Alpine Semester: Spring Term in Gaming, Austria, Proves Life-Changing for Franciscan University of Steubenville Students

Gaming is an idyllic home base for Franciscan scholars to study and pray.

Studying abroad is a unique experience for Franciscan University students.
Studying abroad is a unique experience for Franciscan University students. (photo: Courtesy of Franciscan University and the McCartney family)

Opening a window to inhale the crisp, mountain air, breaking between class for a bite of authentic Austrian cuisine, and mapping out weekend travel plans with close friends are all bits of daily life for a student studying for a semester in Gaming, Austria, with Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Nestled in the foothills of the Austrian alps, the picturesque town prompts a nostalgia somewhere between the Shire and The Sound of Music. Rising above humble homes, unmatched in their charm, stands the bell tower of the Kartause Maria Thron, Our Lady, Throne of Jesus. This impressive steeple has become a welcome sight, marking the location of Franciscan University’s second campus and second home to all who have the honor of staying and studying here.

Since 1991, Franciscan University students have taken turns inhabiting the Kartause, first built in 1330 for the duke and duchess of Austria and later becoming a Carthusian monastery. Students spend their semester living, studying and praying among their classmates who have sojourned together from Ohio to Europe. 


Truth, Beauty and Goodness 

From the classroom to the dormitories, to the ancient streets underfoot, one is sure to find truth, beauty and goodness during a semester abroad with Franciscan University. 

Jennifer Healy, professor of fine arts, shared an Irish proverb that is very fitting, “It goes, ‘You have to live with beauty to know it.’” She expounded, “And that’s what happens here at the Kartause. Living with the beauty of the Kartause, the building itself, the paintings that decorate the ceilings, the Baroque library and the church, the Gothic tower, helps us see beauty; and it deepens our capacity to perceive it, which is a way of expanding who we are and who we are meant to be. Because beauty is, as St. Francis said, a name of God.”

Current Austria student Mary Beth Williams, a junior mathematics major from Grand Blanc, Michigan, spoke precisely to Healy’s point. 

“For me, this semester has been all about soaking up the beauty that surrounds me, and a big part of that has just been trying to take in the beauty that the Kartause has to offer,” she told the Register. “In addition to the architecture, the foothills that surround the Kartause give the old building a unique feeling of seclusion that fosters an attitude of inward reflection in a way that I have never experienced before.”

Class projects are timed perfectly to align with travels so students can encounter firsthand what they’re learning. 

Franciscan alumni Andy Leonard, ’10, shared his insights on the value of the schedule: “Being in class for four days with three-day weekends allows students to recognize what is the primary piece of the educational experience: the travel.”

Through travel, students are invited to grow and evolve as their worldview expands rapidly through their personal encounter with history and culture. 

Despite the rigor of studies and frequent travel, Williams said, “this has been the most peaceful semester of my college career.”

Javier Carreño, professor of philosophy, articulated the harmony between study and travel: “During their travels, [students] get to see how these truths all come together. They relish in the beauty, they understand the depth of faith in it, and they also sense their thirst for truth.”

As Williams reflected on life abroad, “Going back to the little town of Gaming every week after all our weekend travels gives us ample time to reflect on the experience we have had traveling to new places,” she said. 

It was in my travels with Franciscan that I was, perhaps for the first time, truly struck by the universality of the Catholic Church, her history, and the reality that she has remained so constant in the midst of relentless trials. Walking through sacred spaces with pure astonishment, I remember looking around to see my classmates with eyes as wide as mine.

Meaningful Memories

Such memories are shared not just with one’s respective class but with the thousands who have gone before. In addition to local explorations around Austria and neighboring countries, students are also led on a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. 

Professors and professional tour guides alike journey with the Franciscan students through the paths St. Francis walked on, to the chair of St. Peter, and to a papal audience. 

Mary Pat McCartney, current Franciscan University junior from Toledo, Ohio, reflected on her semester abroad in 2021.

“Learning about the churches we’d tour, saints whose homes we would visit, and the history of Rome in class, and then being able to experience it firsthand made me fall more in love with the Catholic Church,” she said. 

“From the lectures to firsthand learning, my time in Austria was so deeply integrated.”

Bridget McCartney Nohara writes from Ontario, Canada. She is the older sister of Mary Pat McCartney, who is quoted in this story.