This month’s PC-in-Rome blog will have a very special guest editor!
Shortly before I arrived in Rome, I received an email from a former student and current PC-alumnus, Justin Gough. I had come to know Justin over the course of a few of my philosophy courses at PC, and remember how he distinguished himself with his characteristically reflective responses. Justin wrote to me this time not as a student, but as a colleague who is completing his studies at the Pontifical North American College here in Rome. As part of his duties, Justin serves on a team that helps the Apostolic mission of both the PNAC and PC, serving as an ambassador for our students by guiding their individual spiritual journeys as they study abroad in Rome. He and his colleagues at the PNAC have done our students invaluable service over the past weeks, from organizing volunteer activities like distributing sandwiches to the needy around St. Peter’s square, to weekly Bible study, to hosting an ‘American hamburger night’ for students wanting a taste of home. But so far the most special experience, to my mind, was our recent trip to the city of Bologna for the purpose of venerating the holy remains of the founder of the Order of Preachers, Saint Dominic.
In 2015, I graduated from Providence College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and completed the priestly formation program at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. At that time, Archbishop William Lori assigned me to complete my formation in Rome at the Pontifical North American College and to study sacred theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas “Angelicum”. I am happy to serve the seminary community as one of the house organists, and I enjoy the opportunities to play the instruments in some of Rome’s most significant churches. It is likewise a pleasure to minister to the study abroad students of Providence College as one of the seminarian chaplains. If it be God’s will, I hope to be ordained a deacon in May 2019 and a priest in June 2020.
On 1 November 2017, the students of the Pontifical North American College who serve as chaplains to the Providence College Rome program organized and accompanied some of our abroad Friars to the city of Bologna, in northern Italy. Bologna is home to the worlds’ oldest university in continuous operation and, more importantly for our purposes, to the mortal remains of St. Dominic. Thus, we marked the Solemnity of All Saints (Tutti i Santi––a national holiday in Italy) appropriately with a proper pilgrimage to venerate the tomb of the saintly founder of the Order of Preachers. To Dominic’s heritage, we are indebted; and to his intercession before Almighty God, we continue to rely.
The Pontifical North American College has served as the United States’ seminary in Rome since 1859. There, men from across the country, as well as some from Canada and Australia, are formed to be priests after the heart of Jesus Christ, with the added benefit of firsthand experiences of the universality of the Church and the ministry of the successor of St. Peter, the Pope.
As part of our formation, we seminarians are entrusted with various apostolic assignments across the city, and four––two deacons and two third year seminarians––are assigned this year to minister to the students of Providence College as their chaplains abroad. We also function as chaplains to their classmates at the CEA Rome Center. On a weekly basis, we are happy to offer the students Bible studies to strengthen their faith, as well as various social events to foster friendships and build up Christian fraternity. Above all formal events, the seminarians are pleased to be available to the students in whatever way we can be to their aid, to make their time here in Rome enjoyable and fruitful.
In Bologna, our pilgrimage began with a visit to a few of the city’s most notable churches, known especially for their architectural and artistic innovations. The Cathedral of St. Peter features a painted side-chapel that gives the illusion of being a three-dimensional marble baroque altar and a stunning terracotta sculpture of the “Lament over the Dead Christ,” which emphasizes the wailing agony of Mary and the disciples after the crucifixion.
Time in the marvelous Basilica of San Petronio rounded out our morning. By volume, it is the tenth-largest church in the world and, during the Renaissance, there were plans to expand the church to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome––plans only to be halted by the Bishop of Rome himself. Today, the Chapel of the Magi, which depicts, among other things, Dante’s envisioning of heaven and hell, remains a ‘must-see’!
As no pilgrimage in Italy is complete without a due sampling of the regions’ culinary delights, our lunch in the city center afforded us the chance to taste some of the many wonderful flavors of Bologna, specifically a proper ‘pasta al ragù alla Bolognese’ and a veal cutlet ‘alla Bologense’!
Back on the ground, we walked through the painted halls of the University of Bologna, in the footsteps of some of its most notable alumni and faculty: St. Thomas Becket, Dante, Copernicus, Michelangelo, St. Charles Borromeo, and many others.
In the evening, we held Mass at the tomb of St. Dominic at the Basilica of San Domenico, a Mass offered particularly for Providence College and its Friars.
The sarcophagus that holds St. Dominic’s remains is itself brilliant and worthy of great study. Around the backside of the altar, his skull is visible behind glass in a reliquary. As one who dedicated his life to the preaching of the Truth and entrusted his Order to the very same, there is perhaps no part of Dominic’s mortal remains more moving to come in contact with than this.
Following a quick pizza dinner, we made the journey back to Rome on a late train.
And so ended an All Saints’ Day pilgrimage surely to be remembered!
This month’s PC-in-Rome blog will have a very special guest editor! Shortly before I arrived in Rome, I received an email from a former student and current PC-alumnus, Justin Gough. I had come to know Justin over the course of a few of my philosophy courses at PC, and remember how he distinguished himself with […]MORE
Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia Antica.
About 20 miles southwest of Rome, Ostia was the ancient harbor city of Rome. It’s history, if not as grand, is as complicated and fascinating as that of Rome herself. Used for defense and for trade from Julius Caesar to Augustus, Ostia was nearly double the size of the more famous ‘Pompeii’ archaeological site — and nearly as well preserved, too.
Here the students learn about different kinds of masonry in Ostia. Why learn about a brick? Because the quality of materials and craftsmanship teaches an intimate lesson of the ‘boom and bust’ times of the Ostian economy. Bricks tightly joined together evidence greater wealth than houses or civic buildings featuring more loosely-joined masonry.
With students taking notes on their trusty phones and Ipads, the surrounding Ostian classroom provides tactile and kinesthetic experiences that simply can’t be had anywhere else.
An intimate view into Ancient life around every corner, the latrines are always a big hit with students. Nothing shows the inner workings of a culture more than their private moments!
Ostia was also a prominent site for the Roman Cult of Mithras. Mithraism was the major religion in Rome from the 1st Century BC to the 4th Century AD. Many scholars have demonstrated its vast influence on early Christian rites, imagery, and even holidays. There were seven levels of ‘initiation rites’ associated with the Mithraian mysteries. A ‘Mithraeum’ is where these rites took place. Nearly always underground and depicting the hero Mithras killing a bull, Ostia’s Mithrauem is one of the most distinctive and best preserved.
Apart from the art and archaeological history lesson of Ostia, my own class on Stoicism was also able to make a unique connection with Ostia. Port cities were the major hub of economic transactions. And it’s unfortunately true that the slave trade was among the most significant aspects of the Ancient economy. While Stoicism is better noted as the principle Roman philosophy because of celebrity figures like Cicero, Seneca, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, two of its most important advocates were the Turkish freed slave Epictetus and a slave whom we know came through Ostia Antica itself: Publius Syrus.
Brought to Italy through Ostia from Syria as a boy during the 80’s BC, we believe Syrus eventually earned his freedom through his wit and obvious intelligence. He came even to defeat Caesar’s own court poet in a literary competition of 46BC. His theatrical skills were also the stuff of legend, though they are unfortunately lost. What remains of Syrus’ writings are his ‘Sententiae’ or pithy little apothegms full of wisdom and advice for living that good Stoic life. Among some of his better gems are:
“Poverty is the lack of many things, but avarice is the lack of all things.”
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
“Fortune is like glass—the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.”
This last quotation suggests one of the overriding concerns of Publius and of the Stoics generally: fortune. Not merely good or bad luck, Fortuna was worshiped, feared, and appeased by the Roman people as a quasi-deity. The entirety of Stoic practical philosophy can be summarized as a resistance to Fortuna, both good fortune and bad fortune. We do this not by becoming richer or more powerful. Instead, we should learn to value only that which stands within our power to control. What alone lies ever in our free control is our ‘prohairesis’ or ability to elect our actions. Even if fortune should prevent those actions being carried out successfully, it is always in our power to ‘aim rightly’ at the targets that are in our power to value.
Publius Syrus, as a slave, obviously had far fewer gifts of fortune than other Stoics like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, and probably far fewer than everyday Roman citizens. But he considered himself happy and good insofar as he could choose to limit what he valued to the scope of activities and objects he could in fact achieve and acquire. And insofar as everything he valued was within power to achieve, he considered himself freer than even Caesar.
The real opportunity of a study abroad program, it seems to me, is the chance to expand one’s horizons of thinking. By spending time in the cold Mithraeum we get a better sense of what it would have been like to worship as a Roman. By sitting in the bright sun of their amphitheater, we get a better sense than any textbook could tell us what it would have been like to actually experience a Roman theatrical performance. And by walking through both the slave auction and the Temple of Fortuna, our students acquire at least some sense of just what it would have been like to hold one’s philosophical positions, not simply as a set of theorems, but also as a living, breathing, way of life.
Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia […]MORE
Last Wednesday, 48 Providence College students participated in one of Rome’s most meaningful spiritual activities: the Papal Audience. To judge by the numbers on the tickets, we joined 20,000 Catholic and non-Catholics at St. Peter’s Square, between Bernini’s grand 284 columns, under some 140 statues of Saints, and in front of the most significant building in Christendom. There they saw in person Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who in March 2013 became the 266th Pope, Francis I, the Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of Vatican City, the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
Papal Audiences are the traditionally given each week on Wednesdays to provide an opportunity for the faithful to not only see the Holy Father, but also to receive the Papal Blessing from the direct successor of St. Peter. The day starts with the Pope taking a tour of those gathered in his iconic so-called ‘Pope Mobile’.
The Audience then begins with a short reading from the New Testament in a number of languages: English, French, German, Italian, and Pope Francis’ native language of Spanish. The Pope offers a greeting in each of these languages, either personally or through a translator, signaling out some of the larger groups in attendance. And finally, in those several languages, the Pope offers a brief teaching.
“I am not usually a morning person, but on the day of the Papal audience it was easy to be. I was immediately woken up to women in wedding dresses and people from all over the world quickly walking towards the Vatican. We all shared one thing in common, and that was our excitement. We were filled with anticipation and hope that we would be lucky enough to have the Pope pass by us. Our wish was more than granted. I’ve never felt like I understood a different language more than I did while listening to Pope Francis speak. I couldn’t interpret it, but I still felt like I knew what he was saying. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go home and tell people about it.” –Jaime Warren
The first Jesuit Pope, and the first Pope from South America, Francis chose his name in homage to Saint Francis of Assisi. And like his namesake, Pope Francis focused his message upon the social teaching of the church. The message on Wednesday mainly concerned the nature of hope, or ‘speranza’. Where there is God’s love, there is always hope. And where there is hope, there is always the possibility of human redemption. Hope is what leads immigrants to search for a better life. And hope in our futures and our children’s futures is what should lead us to care for our natural environment. Hope is accordingly among our greatest gifts, which we should endeavor to cultivate among our neighbors throughout the world, with special concern for the poor and dispossessed.
Many of our students grabbed a prime place along the rail to view the Holy Father as he processed down a main aisle. Although his car did not stop, he did acknowledge several PC students as he was driven by, offering us the Sign of the Cross in blessing.
“Attending the Papal Audience was one of my most memorable experiences from my semester abroad thus far. Seeing Pope Francis ride through St. Peter’s square waving and smiling to people from all over the world was amazing! I loved that I was able to share this experience with other students from PC, it is truly something I will never forget!” — Kathryn Rosseel
Two students, Olivia Ferri and Michael Splann, even brought ‘Zucchetti’ to the Audience. These small hats worn by Cardinals and Popes are endearingly nicknamed such due to their alleged resemblance to a ‘zucca’ or pumpkin. The students had purchased them from none other than the famous “Ditta Annibale Gammarelli,” who have provided ecclesial clothing for Popes since Pope Pius VI in 1798 .
But with all the fun and excitement of this festival-like environment, we are reminded what it means to be Catholic. We are Providence College students and faculty, we are Friar Basketball fans, we are finance majors and history buffs and aspiring doctors and lawyers — we are a collection of individuals who work toward our individual goals and individual interests. But as Catholics, we are also members of a universal family: the Church. It is a church that knows no national borders and no divisions among those of different races, genders, or legal status: all are called to be united in the life of Christ. Joined by some 20,000 other human beings in this holy space — praying together in dozens of languages with Christians from dozens of countries — reminds of of who we are and what we really ought to be hopeful for.
Pope Francis’ message of ‘speranza’ is a hope for the peaceful unity of the entire human family.
Last Wednesday, 48 Providence College students participated in one of Rome’s most meaningful spiritual activities: the Papal Audience. To judge by the numbers on the tickets, we joined 20,000 Catholic and non-Catholics at St. Peter’s Square, between Bernini’s grand 284 columns, under some 140 statues of Saints, and in front of the most significant building […]MORE
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