Franciscan University’s Austrian Campus Houses Ukrainian Refugees
14th-century Carthusian monastery in the foothills of the Alps offers shelter and spiritual solace.
A group of Ukrainian refugee women and 41 children arrived at the doors of Franciscan University’s Austria campus this week.
The Steubenville, Ohio, university is providing food and shelter for the next two months, according to Austrian Program Director Tom Wolter, who said that many refugees have little to no contact with people or places outside of Ukraine itself and require assistance with more than just travel plans.
“The need is acute,” Wolter said in a press release, referencing the millions of refugees escaping into Poland and surrounding European countries.
Franciscan’s Austrian program staff are collaborating with an Austrian organization, Kleine Herzen (Little Hearts), that provides aid to children affected by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Kleine Herzen organizer Oksana Nazarchuk met and traveled with the refugees from the Ukrainian border to the campus, Kartause Maria Thronus Iesu (Monastery of Our Lady, Throne of Jesus). The children will be able to go to school in a monastery classroom, and the refugees can pray in the Byzantine Catholic chapel.
“The refugees found not only shelter but also the support and love from Franciscan University,” Nazarchuk said. “Most mothers were crying, seeing such support and readiness to help.”
Wolter and staff recently returned from the Poland-Ukraine border, where they transported fleeing families to welcoming Viennese homes. Austrian program staff have provided assistance since the beginning of the war, including providing food and additional supplies to refugees.
Fewer Franciscan students enrolled in the Austrian study-abroad program this semester due to concerns related to COVID-19, which resulted in additional space the campus could make available to refugees. The monastery, “a beautifully restored 14th-century Carthusian monastery in the foothills of the Austrian Alps,” usually hosts about 200 Franciscan students each semester.
Franciscan University currently accepts donations to its newly established Ukrainian Relief Fund, which will aid in covering costs of shelter, food and daily living items for refugees housed at the monastery.
If the amount of funds received exceeds what is necessary, additional monetary support will be contributed to “Austrian organizations that are housing or collecting supplies for refugees.” All donations will be tax deductible.
Wolter emphasized the need the Franciscan campus is meeting: “The initial wave of refugees who left Ukraine had friends or family in Europe and simply needed assistance in their travels. However, as the conflict continues to increase in both intensity and in scope, further migration has occurred with refugees having no family, friends or contacts outside of their home country.”