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Peeling the Onion

Posted by: on February 15, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

As my colleague, Dr.Erik Walters, likes to remind his students in the New Testament class, Rome is like an onion. You can peel away a layer, only to find several more beneath it.  Studying in Rome frequently requires students to move back and forth in time, often at the same site.  Many of the sites the class has already visited this semester make physically tangible the continuities between Rome’s ancient and imperial past and its continuing Catholic traditions.

St. Clement’s Basilica

Last week we traveled a span of two thousand years in just a few brief hours when we visited the Basilica of St. Clement. Clement succeeded St. Peter as Bishop of Rome during the Apostolic period.  The basilica was built on the site of a first century domus, usually the urban home of the Roman elite. Basilica is the term used for the court where the emperor heard legal cases.  The atrium was the open courtyard that served as an entry; it often had a water fountain that would symbolically remind the guest of the source of their life (the emperor).  The nave is the largest part of the basilica–it is where everyone would mingle prior to their hearing:  clients, notaries, attorneys.  It was called the navis because everyone was in the same boat. The emperor sat in the apse, the sphere of the divine.  From his seat, called the cathedra, he passed judgement upon the accused.  The physical geography visibly connects the Roman past and its Christian future.  By the 6th century, Roman basilicas became Christian places of worship.

Our tour started at the 11th century medieval church, where we examined the mosaics and frescoes in the atrium, nave, and apse.  The beautiful golden suns, the brilliant blue of the water, the cross with the white doves, the hand holding the laurel wreath, and the vine all visually reminded the congregation centuries ago, as it did our PC students, of the victory of Christ as the living vine and its branches, the church.

The basilica is also meaningful for PC students since it was Irish Dominicans who were responsible for the archaeological excavations of the earliest sections of the site.  As we descended the stairs, we entered a 6th century church that served as the foundation of the church we had just exited.  It was here that the saints Cyril and Methodius were buried in the 10th century.  Descending even further, we arrived at the vestibule of a mythreum, an altar dedicated to a competing cult during the imperial era.  This section dates back to 200; but it is not the oldest part.  Finally, we reached the domus that was used in the first century as a site for Christian worship during a time when Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.  Our climb up the stairs required us once again to move back through time,  this time from the first century to the present.

St. Agnes

One week later, at our site visit today, we once again moved back and forth in historic time several times.  Our tour started at the church of St. Mary of the Angels. This church is considered one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture; yet it is situated upon the site of an extensive network of public baths built by the Emperor Diocletian during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Today, it is also the site where funeral masses are held for Italian soldiers killed in action.   From there, we  visited the Church of St. Agnes and the tomb of St. Constance. The church was built in the 7th century.  Below it are approximately 15 miles of galleries, part of a catacomb where people, including St. Agnes, were buried in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  Students remarked that they have had numerous experiences in their travels when they found themselves to be travelling across and between time.

Statue of St Paul at Santo Stefano

Anytime we travel in Italy, we are called to peel the layers of the onion.  I attended a conference in Bologna last weekend.  While there, I had the opportunity to visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano, known locally as the Sette Chiese (Seven Churches).  It is an incredible complex of churches and a monastery. Bologna Magazine calls it the “House of Many Mansions”. The earliest church in the complex was founded in the 5th century on the earlier site of a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. Other parts date to the 8th, 11th, and 13th centuries.  The frescoes, mosaics, and other artwork were breath-taking, and the fact that these churches and monastery have been in constant use for more than a millennium was awe-inspiring.

All of us, student and faculty alike, benefit from the broadening of perspectives, the growth in our historical understanding, and the placement of our Catholic faith and heritage within its geographical context.  It also enhances our understanding of the universality of the Church.  It is one of the gifts that the study experience abroad provides, and it is what makes the PC-Rome program both unique and special.

Thanks for tuning in.  Go Friars!

As my colleague, Dr.Erik Walters, likes to remind his students in the New Testament class, Rome is like an onion. You... MORE

Friars in Firenze

Posted by: on February 3, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

The term “Soft skills” is currently in vogue in the business world.  While employers, human resource managers, and business owners look for applicants who possess the necessary “hard skills”, e.g. math, physics, engineering, accounting, etc., they are increasingly also seeking candidates who possess soft skills, also known as people skills:  the ability to communicate effectively, interpersonal skills, professionalism, and self-management skills, such as awareness, self-confidence, patience, and empathy.  In 1996, Daniel Goleman popularized the work of two researchers who coined the term emotional intelligence (EQ or EI).  Over the years, the exact meaning has been debated; but generally speaking, the term has come to include skills such as being empathetic to others’ emotions and feelings, the ability to adapt to a changing work culture, and the self-confidence to meet different challenges as they arise.

So what does this have to do with the PC-Rome program? Study abroad contributes to the development of these vital soft skills.  Among the goals of our PC-Rome program is to help our students develop cross-cultural competencies that are important in a globalizing world and to develop in students the self-confidence and awareness to make the most of their international study.  In addition to their academic work, students who have a truly authentic immersion experience will inevitably develop these soft skills and become attractive to prospective employers at the same time.

CEA goes to Florence

Last weekend, students participated in the first overnight trip of the semester, a trip to Florence organized by the CEA.  We met the students at Termini Railway Station at 9am sharp on Friday morning to catch the fast train to Florence.  After checking into the hotel, students were free to explore on their own and have lunch.  The afternoon program included a walking tour of artistic and historic sites led by professional guides.

The David (detail)

Our tour began in the piazza in front of the Baptistry and the Duomo, the Florentine cathedral.  The history of the construction of the cathedral intersects with the political history of Florence and the artistic history of the Renaissance.  One of the first stops on the tour was at the Accademia del’Arte, a museum that houses among its treasures multiple works by Michaelangelo, including the famous David. Our guide, Angela, is an art historian who teaches at CEA-Florence.  She explained the antecedents of this famous sculpture. Although the powerful Medici family had been a sponsor of Michealangelo, the David became a symbol of the political transition of Florence to a republican form of government. It originally stood outside the Palazzio Vecchio, the center of city administration. This relates to idea of decoding and unpacking the meaning of art that I discussed in last week’s blog.  We continued on a tour around the historic district, learning about the economic and political history of Florence as reflected in its architecture and public art, ending at the Ponte Vecchio where, for four hundred years, jewelers and goldsmiths have been selling their wares.

Students in the Angels and Demons Art History Class

That ended the formal program for the first day.  Armed with maps, lists of suggested restaurants and trattorias, the students were free to explore on their own.  Some of them walked for hours, browsing shop windows, walking along the Arno River, and getting acquainted with the general layout of the city.  Some ate pizza, others dined on Panini sandwiches, and still others ate sit-down meals sampling Tuscan variations of pasta, smoked meats, and other specialties.  Some stayed out late in the cafes and bars.  A few went back to the hotel and watched Italian television before getting a good night’s sleep.


Zucotto Cake

Saturday morning probably came a bit too early for many of the students  Nevertheless, after breakfast at the hotel, Andrea Masini and Caterina Marino, our CEA staff members, distributed tickets to the Duomo and its bell tower, the Baptistry, and a number of museums.    Students could explore on their own, and I saw many of them climbing the steps of the bell tower to take advantage of the scenic views of the dome of the cathedral and of  the city below us.  Most of them visited the Cathedral and the crypt beneath it, and still more viewed the incredible artistic treasures at the museum of the Duomo.  The group met at 12:30 and we walked together to the Ristorante Acqua Al 2.  There we enjoyed a three course meal, featuring typical Tuscan cuisine.  Students could sample prosciutto and other smoked meats, or they could try Panzanella,   a delicious tomato soup thickened with bread, onion, basil, olive oil and vinegar. They could choose between four different pasta dishes for their second course, including pappardelle.  The dessert assortment featured zucotta, a Florentine cake made with brandy, cake, and ice cream that is indescribably delicious.  Students enjoyed a glass of Tuscan wine with their “slow food” experience, chatting with one another as they waited for each course.

The Dome viewed from the Bell Tower

At this point, the CEA portion of the trip was officially over; however, all but two of the students elected to stay an additional night, taking advantage of the group rates that the hotel extended to our students.  Some of the students ended up staying in Florence.  Several of my students told me they revisited the David on Sunday before heading back to Rome.

On the Ponte Vecchio

Another group of students chose to explore the small towns of Tuscany located not far from Florence.  So, for example, some students traveled to Sienna while others ended up strolling around Pisa. In doing so, they had to make their own travel arrangements to return to Rome.  One student was nervous about transferring.  She knew she had only six minutes to get off the train, find the correct track, and board the right connection. I subsequently found out that she made it without a problem.  She now feels much more confident about her navigation skills, reading schedules, finding the correct track on arrival/departure boards, and train travel in general. Several noted that Florence was more expensive than they expected. They had to budget their money carefully in order to do what they wanted, eat and drink, and still make it back.  One student was excited about an experience she had at a local restaurant, where she was able to communicate (half in Italian and half in English) that she is lactose intolerant.  She enjoyed a delicious meal that didn’t make her ill, because she had been able to communicate her needs. She said the chef was happy to accommodate her.

Friars in Florence

The weekend trip to Florence was the perfect balance between guided, organized activities and free time where students decided what they would see and do.  These kinds of experiences enable our students to develop the soft skills mentioned earlier…the self-confidence to meet unexpected challenges in an unfamiliar environment, the beginnings of cross-cultural communication, and getting a sense of a culture from the inside out.  At our end of the semester career workshop, we will work with the students on how to communicate these transferable skills effectively in cover letters, resumes, and interviews.  In the meantime, they are relishing the memories of an incredibly beautiful city, the awe-inspiring beauty of its art and architecture, and the wonderful tastes of its distinctive cuisine


Thanks for tuning in!  Go Friars!

The term “Soft skills” is currently in vogue in the business world.  While employers, human resource managers, and business owners... MORE

How to Decode

Posted by: on January 24, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Mosaics in Walkway at Foro Italico 

The students in my class, The US, Italy and the Cold War, have been using US and Soviet political cartoons as a lens through which to understand how the conflict was defined and what the stakes were.  They analyzed the symbols each side used to identify its core values and convey its message. This week we considered fascism and the government of Mussolini prior to World War II.  Mussolini, also known as Il Duce, absolutely believed in the connection between politics and art; and in 1927, a Fascist National Organization for the Fine Arts was formed. According to art historian Kate Flint, two dominant features of fascist art are monumentality and myth. Mussolini commissioned a series of public buildings known  collectively as the EUR.  These show the Fascist intention of putting a modern stamp on the glories of the past.   One of the iconic symbols of the empire in Rome is the Colosseum (see the image on the left).  The image on the right is the Fascist (re)interpretation:  the Building of Italian Civilization, also known as the Square Colosseum.









On Monday our class visited Foro Italico, a sports complex commissioned by Mussolini and built between 1928 and 1931.  After a set of readings relating to fascism, fascist art, and resistance, they considered the physical geography of the Foro Italico and the statues, mosaics, and other structures. In short, students were asked to consider the relationship between art and political ideology and to what extent art and architecture can convey political beliefs and values. Fascist public art, such as can be found at the Foro Italico, lionized Il Duce as the new Augustus and made direct connections between the greatness of the ancient Roman Empire and the future of the new Italian empire. They borrowed heavily from classical art and architecture, but did it in a modern style.  So for example, Mussolini’s obelisk clearly emulates the Augustus obelisk, but in a distinctly Fascist style.  It is 120 feet high and weighs more than 300 tons…it is monumental and obviously intended to inspire awe.

PC and CEA Students at Mussolini’s Obelisk

Mussolini’s name and an oversized “Dux” (Latin for leader) are carved into the obelisk—impossible for anyone to miss. Central motifs of fascist art include devotion and heroism, particularly of those who serve the Italian state.  From the obelisk, students then walked along the Viale di Foro Italico, a walkway that  leads to the Olympic Stadium.  Designed by Luigi Moretti, huge marble blocks on either side commemorate the founding of the Fascist state and key dates in the establishment of its colonies in North Africa.  Like their peers during the 1930s, our students walked over paths decorated with mosaics, immortalizing Il Duce, mixing athletics and myth, connecting to the glories of the ancient Roman Empire, and calling on its audience to be physically fit, to be strong, dedicated, and disciplined, and to serve the nation.  The monumental marble statues in the Stadio di Marmi and the mosaic frescoes in the Olympic pool echo and reaffirm these themes.  By the end of the site visit, it was much easier for students to decode the Fascist symbols and understand both the messages and their intended audience.

Entrance to Stadio di Marmi (Stadium of Marbles)

Churches and cathedrals are full of symbolism and packed with a multitude of meanings.  My colleague, Dr. Aurelie Hagstrom, a former resident faculty director of the PC-Rome program, used to assign a text entitled, How to Read a Church by Richard Taylor, for the students in her New Testament in the Eternal City class. The purpose of the text is to enable students to understand the main features of the churches and other holy places they visit, including decoding the symbolism of the individual animals, plants, colors, numbers, and letters.  Students learn to interpret the images in church art and to relate them to Christian teachings about God, the life of Christ, the history of the Catholic Church, the lives of the saints, and to understand the ways in which Church architecture and art intersect with theology.  This semester, students in the PC-Rome program will accompany Dr. Erik Walters on numerous site visits both to “read the churches” and to relate them to the New Testament.  They will become adept at decoding Christian symbolism and imagery.  Their first visit takes place this week when they visit the “sacred area” of the Largo Argentina, the site of the remains of sacred temples dating back to the Roman Republic.  From there, they will walk to the Pantheon, including the obelisk that stands before it.  Students will consider the iconography of Roman Emperor Augustus—the obelisks were intended to convey the continuity between the Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman emperors.  Later, many obelisks were transformed from symbols of paganism to Christian monuments with the addition of a cross, new inscriptions, and the heraldic symbols of popes.  Many of these are located in the center of a piazza or in front of one of main basilicas of Rome.  The Obelisk of Augustus, for example, was relocated in 1586 and situated in front of St. Peter’s. (Rosamie Moore, https://www.romeartlover.it/Obelisks.html, 2015).


On Friday, many CEA and PC students will travel to Florence for an overnight trip.  There they will continue to develop their understanding of the intersection of art, theology, and history.  I will update you periodically on their progress. Thanks for tuning in and go Friars!

Mosaics in Walkway at Foro Italico  The students in my class, The US, Italy and the Cold War, have been... MORE

New Year, New Semester, New Adventure

Posted by: on January 13, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Welcome to CEA and to Rome!


Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!  Many make resolutions at the beginning of a new year that express their hopes and aspirations.  Some wish to live healthier lives and resolve to watch their diet and exercise more regularly.  Others hope to be better organized and more productive so as to leave more time for leisure activities.  Still others aspire to have a better balance between their   professional, personal, and spiritual lives.  It seems a natural time to start anew.

CEA-Rome Staff members: Chiara Ortolani, Alexandra Massini, Anna Felberbaum, and Caterina Marino. (Absent with the flu – Andrea Masini)

At the Center for Education Abroad office in Rome, the staff are excited about new initiatives at the CEA.  This upcoming semester, the center will introduce Italian movie nights (with English subtitles), an evening of apperitivos with Italian students from other universities in Rome,  and a new fitness regime known as Impacto Training taught by Italian trainers who will work out with interested students at different historic sites in and around Rome.  All of these are designed to provide more complete immersion experiences for our students.

One of the great joys of teaching is this ability to start anew and to get to know a new population of students with their diverse backgrounds and interests. Every semester represents a clean slate.  I have been teaching classes on the Cold War for many years, but this semester I will be teaching a new seminar that uses Italy as a focus for understanding the origins, course, and consequences of a conflict that dominated the second half of the twentieth century and continues to shape the world in which we live.  In keeping with the PC-Rome and CEA goal of using Rome as a classroom, my students will make a number of site visits, including to the Sorratte Bunker that was built for Mussolini but was re-purposed to serve as a safe haven for the Italian cabinet in the event of a nuclear attack. I have integrated new readings, developed new discussion questions related to older readings, and worked on a revised schedule that balances class work, site visits, and individual research. This new lens through which to examine the Cold War is both challenging and intellectually stimulating and I am excited to start the class.

Other faculty teaching in the PC-Rome/CEA program are likewise preparing for the new semester. PC students are required to take Italian language classes and a theology course, The New Testament in the Eternal City.  In addition, a number of new faculty members  will be teaching courses in business and philosophy this coming semester, offering our students great opportunities to fulfill requirements for their major or pursue their interests in greater depths.

Students submitting paperwork for their residence permits

Our PC Friars and students from fifteen colleges and campuses around the US arrived to Rome this week to start a new adventure.  They are coping with jet lag, lost luggage, learning to find their way around their new apartments and neighborhoods, and participating in a whole series of orientation programs designed to enable them to make the most of their semester, their time in Rome and in Italy, and to insure their personal safety and well-being.  They are all in the “honeymoon” stage of cultural adaptation.  Their orientation has included discussions of housing and academic policy, maintaining their personal safety, and submitting the necessary documentation for  their permesso di soggiorno (residency permit).  They have had an “SOS Italian language class”,  guided walking tours of Rome,  and toured their new neighborhoods—designed to provide them with basic survival skills such as  “how to shop at an Italian grocery store” and how to use public transportation.

This weekend, PC Friars are invited to a Welcome-to-Rome English-language Mass that will be held at the Pontifical North American College. After mass they will enjoy  unobstructed views of St. Peter’s and Rome from the rooftop terrace of the college, followed by pizza (of course!).  At our PC orientation meeting, I asked  our students to lay out their goals for the semester, both in terms of their personal development and from the perspective of their academic majors. These were in the form of New Year’s resolutions.  Like many other students studying abroad, they want both to get to know Italy better and also to travel throughout Europe.    At the same time, they want to do well in their academic work and recognize the special challenges that an international experience means in terms of balancing the cultural explorations and meeting academic deadlines and being prepared for classes.  We will revisit these at the end of the semester to see how successfully students were able to keep their resolutions for this semester.

View of St. Peter’s from rooftop of North American College

One of the inspirational quotations at this semester’s orientation for new students comes from Dr. Seuss:  Today is the day I shall behave as if this is the day I will be remembered.  We want our students to experience their semester abroad in an authentic way.  We hope they will have no regrets at the end of the semester because they have been purposeful in their studies, mindful in their travels, and truly immersed in Italian and European culture.  Classes begin on Monday.  We’ll see how long those resolutions last and how far they carry our students on their personal journeys.

Thanks for tuning in and Go Friars!


  Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!  Many make resolutions at the beginning of a new year that express their hopes... MORE

Buon Natale!

Posted by: on December 13, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

The semester is over; students have departed–some to travel and others to rejoin their family and friends.  The staff at Providence College and CEA are already preparing for the incoming students.  In the meantime, we wish you a blessed and joyous Christmas.

St. Peter’s

The semester is over; students have departed–some to travel and others to rejoin their family and friends.  The staff at... MORE


Posted by: on November 29, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized
Fountain at Pantheon (detail)

Fountain at Pantheon (detail)

No one can believe it.  It seems that just yesterday our PC Friars were moving into their apartments, getting orientated to Rome, and starting their semester-long adventure.  This is the final week.  Students are presenting their research, submitting their papers, and taking final exams.  Students in several classes, including the New Testament in the Eternal City, are anxiously awaiting their turns to take oral examinations with their professors.

finalsThroughout the semester, students in Prof. Alessandro Zanazzo’s Photography class learned the fundamentals of photography  in class and by studying the works of world-renowned photographers.  They traveled to sites around Rome and in Italy to develop their artistic vision and hone their skills.  Last week, the exhibit of the fruits of their labor opened.  CEA and PC students enjoyed light refreshments as they viewed the photographs exhibited on the walls and saw the larger body of photographic work in slide shows viewable on the laptops of our student photographers.  Their comments and critiques contributed to the selection of the prize-winning photograph by Meghan Frazier.  All of  their photos were breathtaking in their diversity of subject, perspective, and  beauty.

final3 finals2






This is also a week of finals in another sense.  Students  are using up the last of the groceries and beginning the task of sorting and cleaning out their apartments.  They are making their farewell visits to their favorite cafe, ristorante, or bar.  They are anticipating the final cappuccino, the last slice of pizza from their favored pizzeria,  one more gelato, and that final visit to hangouts in the city that has been their home for the last four months.

Om Thursday evening, the staff and faculty at CEA will join the students at the Baja Boat Ristorante on the Lungotevere (near the Tiber) for a farewell dinner.  Although PC students will see each other on campus in January, they will be saying goodbye to the other CEA students, who come from colleges and universities around the country.  They have been flatmates, classmates, and fellow travellers.  It will be hard to say goodbye.

Finally, Friday is move-out day and most of our students will be saying a final good-bye to Rome.  Hopefully they will be saying arrivederci, until we meet again.  Thanks for tuning in.  Go Friars!


No one can believe it.  It seems that just yesterday our PC Friars were moving into their apartments, getting orientated... MORE


Posted by: on November 26, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized
St. Peter's

St. Peter’s

November 24, 2016 was a day for ringraziemento (thanksgiving).

PC Friars who remained in Rome for the holiday weekend enjoyed a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with the CEA staff at Mama’s Restaurant in Rome.  The owner is a native of New Jersey and the Thanksgiving meal served at her restaurant has been rated one of the best in the city.

Although they missed their family and friends during this special holiday, students were grateful for the incredible opportunity of having studied in Rome this semester.  They also expressed their gratitude to the staff at CEA who have done everything in their power to enable students to make the most of their experience.  This dinner, like so many other events and outings organized by CEA and PC was special, not only for the delicious food, but also for the camaraderie and the opportunity to be together to celebrate.




Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  Go Friars!





November 24, 2016 was a day for ringraziemento (thanksgiving). PC Friars who remained in Rome for the holiday weekend enjoyed a... MORE

Time Accelerated

Posted by: on November 19, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized
Benedictine Monastery - Subiaco

Benedictine Monastery – Subiaco

img_6318Last week, PC and CEA students did a day trip to the hills overlooking Subiaco, Italy, the site where St. Benedict lived for three years as a hermit in the caves above the town and the place where he later built the first of twelve monasteries.  Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College talked about the role of Benedict’s rule and the contributions of the Benedictine monasteries in preserving and transmitting knowledge from antiquity and in propagating the faith. Dr. Alexandra Massini, an art historian, also accompanied the group and explicated the frescoes that depict both the life of Jesus Christ and the life and works of Benedict.  It was a cool, slightly rainy day and it was quite easy to imagine how difficult it must have been for Benedict to survive in the cave and to think about the kind of faith that contributed to his many good works.Equally difficult must have been the task of building the monastery on top of  the steep hill and visualizing pilgrims who traveled to the monastery over the ages to seek grace.  The earthquakes that shook Italy a few weeks earlier destroyed the cathedral in Norcia, where St. Benedict had been buried, so it was especially moving to be in this holy place where he had lived and worked.





The group then traveled through the Italian countryside to the beautiful little town of Anagni, a town that has had an important history over the millennia.  During Roman times, it was strategically important because this hill town overlooks a valley with an important route to the sea in the south.  Many Roman emperors also liked to stay in Anagni to escape the summer heat.

Anagni is also known as the “City of Popes”.  During one 100-year period,  four popes came from two prominent families of the town.  During the 12th and 13th centuries, Anagni, which has maintained many elements from its medieval history, was more important than Rome.  While City Hall is at the center of the town, the Cathedral is at the top of the hill at the end of the main cobbled street that starts at the town walls.  Charming alleys and steep side streets branch off the main road.  After a delicious lunch where students were able to sample local and regional specialties, Dr. Massini led us on a tour of the Cathedral and the crypt below.

"Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages"

“Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages”

The Cathedral is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture  commissioned by the Bishop St.Peter of Salerno in 1072 and consecrated in 1104.  According to legend,  St. Magnus had a vision and instructed Peter, a Benedictine monk, to build the cathedral there, on the site of an ancient pagan sanctuary.  St. Magnus was later buried in the cathedral; and the relics of Sts. Secondina, Aurelia, and other martyrs are interred there.  Several Gothic additions were added centuries later.  A reliquary containing remains of St. Thomas Becket is included among its important holdings.

The crypt below the cathedral has been called the “Sistine Chapel of Middle Ages.”  The floor is an original and unrestored Cosma pavement dating back to circa 1235.  The walls and ceilings of the crypt are completely covered in medieval frescoes, most of them fully intact and still brightly colored.  They are among the most extensive and best preserved medieval frescoes in Europe and depict the lives of the saints, scenes from the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and most especially a detailed vision of the Apocalypse.

This type of excursion is typical of PC/CEA outings.  Students deepen their understanding of Catholic faith and practice, the history of the church and of the papacy, the history of Rome and of Italy, and the history of art and architecture during the Middle Ages. They also venture into the Italian countryside and are able to sample local and regional cuisine.  We strive to balance the academic, the cultural, and the fun!

One short week later, PC students participated in a career and reentry workshop.  They are already being asked to contemplate the ways in which this semester abroad experience has affected them.  How has their academic classwork been enhanced by site visits and using Rome as a classroom?  What kinds of skills and competencies have they developed as a result of being immersed in Italian culture, living in Rome, and traveling elsewhere in Europe?  How can these be communicated effectively in a resume, cover letter, or during a job interview?   This coming week is the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by final exam week.  Papers, projects, and presentations are all coming due.  At the same time, students are beginning to think about returning home.  The workshop also discussed some common experiences relating to re-entry, including “reverse culture shock”.  More than a few expressed disbelief at how quickly this semester has passed!  It is as if time has suddenly accelerated!  But for now, they are determined to savor every last second.  Go Friars!

Last week, PC and CEA students did a day trip to the hills overlooking Subiaco, Italy, the site where St.... MORE

Critical Perspectives in Rome

Posted by: on November 10, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized
Detail - Arch of Titus, Forum

Detail – Arch of Titus, Forum


Dome Great Synagogue

Dome Great Synagogue

The Jewish community in Rome dates back to 70AD, when Jewish prisoners and slaves were brought back by Titus after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  This historic event is commemorated on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.  For hundreds of years, this Jewish community was confined to a ghetto located on the banks of the Tiber, and Jews living there experienced all sorts of discrimination and periodic persecution.  The ghetto was abolished in 1870 and after the unification of Italy, Jews were emancipated and became Italian citizens.  The ghetto itself was razed, including the five synagogues within.  At the turn of the 19th century, a new synagogue was built that continues to serve as the religious and social heart of the Jewish community in Rome.  Its distinctive eclectic design and square dome, the only one in Rome, reflects the Jewish community’s desire to make visible their pride in their newfound freedom.


img_6312This week, Prof. Jim Schwarten and I took some of our students on a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, including visits to the Great Synagogue, the Jewish Museum, and 16 October 1943 Square—the site where Jews were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  All around the quarter are bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks or marble placards on the face of buildings indicating where individuals who had lived in the quarter disappeared forever.  Students were particularly moved by one indicating the home where one man had returned, only to find that his wife and nine children had been seized.  He never saw them again.  The violence against the Jewish citizens didn’t end there.  Another moving memorial is one dedicated to Stefano Gaj Taché, a two year old child who was among the victims of a Palestinian terror attack in 1982.  More than thirty men, women, and children were also injured as they left the synagogue after weekly prayers. Having seen this, the students could understand the large police presence at the entrances to the quarter and the presence of so many security cameras.


PC and CEA students with Prof. Schwarten

PC and CEA students with Prof. Schwarten


Great Synagogue of Rome (detail)

Great Synagogue of Rome (detail)

Prof. Schwarten is a sociologist who teaches Critical Perspectives on Italy:  Contemporary Society and Culture.  My students are in my History of the Modern Middle East class.  Both of these are electives courses  available to students in the PC-Rome/CEA program.  Prof. Schwarten and I approached the site visit from different academic perspectives:  he from the point of view of Jews who stayed, particularly after the trauma of World War II and the Holocaust.  His class explores questions of identity, healing, and reintegration.  My class, in contrast, approached the site visit from the perspective of Jews who left, particularly those who immigrated to Palestine before World War II or to Israel in the postwar era. The long-term persecution of Jews and the Holocaust convinced many Zionists that their only hope lay in returning to Eretz Israel, the Biblical lands promised to them in scripture. Our class also explores the enduring impact of the Holocaust on Israeli politics and society.


Bas-relief - Museo Ebraico

Bas-relief – Museo Ebraico

While Rome is the heart of the Catholic Church, it is also home to a large Jewish community and the site of one of the largest mosques in Europe.  Since 1986, three popes, including most recently Pope Francis, have visited there to promote healing and interreligious dialogue. Students at CEA/PC-Rome have unique opportunities to learn about these communities and their efforts to deal with questions of identity, diversity, and religious coexistence.  Thanks for tuning in.

Go Friars!

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Posted by: on November 2, 2016   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized


St. Paul's Basilica

St. Paul’s Basilica

St. Paul

St. Paul

Last week students in the New Testament in the Eternal City class had a site visit at St Paul’s Basilica, or St. Paul’s Outside the Walls as it is commonly called.  It is one of the five arched basilicas in Rome and the place where St. Paul was buried.  Among the relics there are the chains that bound him while he awaited his execution.  The basilica dates back to the 4th century.  The entrance to the basilica is fronted by a beautiful courtyard surrounded by a marble colonnade.  Less than twenty-four hours after the class visit, an earthquake hit central Italy.  The aftershocks could be felt as far south as Rome.

_92164815_norcia_fault_lines_624This weekend another major earthquake hit central Italy, the fourth major earthquake in less than three months.  It destroyed ancient buildings in Umbria, including the Basilica of St. Benedict in the town of Norcia.  Thankfully, most people in this region were living in shelters or sleeping in their cars as a result of the seismic shocks, so there was little loss of life.  The aftershocks and tremors hit Rome on Sunday morning at 7:41am. Buildings shook, windows creaked, and bits of ceilings fell.  The colonnade of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls cracked. Cracks appeared in some of the walls of St. Peter’s Cathedral.  The tremors were significantly stronger and lasted longer than those that hit four days earlier.

When PC students first arrived for orientation this past August, an informal poll asked them to list one major fear or concern they had about studying abroad and one of their fondest hopes for the semester ahead.  As can be expected in the age of the War on Terror, their responses included fear of a terrorist attack.  Other concerns included fear of being victims of pickpockets or other petty crime, a worry that they would not be fully immersed in Roman life, and concern that their language skills would not be sufficient to enable them to navigate daily life in Rome.  NO ONE listed  seismic activity as a concern.  No one predicted that during their first week in Rome, central Italy would be hit by a major earthquake that would kill more than 300 persons, cause thousands to be left homeless, and destroy countless ancient and  contemporary buildings. Towns like Amitrice, which was crowded with visitors there for the annual festival celebrating  Amitriciana pasta sauce, were decimated.

Amitrice After the Earthquake

Amitrice After the Earthquake

Italy is a small country roughly the size of Arizona.  Students could witness firsthand and in a much more intimate way how the Italian government, the Catholic Church,  nonprofit organizations (such as Doctors without Borders), and the Italian people responded to the catastrophe.  They  watched rescue crews frantically racing time to save victims buried under the rubble.  Pope Francis offered a mass for the victims and made a special trip to the region to offer support and prayers–churches around Italy took up a special collection.  Many local restaurants donated a portion of the proceeds whenever their patrons ordered pasta Amitriciana, a pasta sauce  that originates in the town of Amitrice made with pepper, pecorino cheese, and tomatoes cooked in guanciale, Italian salt-cured pork jowl.  Students might have noticed the candle-light prayer services, the blood drives, and the multiplicty of ways in which the entire Italian nation responded to the suffering. In addition to its other efforts, the Italian Red Cross also organized a series of concerts to raise money for the victims. The CEA center in Rome collected toiletries and other personal care products donated for the victims of the earthquakes.  Sometimes the study abroad experience encompasses learning that extends far beyond visiting popular tourist sites or tasting local cuisine; in times of crisis, students can gauge the kinds of resources that are harnessed to respond to unexpected needs.  These shed light on cultural values and priorities.

Naturally,  parents and families  worry about the safety of PC students studying abroad when they see the news reports of natural disasters such as these earthquakes, or man-made catastrophes, such as the Paris terror attacks of a year ago.  CEA and PC Rome have well-established protocols to reach out to every student to ascertain they are safe and to assist them should the need arise. The CEA also maintains an emergency phone line that is staffed 24/7. Luckily, none of our students have been negatively affected.

As the colder weather nears, let us keep the earthquake victims of the hill towns of Italy in our hearts and prayers. Thanks for tuning in. Go Friars!

  Last week students in the New Testament in the Eternal City class had a site visit at St Paul’s... MORE