“As the door is open, even more so our heart!”

The title of this post is the motto of the canons regular at Geras Abbey, which is Austria’s northernmost abbey just 5 km from the Czech border. In the photo above is Abbot Michael, who was our host for the tour and lunch today. We arrived this morning just in time for Mass, which was in German but I could understand parts of it. Since the “Super Bowl of Soccer” took place in Munich just last night, Abbot Michael’s sermon included several references to European “football” so of course I couldn’t help thinking about Fr. Jim Baraniak!

The interior of the church is quite dark so these photos are not the best, but I hope they give everyone an idea of just how beautiful it is. Like many abbey churches in this part of the world, this one was destroyed and rebuilt several times due to wars and fires. However Geras did not have a lot of money, so many of the surfaces are painted and not real marble. They also reused the Gothic columns that remained standing instead of tearing the church down completely and rebuilding in the Baroque style like many other abbeys did.

On the way to lunch in the abbey refectory we passed this statue of Norbert, and everyone teased Fr. Sal about their similar hairstyles!

Once again we were treated to the radical hospitality that Norbertines worldwide are so famous for, with a hearty lunch and conversation with the confreres who were there today. We were also joined by six young seminarians from around the world who were on a retreat from the International Theological Institute in Vienna.

Thanks to Bonnie Elfner for taking this photo of our table so I actually have one of myself in this post! Bonnie is pictured below greeting the seminarians.

Geras Krautergarten (Herb Garden)

My favorite part of Geras Abbey was the herb garden, which is directly across the road from the main entrance to the church.

They must have had a much colder spring than we did this year, because a few perennials were just starting to come up but much of the garden is still bare.

Inside the abbey we saw this poster about the life of Fr. Hermann-Josef Wiedinger, a former Salesian monk who joined the Norbertines at Geras after becoming quite ill while working and traveling in China. He was a botanist who also loved dogs, so in many respects he was much like our Fr. Anselm Keefe!

For several years now a stork has been nesting on one of the chimneys overlooking the herb garden. We could tell she was in there, but of course she didn’t pop up into full view until just as our bus was pulling out of the parking lot.

Fr. Jay, caught napping again!

On the road again ….

After spending the night at our hotel in Vienna, where we’ll stay for the next three nights (yay, no more dragging bags to the bus first thing in the morning!), we set off on our first day trip to Geras Abbey. It was only about a 1.5 hour drive and about half of it was on slow country roads, so I decided to see if I could actually take photos on the moving bus!

Our driver, Hans, programs our route into this cool onboard navigation screen so we can see exactly where we are at any moment, along with how many kilometers we have remaining and our estimated arrival time.

Susan Allen and Bill Van Ess

Catherine Kasten and Bill Hyland

Andy and Sarah Parks

Eleanor and Mike Dockry

Carol and Larry LaCombe (with Fr. Xavier snoozing in the background!)

Now we know why Fr. Jay claimed the entire back row the first day of the trip!

When we come out of a rest stop to an entire row of tour buses, there is no doubt as to which one is ours.

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Schlagl Abbey in Austria has a very extensive collection of religious art and Norbertine artifacts, and it also has a vibrant community of 42 confreres serving 24 parishes in a roughly 30 km radius of their abbey. They also run a brewery, ski hill and forestry business along with the seminar center and guest house we stayed in.

Frater Norbert treated us to a sampling of his beautiful singing voice, as he demonstrated for us the unbelievable acoustics of the huge abbey church.

Sarah and Andy Parks posed for a photo in front of the church entrance while we were waiting to begin our tour, and Felix the cat came out to keep us company too.

Top 10 From Roggenburg

We’ve been on the go constantly the last two days and it’s late at night here already at Schlagl Abbey in Austria, so I picked just my top 10 favorite photos from our visit to Roggenburg. Above is the lovely guest house with the abbey church towers in the background, and below is the courtyard with cafe, playground and gift shop.

Pictured above is the group touring the grounds with Fr. Gilbert, who serves as director of the guest house and most certainly showed us the meaning of radical hospitality!

This building adjacent to the abbey church is the primary school (grades 1-4) for the children from three nearby villages, and the Roggenburg Norbertines provide their religious education which begins in the second grade.

The abbey complex also houses the Center for Family, Environment and Culture, which includes seminar rooms and guest rooms set up to accommodate families. The center, as well as the guest house we stayed in, was built using the latest green building techniques to conserve energy and limit its impact on the environment. Here the group is pictured outside the center with Fr. Ulrich, who also gave us a tour of the abbey church.

For those who want to learn more about nature or simply enjoy some exercise in the countryside, there is a 6 km trail around the village that starts behind the guest house and features a self guided audio tour you can download to your ipod or iphone. The Norbertines here are embracing technology to the fullest!

I think these photos of the church interior speak for themselves. All I can add is that it’s even more breathtakingly beautiful in person.

All the Norbertines in the house posed for a group photo to celebrate our visit. From left are Fr. Sal, Fr. Ulrich, Fr. Rainer (Prior of Roggenburg Priory), Fr. Jay, Fr. Gilbert, Fr. Stephen (who will be coming to the General Chapter in DePere this summer!), Frater Joachim, Fr. Johannes and Fr. Xavier. We hated to say goodbye to our hosts after such a wonderful visit, so we just said Auf Wiedersehen!

Willkommen in Deutschland!

We only had a few hours in Munich this morning, but we were determined to see at least a couple of the great sights within walking distance of our hotel in the city center near the main train station. In the photo above you can see that Mike Dockry, Fr. Sal Cuccia, Eleanor Dockry and Ellen Mommaerts are all dressed for the brisk high 40s/low 50s weather here today.


One of the places on the “must see” list Fr. Jim Neilson sent with us is the Asamkirche, which you can read about here but must really see in person to appreciate the splendor of the interior.  A few in our group (meaning the ones who got up early enough this morning!) actually made it there in time for Mass. They said it was quite moving, especially since the entire country was celebrating Ascension Day today.

After that it was on to the Marienplatz, one of the major open air plazas in the city center of Munich. The entire square fills up with people at noon each day to watch the Glockenspiel on the Rathaus (town hall) come to life with music and movement.

Shortly after noon our bus arrived to take us to Roggenburg Priory, which was a 1.5 hour drive northwest of Munich. We had a few hours to get settled in and walk the beautiful grounds here, before joining the Norbertines for Vespers and a wonderful dinner.

We’ll spend the evening here in their beautiful guest house and then tour the abbey tomorrow morning.  More photos to follow in the next post!

The Best Laid Plans …..

… can and do often go awry, especially when you are trying to get a group of 22 people together half way around the world. The good news is that we all made it to Europe safe and sound, but our welcome dinner the first evening started a few hours late because about one third of the group (including myself and our tour leader!) was delayed in Chicago and then stranded in Madrid for several hours after missing the connecting flight to Munich.

We might have missed dinner altogether because Iberia Airlines didn’t have another flight until much later in the day, but Fr. Jay managed to make the gate agent take pity on us. Thankfully she found seats for us on a Lufthansa flight so we could get to Munich in time!

Oh, the places we’ll go!

First and foremost I have to thank Scott Crevier, our SNC web developer, for setting up this blog and Nick Patton, our graphics guru, for creating the awesome banner you see on top.  I am excited to have this opportunity to chronicle the journey of our 2012 Cornerstones Seminar and Heritage Tour participants!

This first post is also the test page where I practice posting photos, so I’ll start by sharing the trip itinerary here:

Once everyone arrives in Munich on their respective trains and planes, we’ll all travel together by bus for the next 12 days.  I’m kind of a cartography geek, so I created this map to give everyone an overview of where we’ll be going:

(You can click on the map to enlarge the view, then use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.)

I like this overview because it also shows just how close together all these countries are.  To help put it into a Midwest perspective, imagine the pushpins on the lower left (southern Germany) as Des Moines  and the one on the far right (Slovakia) as Chicago. Using that scale, Berlin in the north would be somewhere in the neighborhood of Minocqua.  Of course travel times can vary widely, depending on whether we’re on the super fast autobahn highways or crawling over mountains on switchback roads with hairpin turns. Either way, I’m sure it’s going to be quite an exciting adventure!