ITI celebrates the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas

As a main patron of the ITI and patron of all Catholic universities, as well as the main source of content for study in the STM program, St. Thomas Aquinas holds a high place of honour at the Institute.

Students and staff begin the evening's celebrations with an agape in Moses Hall
Students and staff begin the evening’s celebrations with an agape in Moses Hall

For a number of reasons, it is better suited for the ITI community to celebrate his feast day according to the late liturgical calendar—thus, the students, staff, faculty, and administration gathered together on March 7th to commemorate this great saint, theologian, and doctor of the Church.

Mass in his honour took place earlier on in the day, with choral music sung by ITI students to accent the occasion.  Later on, after the afternoon classes, the ITI

ITI students and staff listen to violinist Tudor Andrei in Sts. Cyril and Methodius Hall
ITI students and staff listen to violinist Tudor Andrei in Sts. Cyril and Methodius Hall

community came together for an agape at the Schloss, followed by a concert in Sts. Cyril & Methodius classroom and lecture hall.

The beautiful performance featured two esteemed Romanian musicians, currently living in Vienna—Tudor Andrei, who has travelled internationally as a violinist, and Aurelia Vișovan, a pianist who recently played in the Philharmonia hall (Großer Saal) in Berlin.

ITI Rector Msgr. Dr. Larry Hogan warmly thanks musicians Tudor Andrei and Aurelia Vișovan for their performance on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

As usual, the occasion was one of joy and celebration, complementing the busy daily life of demanding study at the ITI.

We are so thankful for St. Thomas’s gift of intelligence, and for his humble diligence and holiness so many centuries ago, as well as his ongoing companionship and presence with us through the communion of saints—and for the fruit his work is bearing in our studies here at the ITI!  St. Thomas Aquinas, ora pro nobis.

Habemus papam! We have a pope!

At a little after 7pm Austrian time, excited cheers abounded at the residence buildings at the ITI, after white smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that the conclave had decided on a new pope.

ITI students, faculty, family and friends gathered in great anticipation to watch the projected live streaming of the announcement of our new Holy Father. Nearly the entire campus crammed into the St. Therese Common Room and joyfully received the news that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, taking the name Pope Francis, would be the successor to Pope Benedict XVI and the Chair of St. Peter.
It is a beautiful time here as we look toward the coming time with our new and already beloved Holy Father!

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!

The Beauty and Joy of Marriage Despite its Enemies

Fr. Basil Nixen, O.S.B, an ITI graduate from Norcia, Italy,  delivered this beautiful homily on Jan 20th about the Wedding Feast at Cana.  Enjoy!

Liturgical Date EF: Dominica II post Epiphaniam

Readings: Rm 12,6-16 & Gv 2,1-11

The Gospel reading today is about the Wedding Feast at Cana, one of the most beautiful and luminous mysteries in the life of Jesus Christ.  With this Gospel, we continue our reflection on the various manifestations of the Lord.  The first manifestation was that of the Magi, which we solemnly remembered two Sundays ago on the Feast of the Epiphany.  The second manifestation of Christ was his Baptism in the River Jordan, which we remembered last Sunday.  Finally, the third manifestation of Christ is his presence at the Wedding Feast at Cana, especially in the miraculous way in which he transformed the water into wine.  The Church has always seen a close connection among these three mysteries in the life of Christ.  The thread that unites them is the concept of marriage between God and man: God unites himself to man with a nuptial and indissoluble bond in the Incarnation of His Only-Begotten Son.  In the words of St. Augustine, “the word is the bridegroom, the human flesh is the bride” (Eighth homily on the Gospel of St. John).  The marital union between man and woman thus acquires a greatness and supernatural beauty, precisely because it becomes a precious image of the union between God and his human creature, and for this reason, it constitutes a perennial source of hope and joy.

It is precisely the joy of marriage that we feel radiate from this Gospel passage.  As the venerable Russian monk Father Zosima observes in the classic novel of Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: “Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief, but their joy Christ visited, He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness….He who loves men loves their gladness, too”.  We all know the indescribable joy that is felt when we see the beauty of a bride, adorned with her jewels (cf. Is 61:10) and ready to give herself to her bridegroom in holy matrimony.  Christ wanted to affirm with his presence at the Wedding Feast at Cana that he himself “is the author of Marriage” (St. Augustine, Homily 9 on the Gospel of St. John), and thus he expresses through his acts the words which he speaks with his lips elsewhere in the Gospel, namely, what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Mt 19:6).

However, since ancient times, marriage has had its enemies.  Writing to St. Timothy, St. Paul foresaw that some would even prohibit marriage (cf. 1 Tim 4:3), considering it an evil to be avoided.  Such heretics rejected marriage because they considered the human body to be evil, and therefore they saw procreation as the gravest of evils.  These are the errors produced by an excessive spiritualism that goes to the point of rejecting the material world, of denying its inherent goodness.

In our days, however, marriage undergoes an attack from the opposite side, from an excessively materialistic society that negates the existence of the spirit, and therefore, the transcendence of man.  The modern world is almost convinced of the materialistic philosophy, and thus advances a flawed anthropology, proclaiming that man is exclusively body.  According to such a point of view, love is reduced to its physical expression, and consequently, marriage loses its true significance of being a bond of loyalty, becoming instead a relationship that can be broken whenever it ceases to offer a merely materialistic or bodily experience of happiness.  This is when divorce enters the picture, which constitutes a true evil and one of the most serious threats to the family.

In addition to materialism, the Holy Father has identified other dangerous errors that threaten the existence of the family in his annual pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia, which took place last December 21st.

The first consists in a wrong understanding of freedom, which rejects entering into a life-long relationship, because those bonds are a cause of suffering, and therefore are considered to be in conflict with freedom.  Here’s what the Pope says:

Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity.

The second error that threatens the family highlighted by the Pope is the most grave of all, and consists in a rejection of the very human nature revealed in the masculinity and femininity of the human body.  The Pope affirms that

According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity that serves as a defining element of the human being.

The Pope’s words declare that modern man thinks that he can create and choose his nature, and therefore even the family isn’t defined by nature, but by the will of man.  According to this reasoning, marriage can consist between two men or two women, thus eliminating the fecundity of offspring and therefore defining human procreation as a simple mechanical action which can be manipulated according to one’s wishes.  The Holy Father states that “the manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned”.

But we Christians can’t let ourselves be convinced of these errors; instead, we must give full assent to Divine Revelation which states that God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:27).  We must let ourselves be guided and formed by this truth, because—as the Pope explains—“The defense of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

We must turn to Mary to overcome these errors; let us run to Her who destroys error in her humble adherence to the divine truth.  Let us pray that the Holy Mother of God will continue to reveal to us a true and authentic humanity, which consists in the full assent of man to the natural law written by God in our bodies.  Let us follow her loving admonition to obey her Son in everything, putting into practice her words, do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).

(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)


Community, language-learning, and, of course, apfelstrudel

Theresa, an Austrian Studium Generale student who started her studies here this fall, has been hosting, with some friends from the ITI, Tuesday night common dinners–with a catch.  All attendees need to come prepared to practice their German!

Theresa, a Studium Generale student, is from Linz, Austria.

Theresa faithfully and joyfully prepares traditional Austrian food with her roommate and some other generous souls every week for up to 2o hungry fellow students, often completed, like last night, with a well-known Austrian dessert such as Apfelstrudel.  It is thus well-attended, and a welcome break from studies as students laugh over their varying levels of German.  There are some whose German is close to perfected, some who are confident in the necessities, and some still struggling to ask for the salt.

It is the perfect atmosphere for students to engage the German language–an element of many of the ITI’s programs–and to come to love the nuances of a different manner of speaking.   The learning takes place in a semi-immersion atmosphere with no judgment or pressure and a lot of laughter, so it’s an optimal place to expand vocabulary and expression.

It is also a great sign of the life at the ITI.  As a small community, an individual’s gift to the community life has a notable effect.  The group of girls hosting this event tangibly add to the goodness of our time here.

May they reap one-hundredfold of the opportunity for joy and community they are offering to so many!

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!