Bologna!

Bologna!

Posted by: on April 19, 2018   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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With its miles of distinctive porticoes, Bologna lured a group of Providence College/CEA students away from Rome during a fine April weekend. As our second excursion of the semester, CEA arranged an overnight hotel stay. Twenty-two of our students climbed aboard the early train to learn why this city bears its three historical nicknames: “La Rossa” (the red one), “La Grassa” (the fat one), and “La Dotta” (the educated one).

Let’s start with ‘La Rossa’. 3000 years ago, Bologna was a seaside settlement, connected to Venice via canals. When the waters receded, nearly all of its canals were covered up. Bologna now sits up in the hills at the green heart of northern Italy. The Romans named the town ‘Bononia’, which filtered through a few centuries of dialect alteration became ‘Bologna’. The city’s favorite statue, by hometown artist ‘Giambologna’ — or ‘Johnny from Bologna’ as our tour guide fondly recalled — is the statue of Neptune, set in the grand ‘Piazza Maggiore’ to remind its citizens of its maritime past.

But it’s Bologna’s brown-red bricks and roof tops that earned the city it’s name ‘the red one’. And during the Venetian times of the 12th and 13th centuries, Bologna was filled with ‘sky scrapers’: perhaps as many as 180 towers rising imposingly over the hilltops in part for defense against its covetous neighbors and in part to showcase the wealth of the family who built it. Although only about twenty remain today, the most famous are the 97 meter-high Asinelli tower and the oddly leaning Garisenda tower. Even after a several-hours long walk around the town, a few students were brave enough to climb to the top of the giant Asinelli, from where one could on a clear day even see the Italian Alps to the north.

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So why the ‘fat one’? — La Grassa? Bologna itself recalls every American-child’s earliest and arguably not-finest lunchroom culinary delicacy. But the authentic stuff here is ‘Mortadella’. Finely-ground pork is blended with cubes of white fat, black pepper and sometimes olives, pistachio nuts, or myrtle berries. A traditional lunchtime tradition is a trip to the outdoor stalls at the Mercato di Mezzo area for a mixed plate of Mortadella, Culatello and Bologna’s neighbor-city’s finest offerings: Prosciutto and Reggiano cheese from Parma.

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To be sure, the ‘fat one’ is no indictment of Bologna’s people, but a title of pride. During times of economic hardship in Italy, Bologna managed to feed its citizens while other Italian cities faced starvation. The reason was not a better harvest or a more efficient government than its neighbors. Bologna never went hungry because behind each of its kitchen windows was an artisan who knew how to preserve, how to cure, how to plough, how to hunt, and above all how to transform humble ingredients into a feast. Sausages, cheeses, tortellini in brodo, and tagliatelle al ragù (better known to the rest of the world as tagliatelle ‘bolognese’) — each crafted to satisfy peasants, but capable of wowing even the most discerning of contemporary ‘foodies’.

After lunch in ‘La Grassa’, our students continued the tour in ‘La Dotta’. This nickname is easier to figure out.  In 1088, groups of local and especially foreign male and female (!) students organized themselves into unions called ‘nations’ according to the nationalities of their members. Learned men were hired by the nations to teach specific subjects — and were fired by the students whenever they were deemed unwanted! [From this professor’s view, that is just a terrible policy!] The scholars then organized together into ‘teacher’s unions’, and the whole group eventually came together with civic financing to form what is today known as the ‘Universitas’. Thus, nearly a thousand years ago, as the myriad coats of arms of graduating students attests, the first Western University was founded. Our students walked the same corridors as some of the greatest luminaries of Europe.  Dante, Petrarch, Alberti, Copernicus, Paracelsus, Pico della Mirandola — this is where they once taught! And, to judge by the number of  Bolognese students reading on the grass that day, the university promises yet another generation of intellectuals.

One of the most curious rooms in the university is the Anatomical Theater of the Archiginnasio — complete with the original dissection table. Built originally at the end of the 16th century and rebuilt several times since, the theater is the precursor of our own anatomy labs …with a few important differences. First, dissection of the human body was considered sacrilegious and practitioners could be fined or imprisoned. Since the city of Bologna was protected by powerful merchant guilds of the Venetians during this time, it was a rare place where the censors of the church could not reach. Second, the lessons themselves were…long. Since this is before refrigeration or electric lights, students under the direction of the professor (who would stand on the dias between the two anatomical statues called the ‘Spellati’ or ‘skinned men’) would begin the dissection at dawn, work through the day without pause, into the night by candlelight, and usually straight through until the next day in a 24-hour single session. A long class, to be sure, but probably a little less stinky that way!

Finally, as we did last semester, a selection of interested students accompanied me to perhaps the most important site in Italy for those attending a Dominican College like PC: the Basilica di San Domenico.

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The experience at any sacred site is difficult to describe in words. But to see the tomb of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, and by extension of Providence College — well, those three other nick names of Bologna aren’t the only reasons I would visit the city.

 

  With its miles of distinctive porticoes, Bologna lured a group of Providence College/CEA students away from Rome during a fine April weekend. As our second excursion of the semester, CEA arranged an overnight hotel stay. Twenty-two of our students climbed aboard the early train to learn why this city bears its three historical nicknames: […]MORE

Assisi!

Posted by: on March 13, 2018   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

 As with last semester, the PC/CEA Program in Rome has been lucky to work with students from the Pontifical North American College. The purpose of our relationship is to help PC students along the path of their own spiritual journeys, in whatever form those may take. Some of their sponsored activities involve volunteering with local charities in Rome, weekly Bible study, and sometimes just having fun around town — the guys from the ‘PNAC’ seem to know all the best gelato joints in Rome! And one of the opportunities they provide is a day-trip to one of Italy’s many magnificent Holy Sites.  Last semester, we venerated the tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna. And this semester, we went to Assisi to visit the Basilica of St. Francis.

Born in 1181 to a wealthy cloth merchant, St. Francis’s youth in Assisi was marked by a carefree and notoriously rambunctious lifestyle. When Assisi went to an ill-advised war with Umbrian neighbor Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned. Due to his father’s wealth, he was ransomed and returned to Assisi, — with a very different outlook on life. After a dream of God, Francis was led to reflect on his life of material wealth and the meaning of a spiritual life. He spent years in happy poverty reflecting on his relationship with God, with others, and ultimately with himself. At the church of San Damiano, Francis heard Christ speak to him from the cross: “Francis, repair my Church!” 

We started the day with a two-hour train ride from Rome to Assisi. The Umbrian town sits high atop Mt. Subasio, and so the train requires a subsequent bus ride up through the winding streets, through a layer of fog, and into a Medieval world of umber-colored buildings.

Our first stop was the Basilica itself. Built in 1228, the year Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX, it is the Mother Church of the Franciscan Order. Students were surprised to learn there are actually two churches on-site, an upper (completed 1253) and lower church (1230). The churches are decorated in Romanesque and Gothic style respectively by some of the best artists of the time, foremost among them Cimabue and his student, the proto-Renaissance master, Giotto. At a still lower level rest the holy remains of St. Francis himself, which were hidden within a crypt to prevent potential relic looters until their rediscovery in 1818.

But what historical details like this can’t prepare students for is the overwhelming feeling of the sacred that pilgrims feel in the presence of St. Francis’s earthly remains. It’s impossible to put into words that inner profundity of the genuinely sacred site.

After some time in quiet reflection, Fr. Brian, Deacon Vince, and Deacon Colin offered us a rare opportunity: a private mass at a small chapel within the Basilica’s ‘Sacra Convento’. Deacon Vince’s homily called us to reflect on the Gospel’s words and Francis’ life within a contemporary context. 

 

After mass, we explored together the city, climbing its steep hills and working up a healthy appetite in preparation for a decidedly non-Franciscan feast!

   

After lunch, we made stops at the church of San Rufino, who was the first Patron Saint of Assisi before St. Francis, and also the church of St. Clare, which houses her remains.

Our final stop was located in Assisi’s ‘new town’, in the valley of Mt. Subasio: the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. The basilica was built in the 16th Century in order to contain a sacred site of the Franciscans, the “Porziuncola”. This church-within-a-church was the very one Francis worked on when he heard Christ’s voice say: “Francis, repair my Church!” Francis had been given this poor little 9th century building as a gift from the Benedictines. Taking Christ’s words literally, Francis  repaired the physical church before setting off upon his life’s work to repair the spiritual church. Today the Porziuncola serves as a reminder of Francis’ conversion and work especially on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. And it serves to call the millions of Christian pilgrims who visit Assisi each year to continue his work to ‘repair the church’ through their living communion.

 

 As with last semester, the PC/CEA Program in Rome has been lucky to work with students from the Pontifical North American College. The purpose of our relationship is to help PC students along the path of their own spiritual journeys, in whatever form those may take. Some of their sponsored activities involve volunteering with local […]MORE

A Napoli!

Posted by: on February 27, 2018   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

On his Italian Journey, the German poet Goethe wrote: “Naples is a Paradise: everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now … Every time I wish to write words, visual images come up of the fruitful countryside, the open sea, the islands veiled in a haze, the smoking mountain, etc., and I lack the mental organ which could describe them.”

On separate trips, PC students and their colleagues at the CEA Center Rome took their Spring excursion to the famous city of Naples. The name derives from the Greek ‘Neapolis’, and, though only an hour’s train ride south, the city feels like an entire world away from Rome. Partly, that is due to Naples being conquered and colonized over the centuries by non-Italian groups: for examples, the Angevin, Normans, Spanish Habsburgs, and Bourbons. Partly, that is due to the undeniable joy of living expressed in myriad ways through her people.

For a time Naples was the second largest city in Europe after Paris and still boasts a massive historical center on its Ancient Roman grid, all wedged between Mt. Vesuvius and the Mediterranean Sea. Hectic, loud, energetic, frenzied: each are accurate descriptions of what the students encountered on their journey. I was with the group that went on Saturday. Although it was rainy and chilly, the students were still able to get a taste of what Naples could offer. Believe it or not, their first impression was likely the subway! Compared to New York or Boston, Naples subway system is a prize of modern artwork.  Just outside the main station is the ‘forest of steel’.

At the ‘Toldeo Station’, students would rise up from the underground like Poseidon out of the sea.

And at ‘Municipio Station’, students could see the artistic rendering of the history of Naples itself, complete with mosaic maps and depictions of the Neapolitan patron, San Gennaro.

Out of the subway and into the streets! Naples offers a fascinating diversity of architectural styles, due at least in part to its extremely diverse history and in part to the artistic inspiration it offers around every turn.  Baroque palazzi of the 15th century stand side by side next to Fascist buildings of the 1930s and American-style sky scrapers of the 1990s. On our walking tour we saw it all.  

As with anywhere in Italy, church architecture tells the story of the city as well. The diamond pattern of the ‘Gesu Nuovo’ church – owned at times by the Jesuits and by times the Franciscans – was originally built for the wealthy princes of Salerno, the Sanseverino family.  The diamond pattern is partly an indication of the family’s wealth and partly for the sake of defending against potential invaders.

San Domenico Maggiore, dedicated to Providence College’s own patron, St. Dominic, features a cell in which St. Thomas Aquinas himself lived for a time.

    

And of particular interest to me were the number of remembrances  of Napoli’s great philosophers. The main walking street is named for Benedetto Croce, and on it about midway down is an institute dedicated to Giambattista Vico.

 

As lunch time rolled around, students realized is impossible to visit Naples without sampling its most famous export: Pizza!

 

Although there is an endless debate as to whether Roman or Neapolitan pizza reigns supreme, I think students will be happy to keep testing!

After lunch and a little time to wander the Neapolitan streets, we had one final visit to one of Naples’ greatest artworks: the Veiled Christ of Guiseppe Sanmartino (1753). A deeply impactful work of the spirit, Sanmartino combines the tortured flesh of the deceased Christ under an almost mercifully delicate shroud. The affect of such tenderness within the hard marble stone statue evokes the divinity within human flesh — truly a masterpiece, almost Modern in its expression. 

On his Italian Journey, the German poet Goethe wrote: “Naples is a Paradise: everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now … Every time I wish to write […]MORE

Friars in Firenze!

Posted by: on February 12, 2018   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Guiseppe Verdi once wrote: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” Nowhere is this more true than the Tuscan city of Florence. The home of Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Savanarola, Galileo, Botticelli, and Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’  di Medici — if Rome is the cradle of Western Civilization, then Firenze is its crown.

Along with their university colleagues from around the US, PC students in the CEA Rome program jumped on the speedy ‘Frecciarossa’ train for the 90-minute trip to Florence.

After checking into “Hotel California” (fortunately, not the same one from the Eagles song), students were given a brief orientation to the city and the schedule.

 

We started with a 2-hour city walking tour from the resident art history instructor at our sister institution, CEA Florence.  Among the first highlights was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del fiore, better known as the ‘Duomo’. Begun in the late 1200s by Arnolfo di Cambio, its magisterial dome was finished by Filippo Brunelleschi only in 1436! But even after two hundred years of work, the church wasn’t finished: the famously colorful facade was only added in the 19th Century.

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The group continued on through the winding streets, regaled with tales covering the Medieval birth of the city, its height during the reign of the Medici, and even the contemporary manifestation of the mafia.

As always with Florence, the highlight is art. While much of Florence’s beauty is contained within the walls of museums like the Bargello, the Uffizi, and the Accademia, students were surprised to learn that a number of masterpieces were open to the elements. At the side of the Palazzo Vecchio stands the Loggia dei Lanzi, which houses chief works by Giambologna and Cellini. And although a few students snapped shots of the statue outside the palace itself, they would have to wait for the real thing! 

Of course, not all art is painting or sculpture.  It can be argued that Italy’s greatest artist was its Florentine poet: the author of the Divina Comedia, Dante Alighieri.  Scholars are relatively certain the church which still stands there today was the very one where Dante met the love of his life, Beatrice. 

 

 

Less certain, however, is whether Dante ever lived in the building now known as the ‘Casa di Dante’. More likely, this Medieval building was preserved from the 19th Century on the grounds of a rather spurious claim to being the home of the poet. Similar house museums can be found in Florence for Michaelangelo, Cellini, and Galileo.

 

 

The last stop on the walking tour was maybe the most picturesque: the Ponte Vecchio. The double-storied bridge serves today as it did in the Renaissance: both as a scenic storefront of gold and jewelry merchants and the epicenter of youthful Italian romance. As our guide related, the bridge was very nearly destroyed by bombers in World War II. With every other crossing of the Arno river already destroyed, the legend at least goes that a German commander named Gerhard Wolf resisted orders to destroy the bridge, on the grounds that he could not destroy something so beautiful as the Ponte Vecchio.

After the walking tour, students were free to explore Florence on their own. From my conversations with them afterward, I think they made the most of the famous Tuscan cuisine: stewed boar pasta, ribolita soup, panzanella salad, bistecca alla fiorentina — and one brave student even ventured into true ‘foodie’ territory with a lampredotto sandwich! For the uninitiated, lampredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow…

The next morning brought somewhat more palatable delights. After breakfast, the group had their appointment with Michelangelo’s masterpiece: the David. So different from the Old Testament’s tale of the frightened young boy about to fight the giant Goliath, Michelangelo portrayed his figure as a man possessed of tranquil but penetratingly focused confidence, both mind and muscle tensed in readiness. As the story goes, David’s gaze was originally positioned to look toward the south. The message for his Renaissance was clear: Florence was the David to the Goliath of Rome. Though smaller, they were prepared to stand tall for their way of life. And in the end, little Florence conquered the cultural world.

One last meal after the museum, and it was soon time again for the train ride home. Once more, Providence College and CEA Rome reveals what incredible beauty and diversity our world’s culture has to offer.

 

Guiseppe Verdi once wrote: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” Nowhere is this more true than the Tuscan city of Florence. The home of Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Savanarola, Galileo, Botticelli, and Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’  di Medici — if Rome is the cradle of Western Civilization, then Firenze is […]MORE

A Snowy Start to PC-in-Rome

Posted by: on January 21, 2018   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

The Spring Semester in Rome 2018 has begun, but not without its share of hiccups! While students were excitedly packing their Spring and Summer clothes for balmy Rome, mother nature had other plans back in Providence!

Approximately 20 students here at CEA this semester were significantly delayed by snowy weather on the east coast, forcing many to stay overnight in airports. Delays were so bad that it took one student until Saturday to join us — five days after their scheduled arrival! Even a week later, some students remained without their luggage.

Of course, the team at CEA did everything possible to rearrange transportation and offer whatever special accommodations were possible on a case by case basis. Fortunately, once PC students checked into their new homes and could begin to enjoy Rome’s 50-degree winters, things began to improve!

More than 30 PC students joined colleagues from around the US to form CEA’s largest class ever: 100 total students! As with last semester, the program began with a three-day orientation.  From an introduction to the staff doctor and advice from the local police, to the rules of their apartments in the lovely Prati district, to the opportunities offered by CEA for excursions and social activities, students came to learn the ropes and what magnificent experiences awaited them in the Eternal City.

After morning information sessions, students typically spent afternoons in walking tours of either the immediate area surrounding CEA or else on an introductory walk through the historical city center.


 

Trusty guide Stewart took one of our groups on a two hour amble to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, into the Pantheon, past Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and all the way to Piazza Navona. For our jet-lagged students, the sheer number of amazing historical sites was the best medicine!

So we’re up and running for another exciting semester! What wonderful experiences await us here this semester?

The Spring Semester in Rome 2018 has begun, but not without its share of hiccups! While students were excitedly packing their Spring and Summer clothes for balmy Rome, mother nature had other plans back in Providence! Approximately 20 students here at CEA this semester were significantly delayed by snowy weather on the east coast, forcing […]MORE

Trip to the Basilica of St. Dominic in Bologna

Posted by: on November 14, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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.

**** I’ll let Justin tell the story in his own words from here on out! ****

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’!

We followed lunch with a steep climb up the great Asinelli tower––nearly 500 stairs!–to a beautiful vista of the sprawling city below.

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

Ostia Antica

Posted by: on October 25, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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. 

 

Like all Ancient cities, civic life and cultural revolved around a great amphitheater, where theatrical performances, poetry competitions, and even small-scale mock sea battles took place!

 

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

A Papal Audience

Posted by: on October 9, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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

Veneration of St. Catherine

Posted by: on September 16, 2017   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

 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 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.

But this is where Rome surprises us.

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

Home Sweet Rome

Posted by: on August 31, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

“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.

Bildergebnis für CEA ROME Center

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

Bildergebnis für Rome

 

“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