Providence College was founded in 1917 by the Dominican Order. The Dominican Tradition has its origin in the life and ministry of St. Dominic de Guzman (1172 – 1221), the son of a Spanish noble, who founded one of the largest religious Orders in the Catholic Church. His charismatic vision of a way of responding to the needs of the Church in the thirteenth century led to the establishment of the Order of Preachers –popularly known as the Dominicans.
The Providence College in Rome program is rooted in and flows from the Catholic and Dominican mission of the College. The students are able to experience, in very tangible ways, the Dominican “ethos” and “narrative” while studying here in Rome.
One way this happens is by visiting the world headquarters of the Dominican Order at Santa Sabina. Santa Sabina basilica is the Mother Church of the Dominican Order and is located on top of one of the seven hills of Rome – the Aventine Hill.
This semester our tour was led by Fr. Michael Mascari, O.P. Currently, Fr. Mascari serves on the General Council of the Order and works closely with the Master General. His position is known as “Socius for the Intellectual Life”. He is also a former member of the Board of Trustees of Providence College.
Santa Sabina is a 5th century early Christian basilica built over the family home of St. Sabina. In the first century, the Aventine was the site of an affluent patrician neighborhood. It is thought that Sabina was the patroness of a “house church” which means that Christians met at her home for prayer, worship, and celebration of the Eucharist.
While explaining the art and architecture of this beautiful church, Fr. Mascari also wove in the story of Dominic, his foundation of the Order, and his experiences while living in Rome.
After exploring the basilica, we went inside the residence or “convent” of the Dominicans. This is where the cell of St. Dominic is located. Transformed into a chapel, this room of Dominic made a deep impression on the students. We said a prayer there together asking for Dominic’s help and inspiration.
Besides St. Dominic, there are other famous Dominicans who have lived at Santa Sabina. A plaque on the wall listing former residents offers a veritable “Who’s Who” of Dominican history. St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. Pius V all lived here at one time or another. We also saw St. Pius V’s cell, which has been turned into a chapel as well.
I think it’s important for our students to get a sense of the international character of the Dominican Order, its history, legacy, and mission in the Church today. Experiences like our tour of Santa Sabina should provide that. After all, a Friar is more than just a basketball mascot!