Single men’s retreat in Slovakia for ITI students

The valley by the monastery where some of the ITI’s single men recently went on a weekend retreat (Photo from Marianka website)

This past weekend, a group of the single male students from the ITI attended a school-sponsored retreat at the Marianka monastery in the picturesque Slovakian countryside. According to the Marianka website, the monastery with its grounds is in “a calm green valley spoken about in legends and visited by kings.  For some [the monastery location] is a dreamt of place to live away from city noise; for others it is the ideal location of a Sunday walk around the magical forest stream.”  Thus, it was also ideal for the spiritual refreshment of the single men at the ITI during the season of Lent and in preparation for the coming joy of Easter.

The interior of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Church at Marianka (Photo from Marianka website)

Although it was simply a quick weekend away, the retreat offered an opportunity for reflection and calm, as well as focused prayer.  The students were graciously assisted by two beautiful and inspiring talks offered by his Most Reverend Excellency Peter Rusnák, the Byzantine Catholic bishop of Bratislava, with a focus on the importance of considering one’s vocation in the presence of Christ.

Seeing the fruitfulness of this retreat, it is a hope in the hearts and minds of the ITI community to have this be a regular occurrence.  Although many students go on retreat independently throughout the semester, it is a particularly beautiful thing to enter into a deeper spirit of prayer in the context of one’s own community and home-away-from-home while pursuing educational goals.

For more information about Marianka, as well as more pictures of the grounds, please visit

Adopt a Cardinal

Last night special masses of Thanksgiving were said for Pope Benedict XVI.  Now we are in the time of sede vacanti. But what a beautiful way to enter this period – with thanksgiving for what we have had in a Holy Father and with prayers for the future Pope.  I don’t know how it was announced in different parishes, dioceses or countries, but here the bells in all the churches were rung at 8pm.  We said the rosary here and the bells rang the whole time.

Many of us here have gone to this website  – a wonderful initiative – and “adopted” a Cardinal.  The idea is to pray for “your” Cardinal so that he is guided by the Holy Spirit in a special way during the Conclave.  Adopt a Cardinal today!

Sheep at the ITI!

Our faithful and skilled gardeners, Lukas and Franz, have brought a great and unusual surprise to the ITI: 18 sheep and goats, on loan from a nearby farmer, to tend to our Schloss’s fall garden overgrowth!

If it seems like a joke to you at first read, you are in good company.  As a few of us walked to Thursday night’s lecture (on the Filioque, given by our own Dr. Alan Fimister), one of the students remarked that we were now pasturing sheep at the ITI.  Trying to avoid being “the gullible one,” most chose to assume it was a joke where we didn’t quite get the punchline, and thus quietly and courteously laughed the comment into silence.

The ITI’s temporary herd of sheep grazes in the orchard behind the Schloss.

As we have learned, however, since receiving the e-mail announcement this morning notifying us of our new visitors, it is a fairly common practice for owners of sheep to lend them out for a mutually beneficial temporary situation, where the sheep have plentiful greenery to eat, and large gardens get their necessary–and otherwise laborious–trimming.   Our wise gardeners sought to take advantage of this practice.

So, behind our fairytale castle, in our beautiful orchard, a small herd of sheep and goats can be seen grazing at any time of the day for the next few weeks.  They have found special favour with all of the ITI’s children–who spent the better part of the late afternoon inspecting and petting the curious and contented creatures.

It is true that the small things bring much joy, and, for that reason, it seems the sheep will benefit more than the garden.  This is simply one more way God seems to be inviting us all to look anew at the world, with the eyes and heart of a child, fascinated and delighted at both his creation and the humorous and quaint oddity of sheep in a university’s backyard.

A close up of our sweet little dears.

(Although, I must say, they are certainly doing an excellent practical job of being hungry and responding to this need accordingly, to the benefit of our grounds—there is a lot of top-notch grazing going on in our little pasture!  We are already so proud of them..).

ITI students witness to life in Vienna despite opposition

The 6th World Congress of Life continued in Vienna on Saturday 6th of October with Mass and a planned vigil outside the city’s biggest abortion mill. The atmosphere around the church Maria vom Siege before Mass was tense as the organisers were expecting some form of protest there.

At the Mass Monseigneur James Reilly, founder of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, said that witnessing to life at modern day Calvary was always effective even when there are no turnarounds.  He reminded the large congregation of the witness of Mary, St. John and the women at the foot of the cross and to never give up hope even in the face of great opposition.

Little did the ten ITI students present realise how important these words would be as the morning unfolded.  After Mass the congregation was directed to the underground and asked to reconvene at the Congress centre before beginning the procession of prayer to the abortion site. The ITI students decided to travel by van directly to the abortion site and re-join the rest of the congregation there. After parking nearby they arrived at the site which was already encamped by at least fifty young opposition protesters under the watchful eyes of four policemen. In the meantime at the Congress centre the organisers decided to cancel the procession and vigil to the abortion site for some reason.

With the words of that morning’s homily fresh in their minds the students decided to huddle in a circle and pray the Rosary against a backround of whistles and jeers. They were joined in prayer by a member of the public.  As they walked away afterwards the students were followed through Vienna’s central streets by all the protesters still jeering and shouting.  In what seemed a bizarre sequence of events the students eventually took refuge at the cathedral St. Stephen in the city centre as the protests continued outside before being more closely monitored by police.

Monseigneur Reilly’s words seemed certainly true—that, no matter what the opposition, all prayerful witnesses against the Culture of death is effective.

Pro-life march in Berlin

This past weekend, 3 vans full of ITI students and a couple of staff members headed to Berlin for the “Marsche fur das Leben (March for Life).”

ITI students join other youth marchers at a short pro-life conference after Berlin’s 2012 March for life

After a full day of driving, they were heartily welcomed in the city by Berlin’s Youth for Life, and made their home for the weekend in one of the nicest European hostels anyone here has yet seen in their travels.

After Saturday morning’s generous hostel breakfast, the students attended the opening speeches for a new pro-life research library in Berlin, after which they proceeded to the Office of the Federal Chancellor for an opening rally with entertainment and testimonies. From there, the marchers, armed with pro-life signs and silent prayer, walked 1.5km in the cold, windy Berlin weather to St. Hedgwig’s Cathedral, where the event concluded with a prayer service followed by refreshments outside of the church.

2 ITI students walk peacefully with signs through the streets of Berlin at the city’s 2012 March for Life

The modest police estimate of the marchers this year was 3,000 compared to last year’s 2,000 (although we think this year’s numbers felt higher than the estimate).  There were also enough protesters of the March—maybe 100 or so—to bring notable tension, but these were greatly outweighed by the marchers, who kept a remarkable calm (some of the protesters even commented to themselves, on joining the main group for a few moments, that it was “less stressful” with the marchers than the protesters!).  The event was kept peaceful and safe by the excellent Berlin police force.

Along with the opportunity to take part in Europe’s expanding pro-life movement, the students were blessed with the chance to get to know both Youth for Life members and each other—including at a wonderful sponsored Russian lunch on Sunday after Mass—forging memories that will last for years, and a hope for connecting again in the future.  Although it proved a difficult sacrifice for many of the students (many were studying for their Monday classes en route!), it has certainly been an occasion of grace for all involved.

Thank you especially to Youth for Life Berlin for hosting us and to our two generous sponsors who helped lower the cost of the trip by donating the rental cost of 2 large vans!

ITI adventures–recent and upcoming

Heads up: watch for blog updates coming next week about ITI student adventures!

One of these is the now-yearly tradition of a 7-hour hike to the nearby  11th-century Cistercian monastery and home of a relic of the True Cross of Christ, which a large portion of the student body and staff undertook on September 9th.  Another coming-soon update is about the ITI trip taken this last weekend into the centre of Europe’s cultural capital, the lovely Vienna (and, for many new students, this was the first trip in!) for a Mass with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn honouring Our Lady.

Also, this coming weekend, 20+ students from the ITI will load into 3 vans to drive 7 hours to and from Berlin for the Pro-Life March on Saturday. Involvement in Europe’s pro-life  movement has been a part of ITI life throughout its existence, and has proven a fruitful experience for many ITI students.

There is always much going on at the ITI to both nourish the community life and offer opportunities for the deepening of our Catholic identity. Check back over the next week to read and see more!

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The ITI choir commences another year of praise

On Saturday, the ITI choir met officially for the first time of the 2012-13 academic year to test voices, learn a Taize hymn, and get to know each other—obviously, in ITI style, over a few snacks.  With a whopping 21-member start, and the group already coming together well, the year looks promising.

Directed by one of our seminarians and co-organized by another student, the choir serves as an enjoyable break from the heavy rhythm of studies at the ITI.  It also offers a beautiful opportunity to share gifts of music as a means of aiding in the beauty of the Liturgy at the common Thursday Masses, as well as on special feast days, like the upcoming celebration of the Little Flower, St. Therese de Lisieux, on October 1st. These liturgies are offered as the high point of the community and spiritual life at the ITI, and thus the choir plays an important role in accomplishing the unity of purpose and prayerful life for which we strive as an institute.

The ITI choir sings Palestrina’s Sicut cervus at the 2012 graduation ceremony

Last year, although starting from scratch with members having varied musical experience, and having limited rehearsal time due to the busy student schedule, the choir was able to successfully present both movements of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus at the 2012 graduation ceremonies in June.  This song is a treasured favourite at the ITI, as its Latin lyrics are the words from the psalm which the ITI has had as its motto since its inception: “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts, for you, O God..” (Psalm 42 [41]).

We are looking forward to another year to offer thanksgiving and sing praise to the Lord, for all He has done and continues to do through the ITI.

Never heard Palestrina’s exquisite piece?  Here’s a beautiful recording of it for you:


The Irish, St. Thomas and St. Thérèse

Over the summer, ITI Professor William Newton and a few graduates got together with others to start the first Aquinas Institute of Ireland Summer School.  Here is the Zenit article about it and the Institute’s webpage .

In other news, you can now download or listen to the talk that ITI Rector Msgr. Larry Hogan gave on the “real” St. Thérèse at the ITI’s Studientag or Opening Day on September 3rd.  Look in the Spotlight section of the ITI homepage or link directly to it here .

Many Happy Years

Dressed for the occasion, students and faculty met at Monday’s Studientag to unite once again in the ITI’s unique principles and pillars and reflect on the nature of studies at this little institute in the Viennese countryside.

Two students talk to a professor during the Studientag coffee break

While the day was full of lecture and discussion, in line with the academic focus of the institute–including various topics from academic orientation to the role of Judaism in Christian Theology to the unique sainthood of the ITI’s special patroness, St. Thérèse de Lisieux–it was not without its characteristic laughter and quintessential mirth.  Especially during the breaks and in the evening dinner following the common celebration of Holy Mass at the parish church, an evident sense of community and joy permeated the conversations of students and staff, old and new alike.

The ITI community also heartily celebrated the re-institution of Msgr. Prof. Dr. Larry Hogan as continuing rector with the singing of the Slavic hymn of well-wishes, Mnohaya Lita (“Many happy years…!”) Congratulations were also given in celebration of two new student engagements, along with a birthday, as the ITI’s small and tight-knit way of life allows for a true Christian sharing of joys and sorrows.

Please keep all students and staff in your prayers as we move forward to our primary duty—studying and teaching for the sake of coming to know Our Lord more deeply, for the benefit of the worldwide Church.   May we all embrace our calling to steadiness of purpose, as well as find many ongoing opportunities for joy, laughter, prayer, and needed rest amidst the demands of academic life.