If you’ve been to Franciscan University of Steubenville’s study–abroad campus in Gaming, Austria, in the last decade, chances are high that you’ve met the famed professor of philosophy, theology, and all things Austria: Maria Wolter.
For the last 12 years, Wolter, who holds her doctorate in philosophy and licentiate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of Louven, has served as professor of philosophy and theology at Franciscan’s satellite campus at the Kartause, the renovated Carthusian monastery in Gaming which houses the Franciscan University Austria Program.
Though she began by teaching introductory philosophy classes, such as “Ethics” and “Metaphysics,” to classrooms of over 100 students, Wolter now also teaches theology, gives presentations on Austria traditions and acclimatizes students to the inevitable culture shock of moving to a foreign country for four months.
“There is something that is just really tangible about Gaming,” Wolter said, “and that is that you never leave it unchanged. You come to the Kartause, and the Kartause just has something that will impact you.”
Wolter cites the intensity of lifestyle at the Kartause as a unique opportunity for the lived experience of the ideals frequently discussed in classrooms.
“I never could have imagined (my life) would be in Austria with Tom,” Wolter said, referring to her husband who serves as the director of the Austria Program. “I never thought that we would be here, especially not for so long. This has just been a very unusual gift … because we just have such a great setup here.”
Enmeshed in life at the Kartause, the Wolters raise their four sons in their home within the Kartause’s walls and sacrifice countless weekends to travel with Franciscan students on major excursions or host them for a meal.
According to Wolter, the Gaming campus is a unique opportunity for professors and students to bond and influence each other based on the shared experience of travel and the proximity of living together at the Kartause.
“(You give) so much because you know you have four months and that’s it. And in those four months, it’s not just the academics,” Wolter explained. “It’s such a formation. … You travel; you do the tours (with the students).”
Certainly, Wolter does all of this and more. Just this semester alone, she has travelled on buses to Salzburg, St. Wolfgang and Krakow with her students, guiding them through the countries that are foreign to them but so familiar to herself.
Wolter is perfect for the grab-bag job of professor, tour guide and confidante; although she was born in America, her family moved to Austria when she was young. During her college years, Wolter moved back to the U.S. to earn her bachelor’s in philosophy, theology and history from Franciscan, making her well-versed in both American and European cultures.
“America is such a guiding light for the rest of the world,” Wolter said. “Because they pull such weight in the arenas, … my concerns for America are far greater than my concerns for other areas, because I know whatever they do will come over here (to Austria) in some sense.”
Wolter’s concern for culture comes from her realization that philosophy always affects society. Anyone who sits in Wolter’s classes witnesses her great passion for philosophy as the binding agent for human thought and life.
“My loves all center on the human person,” Wolter said. “I love the Philosophy of the Human Person class; I love Theology of the Body. I feel as though the human person is so broad that you can connect anything in it.”
Wolter’s passion is infectious, and students scramble to register for both “Theology of the Body,” a popular course for theology majors and students looking for electives alike, and “Austrian Culture and Language Awareness,” a one-credit–hour course unique to the Gaming program, through which Wolter exposes her students to the depth and beauty of Austrian culture.
Both academically and personally, students have so much to learn from excellent professors like Wolter who share their hearts and minds with their students day in, day out, no matter the place or time.