It’s been said to me before, usually by friends of mine or others that I meet who aren’t fully aware of what life at Franciscan is like, that this little University on top of the hill is a bubble. That it’s a collection of like-minded people and I would be almost kidding myself to be convinced that I’m not just developing an idealistic view of the world while I’m here. But this isn’t the reality of what Franciscan is, and what this University does for its students. It’s quite the opposite really. And as I look back on the last years of my life here, I realize that I am a living proof of the truth of Franciscan.
This University has formed me, through its culture so founded in the authentic truth of Christ, to see the world in light of that truth. Far from limiting my scope of thought, I have been cultivated deeply by professors that have challenged me to work with diligence so to understand the truth and by friends who have called me to live with integrity in all things. This would be an impossible reality were this place not steeped in its Catholic identity, which gave me the security and safety to feel like I could ask the questions necessary for growth without fear of being led astray. I have not become so accustomed to the beautiful life here that I fear leaving it, though a large part of me is sad to go, but I have been empowered to enter fully into the world to bring the truth to others. And so I have nothing to offer but a spirit of humble gratitude for this place, and even that feels like far from even being enough of a thank you.
Because how could I possibly express my gratitude to this place for uniting me with my very best friends, the ones who have helped me to truly discover myself, embracing my flaws and talents so to be liberated to be authentically myself? The ones who have seen my struggles and who stayed up through the night with me as we work on finishing last minute projects together and who have sledded down the hill by the JC Williams center at midnight with me? Who have led me closer to Christ than anyone else, who have encouraged me and interceded for me, who have made me laugh harder than I thought physically possible?
How could I possibly express my gratitude to this place for teaching me so much and
providing me with classes that have set my heart ablaze with a zeal for what I have studied and the deep conviction that this is what I am meant to do?
Or for giving me the opportunity to travel the world, visiting so many places throughout Europe during my time in the Austria program, where I learned so much about myself, my faith, my desires? Where I encountered so much history and beauty and culture?
Or for pushing me outside of myself to serve those in need in my own community here, or as far away as Belize in Central America on mission?
Or for leading me to my future husband? This one is almost laughable, because it’s such a running joke how many couples get engaged here in the Spring semesters. But, I couldn’t leave it out. Because I am so deeply thankful for the fact that it is here that I met the man who will walk beside me and help me carry my cross for the rest of my life, and who I will have the joy to do the same for.
I couldn’t. No words would be sufficient to express my gratitude in fullness. The only way I can repay this place which has formed me so profoundly is to live a life worthy of that formation, bearing witness to it, and spreading the light of Christ to others. Life here on the hilltop in Steubenville has not hindered me. It has not left me with a fragmented view of reality, but a heart that is fully alive and strengthened to face struggle and pain. The little University on the hilltop, my home for so long now, has not separated me from the world. The view from the hilltop is actually quite vast, and it’s from here that I’ve seen the world in the greatest of ways.
All of my travels so far have been enlightening, teaching me things about the world and myself, both of which I am so grateful for. And as much as what I’ve experienced so far has exceeded my expectations, I did set off on this trip to Austria prepared for adventure. I was kind of ready for it, or at least ready for the unknown that it was to be. But it’s what I wasn’t expecting, the hidden treasures of life in the Kartause, that have turned out to be some of the greatest gifts so far. That’s what I want to share with you today: the unexpected gifts that I have received already from the Franciscan Austria Program. And hopefully in so doing, I’ll be able to give you a little taste of what Austria’s like for me.