Words: Martin Obermayr Photo: Snowsports Academy
What have St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Snowsports Academy got in common? They both reside in Vienna. They don’t however just have this in common, the Dean of the Cathedral also has a strong connection with snow sports. When Toni Faber was a student he also worked as a ski instructor. We caught up with him and had a chat.
Toni Faber is the PR professional you could only wish for. After just a few moments talking he’s ready to bring our requests to life; if he could please position himself in front of the church with a pair of skis. First and foremost, he is the Priest of this beautiful cathedral, that has 6.2 million visitors annually. Second, he was someone who in his youth taught people to ski.
His statement, as to why he loves skiing, is highly professional, without the slightest mistake: “I work, celebrate and pray daily in St Stephens Cathedral. The most beautiful Cathedral however, is the open skies, when I’m in the mountains and let God live with me there. It’s especially enjoyable when I get the opportunity to ski the powder in Arlberg.”
First efforts and a broken leg
In the 1960s when Toni was a child, he was already using wooden skis on the hills of Liesing, a district on the edge of Vienna. “In ‘Gütenbachtal’, on the ‘Himmelswiese’ or on ‘Mauer-Berg’ we always tried to emulate our idol, Toni Sailer, and practice ski jumping.” As Toni remembers he leads us straight to an anecdote. “We were always building jumps. When I was nine, I had a really big crash, but I didn’t want it to get the better of me. So, I went and rode it again, but this time I had an even bigger fall and broke my foot.” There is a religious connection to the story: “As I sat at home with my plaster cast on, I actually missed my first confession.”
A common thread throughout the Cathedral Dean’s life has been the connection he has between his Beliefs and sport. In his teenage years he first got to know Arlberg on a Ski trip with his Parish Youth group. When he was a student of Theology, he completed his training to be able to lead School Ski groups. His first trainings course brought him to the renowned State Sport Institution (Bundessportheim) in St.Christoph am Arlberg. Here he also got to know Franz Hoppichler, the so to say “Pope” of the Austrian Ski education system.
Ski Instructor and a swarm of girls
After Toni finished his training, he was hired by the ski school of another famous Austrian: Hubert Neuper, Ski Jumping Silver medal winner of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and Level 4 Ski Instructor (Staatlicher Skilehrer). “In the middle of the 1980s I worked for two seasons there. I was there for four weeks each season, they were really fun times,” raves Toni about these unique experiences. Of course, the Cathedral Dean has some funny tales to tell about his times there: “At the time I was also preparing for my training to be a Priest, this left quite an impression, especially on the women. Often, they asked if I wouldn’t reconsider. Others thought Theology was something to do with rocks, they had it confused with Geology.”
The yearly adventure to Arlberg
To date Toni Faber remains faithful to skiing. Even if his diary is full, he donates a week’s break to it after the Christmas celebrations. The days over the New Years period are spent in the Arlberg Hospisz Hotel in St Christoph for “Spritual-ski” welfare. Even here he follows his priestly duties. “During the day I go skiing, but in the evening I take holy mass in the Christophorous Chapel. It’s a really uplifting feeling when on a Sunday or on New Year’s up to 150 people come to the service.” Toni Faber has a cosmopolitan and humble manner meaning he is a welcome guest in Austrian Politics, Economy and Society. PR Appointments are essentially his daily bread and take up about a third of his working day. Another third is used managing the 80 employees of his at St Stephens Cathedral, and the rest is for spiritual welfare. “The heart of my job is having contact with the people; be it at mass, praying or private conversation, this is what I really care about. For exactly this reason I have never wanted to be a Bishop or Cardinal, I would miss out on all of that.”
152 m Bungee Jump
As much as the Cathedral Dean loves his work for the church, he loves pushing his sporting boundaries by taking part in thrilling activities. In 2002 he was brave enough to bungee-jump 152m from the Danube Tower, not of course before the German bungee pioneer, Jochen Schweizer, showed him how it was done. “I’m in no way an adrenaline junkie, but these types of experiences really stimulate me. The worst part of it all was having to wait a long time due to the wind. I couldn’t back out either as there were so many journalists from the TV, Radio and newspapers there. I’m too vain for that.” He tells us with a wide smile. “Public relations through Gospel” is what Toni Faber calls these activities, which he does with conviction. “It’s a chance to reach the masses, there’s only one percent of Viennese who attend church regularly.” To prove that his PR Performances are effective he gives us the figures; “There are 100 new people a year entering my Parish – not bad for this day.”
St Stephens Cathedral and Manner-Schnitten
It’s no wonder, that Toni Faber has many Austrian celebrities in his friendship circle. In the spring of 2019, the widow of Niki Lauda asked him if he would lead the funeral ceremony of the famous Formula 1 World Champion. Likewise, he held the farewell ceremony for the “Father” of the Manner-Schnitten. Carl Manner donated a lot to St Stephens Cathedral, over 35 years he fully financed two employees for the Cathedrals renovations, a value of 2 Million Euros. In addition to this he requested that the support from the Manner company would continue even after his death. And the St Stephens Cathedral is drawn on the blush pink packets of the Manner Waffles, something Toni is outwardly happy about – because this too is a very sympathetic form of advertising for his Cathedral.