A few days into the semester, I had recommended the students see the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Built upon the former Egyptian Temple of Isis – long mistakenly thought to be that of the Greco-Roman goddess Minerva – the church is the spiritual home of the Order of Preachers here in Rome. It was likely Christianized in the eighth century by Pope Zachary. Pope Alexander allowed the Friars to use it in the thirteenth-century, and by 1275 it became officially Domincan. In the 16th Century, the surrounding buildings came to house the College of St. Thomas Aquinas, then the forerunner of today’s Angelicum, which is named in honor of the “Doctor Angelicus” himself. In 1628, it was used as a tribunal for the Inquisition. It was where, in 1633, Galileo was convicted as being “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his non-Copernican worldview. And it houses the remains of two of the most historically significant Dominicans: the blessed Fra Angelico (1395-1455) and Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1480).
For its centrality to Roman history, Christian history, and specifically the history of the Dominican Order, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is an absolute must-see for our students. Besides all this, it is one of the most beautiful churches anywhere in the world. With its deep lapis-colored ceiling dotted with stars, it is the last remaining Gothic Church in all of Rome. It showcases Michelangelo’s 1521 ‘Christ of Minerva’ and Bernini’s haunting 1647 memorial to Sister Maria Raggi.
A number of our students, taking the suggestion to attend Mass at Santa Maria, had a unique and irreproducible experience. I’ll let them tell the story in their own words.
Michael Splann: “My roommates and I walked about a half hour on one of the hottest days of the year to arrive at the gorgeous gothic basilica for their 11am mass in Italian (which proved to be less difficult than we thought it would be to follow along).
Matthew Branagan: “The outside façade is largely undecorated and could even be considered unnoticeable. However, we found that the interior was exciting and remarkable. We found our seats in the wooden pews, in silent awe of the majesty before us. The mass began and although it was completely in Italian [we were able to understand some of it]. After we were ready to leave, both Michael and Aiden both wanted to light a candle for a prayer in front of St. Catherine’s altar.
Aiden McGoldrick: “As I was saying a prayer at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena after mass, the priest who had said the mass approached […] Mike and I. He began asking us questions such as where we were from and why we had attended his mass. We got to talking and he told us his name was Father Cassianderbes and was a Dominican priest at the church.”
Michael Splann: “He showed my roommates and me all around the basilica including a room in the back sacristy where St. Catherine died and he allowed us to go inside the enclosure to see the tomb up close.”
Charles McDonald: “Giving us some information, he told us that the tomb was only open one day a year (on her feast day I believe) and that the line to go inside would be incredibly long. After a brief pause he said, “So do you guys want to go in?” I cannot express how shocked we were at this incredible offer. We honestly thought he was joking. But lo and behold, Fr. Cassian got the key to her tomb and opened it up to let us in. Fitting about three at a time, we took turns saying prayers, taking pictures, and simply marveling at the opportunity we had just been given. Quite simply, it was one of those rare opportunities that we would simply never get if we stayed back at PC. It is a perfect example of an experience that I personally came to Rome in search of.
After seeing St. Catherine, Fr. Cassian then took us to the room in which she lived and died in. If going in her tomb was a once in a lifetime experience, going to that room must have been a once in 1,000 lifetimes experience. […] Between the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena and the room she had lived and died in was actually the church sacristy. It was at one point, the venue in which two separate popes were elected. I will never forget that as we first walked into the room Fr. Cassian pointed to a painting over the door and said, “That painting depicts pope Nicholas V being elected during the 15th century. Do you know where that was?” Shaking our heads no, he pointed to the opposite side of the room and proclaimed, “At that very spot”. And lo and behold, by comparing the painting to the spot he had referenced, it was clearly the spot Pope Nicholas had been elected. Personally, it was a powerful moment comparing that painting to the actual spot in the room. So often do we go to spots of great historical significance but to have that side-by-side comparison of what had happened and what is there now allowed us to really step into the past and vividly imagine a papal conclave occurring some 600 years ago.”
Matthew Branagan: “With utmost certainty, I can say that venerating Saint Catherine’s tomb was the most holy place I have ever been in my entire life. The experience was exceptionally humbling and I was reminded of Saint Catherine’s virtuous life. I contemplated her devotion to the faith and the intense majesty it inspired within me. The feeling of being in such a beautiful basilica combined with having the opportunity to praise St. Catherine still sends chills up my spine. The coincidence of running into a friar that knew one of us and that exact mass was nothing short of Providence. I still cannot believe that this event took place, but I know that I will be eternally grateful for such an incredible educational and spiritual event.”
Aiden McGoldrick: “For my friends and I to be given such an incredible and once in a lifetime personally guided tour is definitely one of the most memorable experiences that I think that I have had in Rome so far. I have never experienced anything like this back home. […] Everyday I am learning something new about the city and its history. Everyday I am learning more and more about the Catholic church itself in Rome. Everyday I am growing and learning something new about myself as a person. I am seeing all of these incredible things and it has changed me for the better.”
Charles McDonald: “I came to Rome to have a unique experience; one that I could never have staying in Providence, Rhode Island. Going inside of the tomb of St. Catherine, seeing where she lived and died, standing in a room in which two popes were elected, and seeing the visible effects of Napoleon are the types of experiences that I came in search of. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to go where I went and see what I saw because I know it was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience.”
Michael Splann: “Fr. Cassian and I have already met up again since then. The Dominican community is one of my favorite things about PC and is something I had thought I would miss coming here to Rome, which is why meeting Fr. Cassian that day gave me great hope. As I reflect on this experience on my first Sunday in Rome, I am reminded that it’s truly God’s “Providence” that has led me here to the Eternal City this semester and I look forward to encountering everything He has planned.”
Rome continues to surprise us. A few days into the semester, I had recommended the students see the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Built upon the former Egyptian Temple of Isis – long mistakenly thought to be that of the Greco-Roman goddess Minerva – the church is the spiritual home of the Order of […]MORE
“I think I’m just going to head home tonight.”
After the third day of Orientation at the CEA Center in Rome – and a whirlwind of information – that was a curious thing to hear. 46 PC Students had just said goodbye to families and friends, boarded planes with overstuffed luggage, and crossed an ocean. Filled with hope, filled with natural anxieties, they one-by-one entered their new lives for an academic semester in Rome. Finding their apartments, they would meet their roommates: a mix of old friends and new ones.
The next morning, they would find their new school at Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, 27.
They would order their first meals in bravely-attempted Italian and pay with their freshly-exchanged currencies. They would learn to jump breathlessly out of the way of speeding scooters and learn to grab tight to the straps of bumpy buses. And they would, exhausted but holding steady, take their first steps through the Eternal City.
The wondrous, the unfamiliar, the frustrating, and the unspeakably beautiful –all of this they would they would, just a few days later, refer to as ‘home’.
But what is ‘home’?
Certainly, it’s where one feels comforted after a long day. It’s where the familiar takes the place of the strange – where there’s safety and relaxation and much-welcomed serenity from the stresses of life. In the past, our students used ‘home’ mostly to describe their family house and their Providence College dorms. But those lie an ocean away now. The students are definitely finding Rome a very different kind of home. Rome doesn’t do peace and quiet. Her streets are hard and hot and demanding. For every familiarity, Rome offers a challenge. In place of ease, it offers the hectic. The mundane gives way to the extraordinary with every step. And it’s not just Rome. The students are learning that anything foreign requires our open-mindedness and patience. Anything new requires a constant willingness to learn. Anything difficult demands our intrepidity.
I won’t pretend it’s what the exhausted student meant when she said: “I think I’m just going to head home tonight.” I suspect she was simply tired. But for me, as their professor, I had to smile.
Home is where you grow up.
With this in mind I asked a few students what calling Rome ‘home’ meant to them. It was a general question that I left open to their own interpretation.
“After being in Rome for about a week now, my mom has asked me on multiple occasions if I am home sick. Maybe it’s the culture shock and jet lag talking, but no I’m not! Via Belli may not be my home forever but it sure does feel like home right now!” — Catherine Maguire
“There is a saying “home is where the heart is” but how do we ever know where our heart truly is? Does it come with being comfortable? Being happy? These next three months I hope I can find my home in Rome and hopefully Rome will always be a piece of my heart.” — Chris Campanelli
‘This past week has been a been a pretty significant adjustment for most of us: time change, weather, school, a new culture, a brand new city. It’s hard to not miss the familiarity of home once and awhile. For me, that is New Jersey and Providence College. Two homes. Two years ago I was sure that I could only have one place that really makes me feel at “home”, but when I got to PC that changed in a short matter of time. For some of us, Rome already feels like our new home. So while it definitely isn’t always easy being away from family and friends, I know that soon enough Rome will start to feel like a third home that I will miss in December.” — Kristen Gatens
“I think I’m just going to head home tonight.” After the third day of Orientation at the CEA Center in Rome – and a whirlwind of information – that was a curious thing to hear. 46 PC Students had just said goodbye to families and friends, boarded planes with overstuffed luggage, and crossed an ocean. […]MORE