Students, Stones and the Gifts of God

Let us place a stone for you.

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.

01 Student works on Chapel mosaic
An ITI student works on a mosaic under Ondrej’s instruction.

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 and the giving pages.  You can also see photos on this page: 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.”

06 Kyrie Final 2
The Greek word ‘Kyrie (meaning ‘Lord’) is depicted on one of the finished segments of the moasaic.

Bliss and Adventure in God’s Plan

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!

The author and the rest of the Studium Generale Class of 2014.


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!

Icon of The Presentation of the Child Jesus from the Byzantine Chapel.


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!

Studying Theology in the Midst of a Suffering World

It was a crisp Autumn morning in the fateful year of 1939. In shock, the world watched as the ravings of a mad man beguiled an entire nation, and plunged the world into the unthinkable: another World War. It was under the dark shadow of the Third Reich that the calm, intelligent face of an Oxford Don looked out over a gathering of young people –who could have no way of imagining the horrors that were about to be unleashed upon them and the rest of the world –and explained to them why what they were doing was still worthwhile.

Ever one to see past the first impressions one might have of an event, or writing, or anything really, C.S. Lewis had a keen insight into the fears and hopes that must have gripped the souls of the young people of that day. A wounded veteran of the First World War, he had some idea of what was at stake, and what could be expected. He assuredly asked the questions that were in the minds of all his hearers from the start:

“What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or,  even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we — indeed how can we — continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?“

CS Lewis

How piercing these questions must have been! How piercing they are now! We too are studying during dark times. We too are engaged in “placid” occupations while we see the lives of Christians and others throughout the Near East torn asunder, or ended utterly. Indeed, the dire situation of Christians of the Middle East in particular was brought to the forefront of the thoughts and minds of ITI students during the Dies Natalis Keynote address by ITI board member Graham Hutton. We sat riveted as we heard stories of the works of evil men, and glorious martyrs who opposed them. “Shouldn’t we do something?”

The simple answer to this question is this: We are doing something. In Lewis’ words, applicable now as they were then:

“A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.”

For the Christian, discernment is always urgent. We are always in the midst of a battle “against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”(Eph. 6:12)

As Lewis points out:

“Thus the omnipresence of obedience to God in a Christian’s life is, in a way, analogous to the omnipresence of God in space. God does not fill space as a body fills it, in the sense that parts of Him are in different parts of space, excluding other object from them. Yet He is everywhere –totally present at every point of space – according to good theologians.”

Class 3 best

So, yes of course we should be aware of the circumstances of the day and attentive to the needs and concerns of the world around us. And thanks in part to Mr. Hutton, we are better aware. Our desire is not to dwell in the proverbial Ivory Tower.  We have come to the ITI to serve God. It is not always in active participation in relief efforts for those suffering present ills that we serve him. The time may come when we should serve Him thus, and we must be always ready. But for now, we can give thanks to God that we are able to take this time to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Fathers under the guidance of St. Thomas Aquinas and our Patroness Thérèse of Liseux, and participate in our little way to the furtherance and preservation of the teachings of the Church.

And we can pray.