Magree, Michael

Magree, Michael

Name: Michael Magree
Language: German
Location of Study: Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institut
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Kellogg Institute for International Studies

A brief personal bio:

I am a Catholic priest in the religious order known as the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am currently a Ph.D. student in Early and Medieval Christianity in the Theology Department here at Notre Dame. I have previously studied philosophy and theology at Fordham University and Boston College, and classics at The Ohio State University. I did my undergraduate degree at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

In recent years, I have learned to read German in order to engage scholarship in that language. The SLA grant, however, makes it possible for me not only to improve this reading knowledge, but also to begin to be part of the active, spoken, living tradition of German theology study.

I will be living in Frankfurt at the Hochschule Sankt Georgen, one of the great centers of Catholic theology in Germany. I will be rubbing elbows at the dinner table with some tremendous theologians and torturing them with my bad German! But this is all the beginning of a process that I hope might lead me to have the ability to write and teach in German, to work as a priest and minister in German, and to participate in this world of German theology study.

Each day I will be going a short distance from Sankt Georgen to the Goethe Institut Frankfurt, where I will be doing their 4-week SuperIntensive course. I am looking forward to meeting the other students and beginning this great experience.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

My short term goal for this summer is to improve my reading ability across a number of types of literature and to develop my speaking and listening skills. By the end of the summer I hope to be able to have basic conversational ability and to have advanced my reading ability to a strong intermediate level.

As I have mentioned, my long terms goals are to be able to participate in the active work of theology scholarship in German, to minister as a priest in German, and eventually even to teach and write in German.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to carry on basic conversations with native German speakers.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to read a scholarly article in German in 2 hours.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to watch a German television news program with real comprehension.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to write an abstract of my own scholarly work in German.
  5. At the end of the summer, I will be able to navigate a German library and conduct research within its catalogs and archives.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

As I have mentioned, I plan to utilize the Jesuits with whom I will live this summer as conversation partners and guides. I also plan to make great use of the cultural opportunities in Frankfurt and in the nearby Rhine valley. I plan to make day trips to Mainz and Köln, and at the end of the summer I also plan to visit Berlin.

All of this will make the experience a very rich and fruitful one.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

From Wallfahrt to Unabhängigkeitstag

My time in Germany has got off to a flying start. I am lucky enough to stay in a very generous and kind community of Jesuits, with men from many countries and five continents. The vast majority are German, most of whom teach or have taught at the diocesan seminary which is here on the same grounds. From my first moments in the house, the men have gone out of their way to chat with me and to make me feel at home. On my second day here, I was invited to come along on a walking pilgrimage; I have been invited out for gelato; I have been engaged in conversation in English, Spanish, French, and German. They are a little disappointed to find that I can’t really speak any of these languages except English, which is the one language I don’t want to speak, at least for now! But they are very patient with my elementary German, and I dutifully battle to converse with them.

Last Sunday’s walking pilgrimage, called in German a Wallfahrt, was a real highlight. The Jesuits who work here in the formation of the diocesan seminarians organize a walking pilgrimage each year. This year’s was to a small shrine in Horbach Freigericht, about 35 miles away. We took a bus part of the way there, which dropped us off in four separate groups. Each group then had a different 8-10 mile hike to the shrine. My group hit a number of very interesting points along the way: first a beautiful historic Church in Gelnhausen, a town that was one of the five residences of emperor Frederick Barbarossa. We came across a lovely forest-education center, run by the local Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald, the „association for the protection of the German forest“. We stopped and ate some wild cherries along the way, on a path that just happened to be the Birkenhainer Strasse, a medieval road for armies and trade through central Germany. We finally made it to our goal, a little Lourdes grotto built on the side of a hill outside the town of Horbach Freigericht. The grotto was built by a local priest and the area community in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s help in getting them through World War II, especially in the final months when major armies were battling just a short distance away. We celebrated mass there in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and we prayed for peace. I also offered up a couple of special prayers for Notre Dame, as I recalled our own Lourdes Grotto and the many prayers offered up there.

The pilgrimage day concluded with a little therapy: we had dinner at a Kneippanlage, a sort of restaurant and beer garden that doubles as a center for water-therapy. A German priest, Sebastian Kneipp, in the 19th century invented a type of treatment for aching joints which involves taking bathing parts of the body in very cold water. At this location, the main thing they had was a small below-ground pool of water that you could walk through. It did not sound very appealing, but rather painful! Even so, I had to pull off my socks and shoes and try it. The water was absolutely freezing, but strangely it did seem to help after a long day of hiking.

German class is going very nicely so far. I am studying at the Goethe Institut here in Frankfurt. I have a great teacher who is a very energetic and engaging German woman, and our group of 8 is a small United Nations. We have two students from the USA, two from Italy, and one each from Sweden, Singapore, England, and Spain. I’ll get a picture of the group into a future update. It is a real pleasure spending time with them all. Today, during our morning break, we observed American Independence Day (Unabhängigkeitstag – a great word for a great thing) by eating Oreos and Pop-Tarts. It was the best distinctly American food that I could find on short notice! I was glad that a local supermarket, Rewe, had both items. My fellow students were at least kind enough to try them. I can’t say I’m really a huge fan of Oreos or Pop-Tarts when I’m back in the USA, but today they tasted like freedom.

The final event of the week to report: last evening the Goethe Institut offered a free outing to a local restaurant, called Zum Eichkatzerl, which translated means „to the squirrel“! As the restaurant website explains, it has an outdoor patio with seating among big trees, allowing even the squirrels to enjoy the atmosphere of the pub. We were presented first with a crock of Apple cider (called Apfelwein or Ebbelwoi), and with small plates of local Frankfurt specialties: Handkäse mit Musik (cheese with onions, vinegar and oil), and Grüne Soße (a blend of 7 herbs mixed with sour cream and yogurt, with hardboiled eggs and potatoes). Our table assumed that this was the extent of what we would enjoy on the Institut’s dime, but we were then given a huge plate of roasted and boiled meat with sauerkraut, which we enjoyed thorougly.

I offer up continued prayers for my friends and family back in the States. Keep me in your prayers as well. Till next week!
in Christ,


Reflective Journal Entry 2:

My favorite thing that happened in week two was a trip through my family’s history. My great-great-great-grandfather, John Krill, came from a little town near Frankfurt called Gaudernbach, and his wife, Maria Harrach, came from another town nearby called Weyer. I rented a car on Saturday and drove to each of the towns. It was a little bit surreal to imagine my ancestors as farmers walking the same streets in 1869, and deciding to pick up everything they had and to move to Ohio. I saw the same little church where they would have worshipped, and drove up to a hill above town and looked down at the little community. I walked through the cemetery in Weyer, but I did not find any of my great-great-great-grandmother’s relatives’ names: it looked as if the current cemetery had only been built recently. But I said a little prayer there for them and for all emigrants who leave their homes and move far away in hope of a better life.
On the same drive I also stopped at a couple more historic locations. My favorite was the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard. St. Hildegard of Bingen was a 11th century woman who entered a women’s monastery as a young girl and eventually became its leader, called the Abbess. She was very well educated and offered counsel to Popes and kings of the time. She also was a musical composer, and some of her pieces are still studied and sung today. Finally she was a great saint – she was given the grace of tremendous mystical experiences, experiences of close union with God. Her abbey closed during the enlightenment in the early 19th century, but it was refounded in 1910, and today over 40 women live in a Benedictine abbey in Eibingen. The abbey lies on a beautiful hillside overlooking the Rhine river. It was a powerful day to pray at the abbey, on July 11, the feast day celebrating St. Benedict, the founder of monasticism in the Western Catholic Church. I am friends with a couple of Benedictine women monks at a monastery back in Connecticut, the Abbey of Regina Laudis, so I said special prayers for them.
Lastly I should say that driving in Germany was very entertaining. First the autobahns are very exciting, and not always in a good way! Since the car I was driving was an 84 hp Peugeot 208 (only three-cylinders), the German drivers were whizzing past me at 120 mph as I puttered along at about 65. It was also a little exciting to drive on some of the country roads near my family’s towns. Many of them are one-lane roads, and I mean that quite literally. There’s not one lane in each direction; there is only one lane, and you have to keep an eye out ahead of you and pull over if you see anyone coming the other direction! But it all went well, and it was a lot of fun.
Continued prayers for all my family and friends, and for my benefactors who made this all possible.
In Christ,


Reflective Journal Entry 3:

It was a very full week 3 here in Frankfurt. The German course continues to go very well. We take a different theme each day, and situate discussion and vocabulary and even grammar lessons around it. Today’s theme was the service industry. How do you respond to good service? How does your particular culture’s customs around service differ from those of Germany? They were some fascinating questions to talk about. As I thought it over, I think I find overall that service in German stores and restaurants has been very consistently good. I would say usually my experience of service in America is on the extremes. Often very good, often not very good. In Germany, there are fewer extremes. Service is usually consistent: not excellent, not bad. I did have a funny experience the other day of going to grab a SIM card in order to use my American cell phone. It is all working fine now with the new SIM, but I did find myself fooled a little: I came out with a bargain company’s SIM card, when that was not what the store purported to be from the outside. It would be as if one walked into a Verizon store in the US but found out when you got home that you actually bought a SIM card from Cricket or another bargain cell phone brand. The service rep at the store did not speak English, so I think I was so busy concentrating on understanding in German the details of a pre-paid cell phone card, that I didn’t even notice what company it belonged to!
The highlight of the last week was a trip to Munich with an old friend. He is a political science professor in the USA, and I went to college with him and his wife. He has studied German for a long time, and lived in Munich a couple summers ago, so he and another friend of his took me around Munich to see all the major historical sites. We hit the great palace, the Scholoss Nymphenburg, the Olympic Park, and some of the important sites of World War II, including the Munich Gestapo headquarters and Hitler’s Munich offices. We paid our respects more importantly to some of the real heroes of Catholic resistance to Nazi ideology. We went to the house of Dietrich von Hildebrand, a great philosopher who left everything, including his house and his job as professor at the University of Munich, to go into exile in Austria in 1933 and from there to start an anti-Nazi newspaper. You can read more about von Hildebrand in a couple of recent books, My Battle Against Hitler and Soul of a Lion. We also visited the grave of Blessed Rupert Mayer, SJ, a priest and a Jesuit who was held in prison by the Nazi regime during the war and died just a few months after the war ended. He was a very successful preacher and confessor for the people of Munich, and he was also staunchly opposed to Hitler. In 1987, Fr. Mayer was raised to the first level of acclaim for holiness in the Catholic Church, known as „Blessed“, and I hope he will be declared a Saint some day soon.
I was also able to concelebrate mass on Sunday at St. Michael’s Church, the Jesuit Church in Munich. It is an extraordinarily beautiful church, and it has an amazing choir. It was such a privilege to offer the sacrifice of the Mass there, and to join the people of God in allowing the beautiful chant to life our souls to worship.
Continued prayers for all my family and friends. Many blessings-


Reflective Journal Entry 4:

My time in Germany concludes tomorrow. I am deeply grateful for this experience, since I am sure I would have been unable to make as much progress as I have without being here in Germany itself.
The week was an extremely pleasant one, and the week of class went very well. A number of days we had an afternoon trainer come to our group and we held wide-ranging discussions. In one of the best discussions, we had to use the German future tense, which we had just learned that morning, in order to describe the direction that society and the world are headed.
It has been fun to feel as if I am finding new ways to say things, and gaining more vocab that does not quite translate into English. It has been fun to work through the different German words for „usual“ and „usually“ – there are at least four different words that capture different nuances. Häufig captures the sense of numerical regularity, while Ständig captures the sense of consistent or constant. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) in German is Häufige Frage. This is just one example of the fun of capturing a little more of the essence of the language.
Today I had my last lunch with the Jesuit community. Lunch, Mittagessen, is the main meal of the day, and in the Jesuit community it has a certain formality. We begin standing around the 5-man dining tables, and the Minister (the second in charge) of the community leads us in a moment of prayer. We then sit, but before eating one Jesuit assigned for that day reads a short chapter from the Bible. As he finishes, the Rector (the man in charge of the whole house) says „Deo Gratias“, which is Latin for „Thanks be to God!“ We all reply likewise, and then we start to pass the food at the tables. The reader for the day also serves the tables. He brings each of the plates of food to the tables, and as we finish, he takes our dishes and silverware away. As the meal concludes, we stand for a quick prayer at the tables, and then we all file up one floor to the chapel, where we pause for about five minutes of quiet meditation. The rector himself then does a short reading and blesses us, and we all head on our way for the afternoon. One might wonder if all the formality makes lunch stilted or over-regulated. It is hard for me to know precisely, since I don’t speak the language so well yet, but as best I can tell, the conversations are often very funny and free-wheeling, the opposite of stilted. It has been one of my favorite parts of the experience here.
Continued prayers for all my family and friends.
In Christ,


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

I found that acquiring the ability to speak German is both very difficult and very rewarding. I found what was most helpful was to set aside some of the technical goals I had for learning German, and to focus directly on the ability to communicate how the day was going, what interested me, and what excited me. I found that by doing this, by focusing on everyday communication, I ended up achieving many of my technical academic goals as well. I found myself able to navigate German libraries, and I find that my ability to read German articles has significantly increased.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

One of the major things that has changed for me is a new appreciation for anyone who comes to another country and another language to study. I found for myself that the daily humiliations that accompany this work take a real toll, and I now have much deeper compassion and understanding for those who come to the USA and to Notre Dame and for whom English is not their first language. On one very precise point, I found it very fascinating to be in Germany during the crisis over debt relief for Greece. From an American perspective, I had considered Germany to be driving a very hard bargain, but in Germany it was striking to hear how justified they felt in demanding many concession from Greece. I still think that Germany treated Greece very harshly, but my ability to understand the German perspective on this political situation grew dramatically.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

A number of friends are beginning a German speaking group once a week, which we hope will allow us to maintain at least some competence in daily speech in German. We are going to have a rotating cast of fluent German speakers involved so that we are not simply devolving into a blend of English and German. I am also going to be using German in my academic work this fall, as a number of important works have been written in German in the subjects I am studying, as for example Ratzinger’s book on Eschatology, and Schmaus on Augustine on the Trinity.

2 thoughts on “Magree, Michael

  1. It opens us to be a child when we are in a foreign language. Most of us have a headache by the end of the day.. Yet it is the only way to walk in the shoes of another person by attempting to think in their language..