Turkey). “The same Church Fathers that we study at the ITI could have looked or stepped on this stone!” As the Church Fathers are a foundation in the Faith for us, so these stones from Cappadocia will be a foundation in the Byzantine Chapel.
Fr. Juraj and Ondrej discussed and planned a design that would unite the artwork with the life of the ITI – a life of academics and prayer. The design takes into account the fact that the Byzantine Chapel will be dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Now students, under Ondrej’s direction, are working to put each stone in its place to build the floor. “The mosaic floor represents the ITI,” said Fr. Juraj. “It represents the students, faculty, and all those whose work, prayer and gifts come together to make the ITI as a whole. Each person who comes to the ITI gives of himself, as God calls him, and all our gifts together make the ITI what it is. It is like seeing a picture of God’s grace in action.”
Let us put in a stone for you – or for anyone you want to commemorate. Your donation of €100 will be put towards student financial aid (each year we need to raise €1.9 million in financial aid) and a student will place a stone for you. To donate, visit www.iti.ac.at and the giving pages. You can also see photos on this page: http://www.iti.ac.at/news-events/photo. We hope to have the floor installed by the end of January 2015, so if you are in the area before then, come and see the mosaic work in progress or place a stone yourself.
Then, each day during the Divine Liturgy, as the priest walks on the mosaic floor and brings the gifts to the altar during the Great Entrance, you too will be remembered in these words:
“May the Lord God remember in His Kingdom…the noble and ever-memorable founders and benefactors of this holy Church and all you Christians of the true faith, always, now and ever, and forever. Amen.”
Reflections of a Student from the Studium Generale Program
The International Theological Institute, located in the quaint metropolis of Trumau, Austia, where the wise meet the wiser, foreign mingles with familiar, and, above all, where the creature encounters the Creator in a new and real way more and more each day. Sounds a bit fantastical, huh? Well, it could be because I am inclined to lean a bit on the dramatic side of the personality spectrum; nevertheless, I think I still stand justified in my somewhat idyllic description of my current locale.
It’s worth a chuckle to me now when I think back to when I first heard from a current ITI student about the Studium Generale program, and to recall my initial reaction of laughing it away as an impossibility. There were several factors that attributed to my hesitation: International (far from all things familiar in America. I admit it, I’m a wimp), Theological (am I really up for something like that? I mean, what if the people are so smart you can’t even hold a coherent conversation with them? You just never know.), Institute (that just sounds scary? Yeah, I got nothing). To this day I still can’t pinpoint what it was exactly that changed my mind. I suppose it was the fact that although I doubted its actualization, I never dismissed it entirely, which is key for hearing what God wants us to do, right? Welp, again, God had a much more exciting plan in mind and. . .Tadah!. . .here I am! (queue applause) And what a tremendous blessing coming here has been for me!
In the end, I decided to come for the Studium Generale program for personal enrichment. It’s not a degree program, so that’s rather the point of the course, I believe. The year thus far has been filled with classes ranging from philosophy, economics, anthropology, and scripture (just to name a few), a rich community life (I’m constantly surrounded by accents…oh, sweet bliss!), and travels! One of the unique things worth noting is that the community is comprised not only of students my age, but also of families with young children, as well as religious and priests. This aspect is such a wonderful addition to the campus. It is the full life of the Church in all her vocations.
Speaking of the life of the Church, I can’t leave out the strong spiritual life offered me here. Daily Mass is offered in the Novus Ordo form (English or German), the Extraordinary Form, or the Byzantine Liturgy (which I have fallen in love with!). All of these options. Everyday. Don’t forget about adoration and rosary every day, then Akathist and confessions every week. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!
Then, to add adventure to bliss, let’s take a moment to recall that I’m in Austria. European travels just became extremely more realistic. Within a three month period, I’ve already had the opportunity to travel to Rome, Venice, Bratislava, and, of course, Vienna. Heck, I don’t have to go farther that the mundane streets of seemingly insignificant Trumau to be enchanted! There’s just something about experiencing —no, living—in another culture and continent that serves to enlarge your entire world-view perspective.
Basically, add these three elements together, classes, international community, and a rich liturgical life, and what else can I do but recommend American Airlines? Really. I can’t say it enough: God is good!