It’s been about three weeks now since stepping off of the bus and feeling the gravel of the Kartause courtyard under my boots for the first time. But the feeling of those little pebbles underfoot is becoming more and more familiar now with each walk to class, or Mass, or off for an adventure. The Kartause is slowly coming to feel very much like home, and I’m finding my place in this historic monastery, which has been home to many of my friends and other Franciscan students before me, and even still before us to all of the Carthusian monks who lived lives of contemplative holiness here.
Since arriving we’ve already taken a few trips all together – to Salzburg, and this past weekend to Vienna – and before that I was exploring all over Ireland with a few other students. And even in those first few trips, the adventure and newness and beauty has been completely overwhelming. More than I could ever describe with much justice in a blog post, that’s for sure.
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.
Closeness. The Kartause, while it’s a beautiful, big building, is in a sense also very small. When you’re here, you study in the same classrooms each day, pass through the same halls, and live in close community with this small group of other students. You have the same meal times and the same Mass times. But it’s not a stifling or limiting closeness. It’s in this closeness that some of the most unlikely of friendships form and some of the most fruitful conversations begin. Already, I’m meeting and becoming friends with people I may have never encountered on main campus – and finding incredible friends in them. I also have the blessing of being over here with five of my household sisters and one of our intents. And the closeness of our being together in the Kartause has made our relationship as sisters more fruitful as we strive to live out our Rosa Mystica covenant in this new place.
Silence. With all of the community and closeness that I mentioned before, it could seem like life over here is absolutely crazy. But there is also the most amazing sense of silence that consistently remains in the Kartause, almost just a step away from the closeness. There are so many places to spend time alone – taking in everything, or time alone with the Lord – sharing it all with Him who brought you here. One of my favorite little places is the tiny Byzantine chapel across the courtyard from my room on sixth tract. It’s beautiful, and small, and quiet. I’ve found myself going there again and again just to sit and breathe everything in, to take time and process all the amazing things that I’m seeing and doing and feeling here. The silence, and the opportunity for solitude that can be found here are worth embracing.
Nature. There are so many mountains here. Seriously, it’s like Gaming is being hugged by mountains on every side. There is so much beauty, and so much of the outdoors that is accessible to you here. Plenty of students will spend an afternoon hiking to the peak of a mountain and return just in time for philosophy class. It’s all right there for you to explore.
Ministry. Maybe I should extend this even further, to extracurricular activities in general. Even though the group of students here is just a small collection from main campus, there is so much to do and be involved in here! So many ministries and talks and groups. It’s so worth it to fully enter into the community here and be active. And it’s even a little easier here because the group is smaller. I’m doing music ministry this semester – singing at Masses here on Sunday evenings every few weeks.
Milka. Okay, this one is partially a joke, but also partially completely serious. I mean, I don’t even know how to tell you this, but it’s just so much better than the chocolate in America. There is a local convenience store just a short walk down the road that always has Milka stocked in more flavors than you know what to do with, and trust me when I tell you I’ve had way too many of them already. One night, my household sister Sarah (who is also an RA here) hosted a ‘Milka tasting party’ with every single flavor. Definitely enjoy the Milka if you get the chance to come here.
These are just a few small gems that I’ve come across so far in my short time here. I know as the semester goes on I will become even more convinced of how much of a treasure this place is, and how much I should treasure my time here. The Austria semester, I’m quickly learning, continues to give and give and you just need to be open to it. And some of the greatest gifts come not in the big trips and adventures on the weekends, but in each day during the week – each ‘normal’ day spent in Gaming, if they can really be considered that. Austria so far is a great gift.