Alumni news

Students Meet with Austrian Nobility Linked to Marian University's Past

by Katie Bradley | Oct 02, 2014

Twenty-seven Marian University students along with Wendy Westphal, Ph.D., assistant professor of German and chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures, met the archduke and archduchess of Austria, Markus Salvator and Hildegard von Habsburg, at a luncheon reception hosted by the Indiana German Heritage Society (IGHS) at the historic Athenaeum in downtown Indianapolis on September 19.  

The great-great-great-nephew of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and his wife came to Indiana for the 175th anniversary of Ferdinand, Indiana, a town named in honor of Kaiser Ferdinand I of Austria. However, this is not the Habsburg family’s first trip to Indiana. In 1943, the imperial family spent Holy Week at Marian University as guests of the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana.   

In 1940, the family had fled Nazi-controlled Europe for the United States. And while Empress Zita (the last empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and Queen of Bohemia) resided in Quebec, Canada, her children lived throughout North America, with two of her sons stationed at Camp Atterbury with the Austrian battalion of the United States Army. 

According to an article written by James Divita, professor emeritus at Marian University for the IGHS newsletter, “[Empress Zita] sought a convenient but out-of-the-way place where she and her five sons and three daughters could reunite for the first time since leaving Europe. A location in the then outskirts of Indianapolis, where some of the Franciscan sisters knew German, and where their pious family could observe Holy Week seemed right.”

During the event, Dr. Westphal, on behalf of the university, presented the archduke and archduchess with copies of two letters and prints of several photographs of the imperial Habsburg family taken with Mother Clarissa Dillhoff on the Marian University campus.   

The two letters—one in English and one in German—presented at the luncheon were written by the Countess Therese Schmising-Kerssenbrock on behalf of Empress Zita in April 1943, following their visit to the university.  In the letter, the empress thanked Mother Clarissa Dillhoff for her hospitality, stating, “Her Majesty hopes to give you a little satisfaction by her assurance that these days spent at Marian College were the happiest the Lord gave her since she had to leave Europe.”

Dr. Westphal organized Marian University’s participation in the event and encouraged students to attend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"As I told my students, you would have to look hard to find any university in the United States with a tie to a royal family. And here we have it at our own Marian University! The German minors at Marian University are learning about the role of the Habsburg family in the Holy Roman Empire in their History of German Culture class this semester. Being able to personally meet and speak with a member of the Habsburg family quite literally brought history 'to life' and helped make the topic that much more meaningful for them," said Dr. Westphal.

A delegation from the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, led by Sister Maureen Irvwin, OSF, also attended the event. 

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