Holy Cross College looks back on a 205-year history. Holy Cross College was founded in 1802 as a reaction to the deplorable state of affairs in the seminaries under Joseph II. the convent was a foundation of the Austrian Cistercian order and so almost only Austrian Cistercian monks studied there. In 1975, the bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Gräber, established a seminary for late vocations. This led to an increase in student numbers and a shift in the seminary's aims: since then, not only Cistercian monks, but also world priests and members of other orders especially from Germany and Austria came to study at Holy Cross College. Today, the 40 professors, assistant professors and assistants are divided into seven departments. Out of 160 students, there are 110 candidates of priesthood, which probably makes Holy Cross College the biggest priest seminary in the German speaking countries. The studies are acknowledged by the Austrian state and are protected by the concordat. At the moment, the Papal College offers a diploma in Theology. On January 28, 2007, the College was made a Papal College and carries the name "Päpstliche Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Benedikt XVI. Heiligenkreuz." It is our aim to get the full status of a Papal University with the right to confer licentiates and doctorates. The college is shaped by a natural connection of a lively spirituality and scientific intellectuality. Additionally, the contemplative atmosphere of the convent makes the study experience at Holy Cross College special.
When Holy Cross College celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2002, we wanted to invite the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith as main guest speaker. Cardinal Ratzinger, who had visited Holy Cross on other occasions before, sent a polite refusal: the date would interfere with his schedule and he wanted to use his energy to finish some important theological books... we sadly accepted his decision then. So today, the joy about the Holy Father visiting Holy Cross Convent and College in the course of His journey to Austria is much more overwhelming.
The Pope's visit to Holy Cross on Sunday September 9, is dedicated to the convent as well as the Papal College which has been named after Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI. is coming to the convent in its high time. The reason for this are the post-conciliar reforms which have been carried out by smart and circumspect abbots in a way which corresponded with the council's intentions and the order's traditions. In the 70ies, Holy Cross reformed the Liturgy of the hours according to the guidelines of the council, by publishing its own Cistercian breviary. Of course, the council was also respected in the choice of language, which is Latin. In the turbulent times after the council, Holy Cross was stamped as backwardish for keeping Latin as the language of the liturgy. The love for continuity at the heart of the church and in the order's traditions paid off: many things have changed in western society and the Church: Gregorian Chant has become fashionable again and is being highly enjoyed. The esthetics with which we celebrate the liturgy, of course in the rite of Paul VI, attracts many people who come to our services. For the last 10 years, we have been surprised by the fact that especially young people are fascinated by the "mystical atmosphere." Hundreds of teenagers regularly join the prayer nights which are a combination of charismatic prayer, eucharistic worship, and meeting with monks.
Holy Cross has experienced a "boom" in vocations which almost puts us to shame as we recognize God's grace in the high number of people becoming members of our order. Maybe the combination of the apostolate and life in a convent is appealing: on the one hand, we live a life full of sacrifices and privations to the rhythm of prayer, work and study. On the other hand, our monks work in parishes as well as in a new-founded convent in Germany and in many areas of pastoral care. However, on the day of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. on September 9, 80 monks will be living and working in Holy Cross Convent - more than ever in the 300-year history of the convent.
What is true for the community of monks, the convent, is even more true for the college: Holy Cross College is not a post conciliar invention but looks back on a 205-year history. For the last 30 years, the college has undergone changes in many ways: the elevation to Papal College on January 28, 2007, prompted abbot Gregor Henckel Donnersmarck to give the college the name of today's successor of St. Peter: "Päpstliche Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Benedikt XVI Heiligenkreuz." The elevation to Papal College has not been an inappropriate privilege. The college's status as "Athenäum Pontificum" results from the continuing increase in quality. In 1802, Holy Cross College was founded to educate the members of the Cistercian order. Until 1975, almost only Austrian Cistercian monks studied at Holy Cross. Up until then, the college was one of many theological institutions which had been founded in many convents and dioceses as a reaction to the deplorable state of affairs the priest seminaries of Joseph II. were in. In the course of the centuries, most of these institutes went down. Holy Cross College almost experienced the same fate as the number of students between 1802 and 1975 went down to 10 to 30. In 1975, the Bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Graber, established a seminary for late vocations. This led to an increase in student numbers and a shift in the seminary's aims: since then, not only Cistercian monks, but also world priests an members of other orders especially from Germany and Austria have entered Holy Cross College.
In fact, out of 160 students, 110 are candidates for the priesthood, which is about a third. This probably makes Holy Cross College the biggest priest seminary in the German speaking countries. But not only that: Holy Cross is the only active college in Austria which is led by an order and the only college of the order of the Cistercians which is more than 900 years old. The studies are acknowledged by the Austrian state and are protected by the concordat. At the moment, the Papal College offers a diploma in theology which concludes with the title "magister theologiae." The new status of Papal College secures the college's independence from the University of Vienna, which used to be the associate and thus responsible neighboring university.
The student's daily routine at Holy Cross College is very informal and very much shaped by the adjacent convent. The medieval convent, which is visited by 170.000 tourists every year. The neighboring orders and the "Überdiözesane Priesterseminar Leopoldinum," as the diocesan seminary Rudolphinum has been called since July 1, 2007, form a kind of campus with a unique atmosphere. Furthermore, Holy Cross is situated in the middle of the Wienerwald, which is only 15 kilometers away from Vienna. The closest subway station can be reached by car in 10 min.
The elevation to "Papal College" is more a stepping stone than a stumbling block for us. The Pope's visit to Holy Cross College, which is relatively small in comparison to the other four state schools in Vienna, Innsbruck, Graz, and Salzburg or the private university in Linz, embarrasses us: indeed, young professors have joined the college staff, the college has been split into seven departments and the scientific research institute EUCist is about to be established, which is going to deal with the historic, liturgical, and spiritual traditions of the Cistercian order. We employ 40 professors, assistant professors, and assistants in research and education, of which three quarters are priests and members of the Cistercian order. All this agrees with the Cistercian and Benedictine character of the college. The ecclesiastical character is recognizable from the fact that two auxiliary bishops also work as professors and are engaged in education and research. Nevertheless, our college has also got weaknesses: most of the teaching professors also engage in pastoral care. On the one hand, this works against too much scientific intellectuality. On the other hand, it can be advantageous for candidates for the priesthood that the professors are not only teaching theory but set practical examples for the students. Verba docent, exempla trahunt! We accept the challenge of stressing the aspect of theological scientific research at Holy Cross College. We are quite confident about that as God is sending us a great number of young vocations who qualify for the job of professor in the future. This is important as our aim is to get the full status of a Papal University with the right to confer licentiates and doctorates. To reach this aim we will be fulfilling the detailed guidelines of the Congregation of Catholic Education. In the mean time, we started to restructure the convent's library which consists of 60.000 books. We are convinced that all efforts and sacrifices for the college, which the Lord Himself asks from us, are going to serve the Church in the future.
Why are colleges like Holy Cross College necessary? What is a small college worth which is embedded in a deep spiritual atmosphere of an old convent led by professors who try to combine a high scientific quality with earnest spirituality? The value of such a college is so high because the decision to become a priest is not a decision on the intellectual level but on the level of one's whole human existence. In the future, theology will have to take this dimension more and more into account unless it wants to prove itself redundant. The 20th century ideal of scientific research demands objectification and critical distance. And that is okay. At the same time, the students face a programmatic danger as in the course of their studies God becomes an object, a thing. It is contrary to God's nature to become a thing or an object. Where God becomes an object, he is getting lost soon. Thus, when doing theology, students must learn how to experience God not as an object but as a "you" who speaks to them. To say it in Hans Urs von Balthasar's words: a "sitting theology" needs to be backed up by a "kneeling theology." For students who want to live as priests and members of orders in Christ's succession, the experience of us professors praying daily at 5 a.m. and kneeling in front of the Holy of Holies is as important as passing exams. The fact that the college is shaped by a natural connection of a lively spirituality and scientific intellectuality can be called the college's "Marian dimension." It is this dimension of the divine to which we owe gratitude for the fruitfulness of Holy Cross College which is so full of God's grace and mercy that it leaves us covered in shame.
Prof. Dr. Karl Wallner OCist
Head of the Papal Holy Cross College Benedict XVI.