Most students who know Joseph Pathakamuri become very familiar with Indian food, coffee, bagel runs during class and bonfires through taking one of his biology courses. Charismatic and inspirational, Pathakamuri enjoys personal relationships with his students and making sure that they become the best versions of themselves. Recently, Pathakamuri returned from his first semester in Gaming, Austria, and his time there has inspired him and his family in a way he never saw possible.
Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Pathakamuri first visited Franciscan University of Steubenville as a graduate student and later became a teacher there in 2006 after receiving a doctorate in molecular virology. With his wife, Nicole, he has four little boys: Jerome, Justin, Jonas, and Joshua. The Pathakamuris live in Steubenville and often invite students to their house for dinner.
“Joyful learning,” he said, is one of the ways he encourages his students to discover new things and take their faith seriously. “Through Christian joy, one can learn a lot,” he said.
Pathakamuri says that he tries to make class more relatable to the human being and how God created him. He often has class outside, and sometimes at a local bagel shop, changing the atmosphere from a classroom setting to a more casual one. When he is not teaching class, he enjoys playing Frisbee, cooking Indian food and playing his Djembe, an African drum, in jam sessions with his students.
Recently, Pathakamuri returned from teaching neuroscience and human biology in his first semester abroad in Gaming during the spring 2018 semester. He and his family lived in the faculty houses across the street from the Kartause, the university’s campus in Gaming, during their time there. Pathakamuri also returned to Gaming to teach a mini semester on medical microbiology in August, three weeks before the start of the fall 2018 semester.
“Gaming was phenomenal,” Pathakamuri said when asked about his impression of the little town. “The mountains and the location and the people and the faculty all just come together as one body of Christ.” Pathakamuri marveled at the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the closeness of the Kartause faculty and staff with the students and the overall spirituality of the place.
Pathakamuri’s family members also enjoyed their time there: Pathakamuri’s older sons served as altar servers at daily Mass, and their family was able to spend more time together, whether in Gaming or on one of their trips around Europe.
One of Pathakamuri’s favorite aspects of his semester in Gaming was the closeness of the faculty and the students. “The location facilitates this interaction,” he said. The proximity with students in Gaming is prominent because they live so close together, and some students even visit the faculty houses and have meals with them. That, he says, is the “greatest thing about the Franciscan campus (in Gaming).”
Like in Steubenville, Pathakamuri often went on outings in and around Gaming, as well as on the university sponsored trips, such as the trip to Rome and Assisi. While in Rome, the students even tried to get Pathakamuri’s youngest son, Joshua, blessed by the Holy Father.
However, one of Pathakamuri’s favorite locations was Medjugorje, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1981. Pathakamuri enjoyed his visit there, as well as several other visits to religious landmarks, saying that both his family and the students learned much from their travels.
Pathakamuri enjoyed watching the students grow in knowledge and faith during their time in Gaming. “Everyone leads better lives,” he said, saying that studying abroad is “the best opportunity they can have.”
Pathakamuri even connected with several Europeans in and around Gaming. One interesting encounter was with Father Juraj, a Catholic priest of the Eastern Rite. He and his wife, Katie, a former Franciscan student, often travel to Gaming and interact with the people at the Kartause. One of Pathakamuri’s fondest memories was one night when the Kartause staff cooked Indian food and wore traditional Indian dresses.
Even though Pathakamuri is back to teaching here in Steubenville, he says he would not hesitate to go for another semester, calling his semester in Gaming “the best semester of my life.”