Family Academy in Austria – A robust tree sprouts from a small plant
The Academy for Family Pedagogy in Austria held a celebration of thanksgiving and succession in its Kahlengerg center in Vienna. 425 couples from Austria have participated in 67 formation courses lasting two years to become family facilitators and they have experienced the strengthening and growth of their marriage and in their faith guided by 300 instructors.
22 August 2021
On July 16, 2021, the Austrian Family Academy held a thanksgiving and succession party at its center in Vienna’s Kahlenberg. Thirty years ago, the couple Eva and Erich Berger “with a great adventurous spirit and even greater Kentenich fire” – as described by the directors of the Movement, Ingeborg and Richard Sickinger – had launched the aforementioned academy.
After more than 30 years of untiring dedication on the part of the Berger couple and an enormous impulse in the work with couples, the direction of the Family Academy was transferred to Patricia and Günther Mayrhofer for the next six years, on a historic day: July 16th, the day of the founding of the Family Movement in the concentration camp of Dachau in 1942, by Father Kentenich and Dr. Fritz Kühr.
Two years to become facilitators of families
“What began as a small plant,” relates Gabi Kräftner, “has meanwhile become a robust tree with countless fruits. So far, 425 married couples in Austria have participated in 67 two-year training courses to become family facilitators and have experienced the strengthening and growth of their relationship and their faith at the hands of 300 trainers and couples who have accompanied them. During these 30 years, the couples have volunteered 190,000 hours of work to assist other families. The proven Kentenich pedagogy is now also successfully transmitted in academy courses in Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania and even in Brazil”.
Present at the celebration was Bishop Klaus Küng, who has been a strong supporter of the Family Pedagogy Academy from the very beginning. He has participated in numerous sending out ceremonies and has always welcomed with interest the new couples of family facilitators. The prelate paid tribute to Eva and Erich Berger’s “extraordinary work” and wished the committed successors God’s blessing for this task so full of responsibilities, expressing his conviction that the fruits of the work of the academies show that Joseph Kentenich’s pedagogy is valuable and useful, even in a largely secularized society.
At the same time he exhorted: “I would like to take the opportunity today to encourage everyone, also those who are connected with us through the internet in other countries, to continue with great confidence in God’s help and in the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, not to give up, not to give in to the pressures of a consumer society that, by its very nature, often leads people to a dead end.”
Skirmantė and Nerijus, from Ukraine, and Karoly and Erika Varga, from Hungary, thanked the Berger couple for their commitment to the creation of the Academy of Families in their countries and for the trust they placed in the couples who lead it in their countries. For them, the Family Academy means belonging to a large international family. Karoly remarks: “For us, it is a great miracle how the Family Academy has been working”. The Mayrhofer family did not miss the opportunity to serve a delicious festive cake at the subsequent party in a cozy atmosphere.
“We trust that the couples will grow.”
Interview with Eva and Erich Berger
Mr. and Mrs. Berger, 30 years ago you did pioneer work with the founding and development of the Family Academy in Austria. What motivated you to embark on this adventure? How did this idea come about?
It was no big deal. We simply agreed to lead a project group for about a year, a request from Father T. Beller and Sister M. Elmengard in 1989. From our point of view, Father Beller had three reasons. He felt that he would soon reach his limits, despite his ability. He needed multipliers. He had a deep prophetic conviction about the mission of couples for the Church of tomorrow; and he wanted to transmit to all interested families – also beyond the borders of Schoenstatt – the richness of 10 years of experience with family work in the discipleship of Father Kentenich.
According to him, the greatest sin in the desert is not telling others where the source of water is. In the project group we, along with five other couples, set fire to each other, and soon a blaze ensued.
What major challenges have you had on this long journey? What has been the highlight that has made you both happy?
“Participating in the academy was the best decision of my life.” “There is an Adalbert before 2008 and an Adalbert from 2009 onwards.” This kind of feedback, which we receive often, is gratifying. They show that we give people what they need, what they long for. What is difficult for us is that we do not always manage to communicate the experiences we have had with the family pedagogy academy in Austria and in other countries. Sometimes our confidence in Fr. Kentenich’s mission for the future of the Church and society is met with misunderstanding. For us, his pastoral concept, which is based on the intimate organic interaction of psychology, pedagogy, and theology, is a true model of success on which we place our vitality.
What qualities have you both developed in these 30 years at the Family Academy?
Trust. We have learned to trust in Father Kentenich’s school. We trust that couples can grow, without us intervening therapeutically. And the couples feel this trust without us having to express it verbally. We trust in the effects of grace. In Schoenstatt we speak of the three pilgrimage graces, we trust in them. We trust that the Blessed Mother will turn to Jesus and call his attention: “They have no more wine” – as it is written on our jars in Austria. We trust in the miracles of transformation, that the water from our efforts will be enough to fill our jars to the brim.
What skills do Patricia and Günther Mayrhofer bring to their new task and what is your wish for them?
We love adventurous, discovery trips. So that everyone can discover Patricia’s and Günther’s skills for themselves, we don’t want to describe any of their skills. You will recognize them by their fruits.
In a course they conducted in the second year, which we called “Art of Transmission and Accompaniment”, the families were confronted and attacked with accusations against Fr. Kentenich. One gentleman reacted by saying, “I don’t know Kentenich, I don’t know the witnesses – but I know you – you are my witnesses and I trust in you!” – by which he meant Patricia and Günther and their team. Kentenich’s “contemporary witnesses”.
Eva, Erich, thank you for the interview. Our wish is that, with Mary’s help, you will be able to experience the joy of your own family and the joy of having served other families. Thank you very much for telling us about your decades of deep commitment to the Family Academy. I will gladly light a large candle in the Original Shrine in Schoenstatt for you and for so many families who have been able to discover new treasures in their marriage through the Academy and for those yet to come.