Final Bits

Final Bits

Posted by: on April 29, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

St. Peter’s Dome

Today is the official end of  the CEA/PC in Rome Spring 2017 program.  Students are packing their belongings, moving out of their apartments, and saying their final farewells.  Most find it incredibly hard to believe that the semester is over…it seems like yesterday that everyone arrived filled with high hopes and expectations.  Now it is time for some final reckonings.

The signature class for every PC student studying in Rome is The New Testament in the Eternal City.  Every week Dr. Erik Walters balanced lecture, class discussion of the readings, and site visits that correlated with the topics and themes of this theology course.  The last two site visits were on back-to-back Fridays, culminating with a visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and then a visit to St. Peter’s, including the scavi (excavations) beneath and, for those inclined, a climb up to the dome.  These visits, along with the Papal Audience, are hallmarks of the class and connect our students intimately to Scripture and to the Catholic Church, past, present, and future.

Student Finalists with Prof. Zanazzo and Caterina Marino

Student have been engaged in a lot of finals these past two weeks.  Those in the Prof. Alessandro Zanazzo’s Photography in Rome class exhibited the best of their works.  This year, Dr. Alexandra Massini, the Academic Director, invited a professional photographer to  join faculty and staff in judging the final works.  The students have done incredible work on a range of subjects using a variety of techniques perfected over the course of the semester.  We plan to host a exhibit of their photography at Providence College in the fall. These will include work from both semesters of the 2016/2017 PC in Rome academic year.

Immediately following the student photography exhibit, CEA and PC students celebrated the end of the semester at a farewell dinner with faculty and staff at Camillo B., a trattoria just around the corner from CEA near the Piazza Cavour. It was a bittersweet moment, filled with both laughter and some tears!  I, and all of the faculty and staff here at CEA-Rome will miss them!

A. Masini, M. Manchester, C. Marino, A. Felberbaum, A. Massini

We wish all of our students best of luck in the future and hope that this experience has been transformative for them in the best sense of the word.  I know that this is only the beginning of a lifetime of exploration. Until we meet again….a la prossima!

Thanks for tuning in!  Go Friars!

Today is the official end of  the CEA/PC in Rome Spring 2017 program.  Students are packing their belongings, moving out... MORE


Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Last semester students and faculty screened a documentary, The Cross and the Gun, directed by Jesus Garcès Lambert, investigating the relationship between the Catholic Church and organized crime in the wake of Pope Francis’s condemnation of Italian crime syndicates, such as the Mafia and ‘Ndranghetta.  The documentary was filmed shortly after Pope Francis excommunicated Mafiosi and detailed some of the difficulties that local priests and parishes were having in carrying out the papal order;  various Mafia groups ordered arson attacks, personal attacks, and even killed some courageous priests in retaliation. It was a remarkable documentary that intersected with Italian social history and church history.

Social History of the Mafia at the MAXXI

This semester, students in Dr. Schwarten’s Social History of the Mafia class had a unique opportunity to attend an exhibit entitled “Just for Passion.”   This exhibit at the MAXXI features the photographs of Letizia Battaglia, also known as the “Photographer of the Mafia.”  Her portfolio of work is a photo-essay that vividly documents the crimes, murders, and desecration of life by members of the Mafia.  But her corpus of work extends so far beyond that, chronicling also life in Sicily spanning a forty-year period.  The black and white photos are stunning in their subject matter, their beauty, and provide a lens through which to see Sicilian life from all points of view–from the most powerful to the least politically significant.  Battaglia was also a journalist and many of her photos served as the anchors for news reporting on Mafia crimes and the victims of Mafia violence. Click here to see some of her most well-known photos.

The site visit is in keeping with the mission of CEA and the PC-Rome program to use the city and its environs as a classroom.  As a result of that excursion, students in the class had a visual, physical way to understand the social history of the Mafia. They will be expected to integrate the photos and commentaries by Battaglia into their analysis with other course readings and materials.  Interestingly enough, on the following day, headlines in Italian newspapers reported that a bishop in Sicily had banned Mafiosi from acting as godfathers in baptisms or to be admitted to confirmation. If you are interested in seeing one of the news reports, click here.  It seems that we have come full circle…


Last Friday, CEA and PC students also had a wonderful opportunity to take a day trip to the gardens of Ninfa, a Romantic landscape garden created in a unique micro climate about two hours outside of Rome. Ninfa was a thriving medieval town located on the Appian Way. Pope Alexander III was crowned there in 1159. The buildings in the town date back to the 9th and 10th centuries and have fallen into ruin.  The gardens were designed to flow naturally around the ruins of of the medieval town, including a  castle, several churches, town walls, and towers.  It features flora from all over the world. Because it is a fragile ecosystem, visitors are only allowed infrequently and must follow strictly along a prescribed route.  The trees were in full spring blossom and were beautifully reflected in the many streams, springs, and ponds that dot the 260 acre park.  Ninfa is an Italian natural monument and is run by a private foundation created by the Caetani family (the original owners).   After a truly idyllic time in what has been called “the most Romantic garden in the world,”  we proceeded to a nearby vineyard outside of the hillside town of Cori.  It was founded by Marco Carpineti and features organically grown grapes and olives.
There our guide explained the completely organic way in which the wines are produced.  Some of the wines produced there are aged in clay vessels reflecting ancient wine-making traditions. Interestingly, they are topped with a plastic contraption that enables the gases of the wine to escape (see photo at right).  Thanks to this device, the winemakers are also able to test the wine without having to open the entire jar.  Our guide pointed out the device was based on one of Leondardo DaVinci’s designs. Our tour included lunch, featuring olive oil pressed at the vineyard and a wine-tasting.

The trip to Ninfa is one of the featured AICAP’s (Academic-Integrated Cultural Activity Program)  required for students in the Photography, Environmental Ethics, and Food and Wine classes, but open to all. Once again, students enjoyed a field experience that related directly to their course readings and themes; or in the case of the Photography class, provided them with a unique opportunity to practice their natural light and landscape photography skills.  Two of our professors who teach the mandatory Italian classes also accompanied our group…this really enhanced the experience since students had another chance to grow their Italian language skills.


These intersections between academic study and field experience are the essence of a truly authentic study abroad experience and is one of the strongest features of the CEA/PC-Rome program.  It was a memorable experience for student and faculty alike.  Thanks for tuning in!  Go Friars!

Last semester students and faculty screened a documentary, The Cross and the Gun, directed by Jesus Garcès Lambert, investigating the relationship... MORE

Percorso della Memoria

Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Soratte Bunker

Students in my class on the US, Italy and the Cold War traveled to the outskirts of Rome today to a small peaceful hill town, Sant’Oreste.  It is the site of the Soratte Bunker, envisioned by Mussolini as an underground city built into Monte Soratte to house up to 1000 people in the event of an attack on Rome during World War II–it later served as the command post for the German occupation army. There are some 14 kilometers of massive reinforced tunnels, most of which survive to this day.  The bunker included workshops, communications centers, dining and residential halls, a hospital, a movie theater, and provided a host of other services.   During the Cold War, NATO asked its member states to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack, and the Soratte Bunker was fortified and re-purposed to protect up to 100 people against thermonuclear attack or attacks using chemical and/or biological weapons.  The Italian Prime Minister, members of the Italian cabinet, and a host of others would have sought shelter there in the event of an attack.  The peace and  beauty of the small towns and hills surrounding the bunker are strangely incongruent with the dark purposes of the structure itself.

Percorso della Memoria

The students in my class were all born years after the Cold War ended.  They were toddlers when terrorists flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in 2001.

Nike Hercules Missile

It is hard for them to understand or even visualize the reality of the Cold War, which has also been called the Age of Anxiety.  As you can see in the photo above, the entrance to the complex is framed with the the words “percorso della memoria”–literally translated as the path of memory.  For Europeans living especially during the 1960s and 1970s, the threat of a nuclear attack was very real.  They were within easy reach of the intermediate-range missiles that had been developed by both the US and its adversary, the USSR.  The volunteers who are working to preserve the Bunker and make it more accessible to students and the public  see it as a visible reminder of the threat of nuclear annihilation that was a dark shadow on the landscape for decades–this was, after all, the era of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).  For more photos of the bunker, click here.

The renewed tensions with North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs, wars in the Middle East, and tensions in the Ukraine, coupled with the specter of devastating climate change have recently advanced the doomsday clock by 2 and a half minutes.  Ironically, technological advances have rendered the bunker and similar structures obsolete.  The new neutron bombs do not destroy physical structures; they only wreak havoc on organic life…plants, animals, and humans.  That, perhaps, was the most devastating scenario the students had to consider.

The passion and commitment of our guide. who is also the architect in charge of the entire project, was unmistakable.  Every person needs to walk on the path of memory, if only to prevent history from repeating itself.

Thanks for tuning in.  Go Friars!


Students in my class on the US, Italy and the Cold War traveled to the outskirts of Rome today to... MORE

Venice and the Search for the Sublime: A Photoessay

Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Venice Street Scene

Years ago a colleague of mine gave a lecture in a Development of Civilization class on the Romantic artists and their search for the sublime, focusing on the poetry of William Wordsworth and the landscapes of JMW Turner and John Constable.  The concept incorporates the beauty, grandeur, and indeed the terror of the natural world and brings the human person into contact with the divine. At a more ordinary level, the sublime can be defined as beauty that inspires awe, reverence, or uplifting emotion.  It is a beauty that transcends time or cultural difference and brings us close to something that is bigger than ourselves.  This past weekend, PC and CEA students traveled to Venice on a weekend excursion.  The tour included visits to the islands of Burano and Murano, and collectively, their beauty inspired our students with  awe, wonder, and delight.  The following photos highlight some of the moments of light and color….a Venetian version of the sublime.



Blue Friars

A quiet moment

Thanks for tuning in.  Go Friars!

Years ago a colleague of mine gave a lecture in a Development of Civilization class on the Romantic artists and... MORE

Marforio Awaits

Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

Capitoline She-Wolf

Overheard on a bus: “I wish PC didn’t count the courses that we take in Rome.  Other programs don’t!”

The reality of study abroad is that it is different from being on campus back at home.  Students are living in a city full of potential distractions.  They live in apartment buildings with families and other working people, not in dorms. They share these apartments with both PC and CEA students from all over the US—from what I hear they are highly social spaces.  The CEA has extended hours during the week and provides a quiet space for studying and working, but it is not the same as living on campus with more facilities open for longer hours.  Our goal is not to relocate campus life from PC to Rome, but rather to immerse them as authentically as possible into Roman and Italian culture.  This poses many challenges.

Students can either shop for food at local markets and then cook their meals (and clean up), or they can go to restaurants and cafes to eat.  Either way, it takes more time than dropping in to the campus cafeteria for a quick bite to eat. They have to walk to campus or use public transportation which means they have to manage their time properly.  Friends studying in other programs around Europe and friends and family from home often plan on visiting while students are studying here in Rome.  The students eagerly anticipate these reunions with friends and families, but also find themselves challenged to find time to do academic work.

Class site visit to Hilton Cavalieri, Roma

The CEA and PC programs take students on guided visits to other cities in Italy—Florence, Naples, and Venice this semester. The New Testament in the Eternal class, a required theology class for all PC students, takes students to the important churches and basilicas all around Rome as they trace the four evangelists and the early history of Christianity and the Catholic Church.  Likewise, other elective courses, such as Angels and Demons, Photography, Food and Wine, and my own class on the US, Italy and the Cold War, take students to historical and cultural sites all around the city.  It requires students to approach their studies differently, because they are expected to integrate their site visits into their analysis and with their readings and other course materials.  For that, they also need time to reflect on their experiences and how they relate to one another and to course themes.

Ostia Antica

At the same time, students try to make the most of the opportunities for exploration because of Rome’s central location.  Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest—all of these capitals call them!  Naturally students travel as much as they can on weekends and during semester breaks.  This means that many students are overtired, and for some, their studies have suffered.  Last week was mid-term week.  Most students had some combination of in-class or take home exams and other kinds of papers and projects due.  Some students were chagrined to receive lower grades than they are used to receiving.  Some freely admitted they had not dedicated enough time to their work.  Others mentioned the difficulties of dealing with the special challenges of living in a foreign country.  Although we warn students about these challenges during their orientation week, we remind them again that this is PC in Rome—the primary goal being to provide students with enhanced opportunities to study and learn, and especially using the entire city of Rome as part of their classroom.  So, part of their personal learning experience during the rest of this semester is to better manage their time and their resources so that they can both enjoy Rome, Italy and Europe and continue to meet high academic standards.

Coppedè Fountain

We also encourage our students to stay in Rome and explore their city in greater depth.  Everyone has had a chance to visit the Colosseum, the Forum, the Parthenon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, many several times.  For me, the best part of living in a foreign city is the great luxury of time—time to explore some of the hidden gems or less-well known neighborhoods and sites in and around Rome.  For example, just a short bus or metro ride away is Ostia Antica, the ruins of the ancient port of Rome, a city that housed some 60,000 people, had numerous baths, bars, warehouses, and other public spaces. (See photo above) Visitors are allowed to roam freely through many of the ruins and enjoy the peace and quiet of this remarkable park. One of the smallest districts of the city is Quartiere Coppedè, described by Roming It, as a “hidden world of whimsical and strange beauty” and by others as “fantastical mix of Ancient Greek, Roman Barroque, Manieristic, Medieval, and, overall, Art Nouveau” inspired by the imagination of the architect Coppedè.  This tiny neighborhood contains dozens of inimitable spaces.  It’s enchanting.

Coppedè Square & Fountain

On the first Sunday of each month, visitors can enjoy free entrance to the public museums of Rome.  Students might explore the Capitoline Museum, designed by Michelangelo. The three buildings and their courtyards contain an incredible variety of priceless artworks, sculptures, jewelry and other objets d’art.  It is where this charming fellow, Marforio,  awaits.  Marforio dates back to the 12th century and is one of the six “talking” statues in Rome.  Students can visit him and countless other gems both at the Capitoline and at other museums around the city on the free Sundays.

Marforio (Capitoline Museum)

PC and CEA students are headed to Venice this weekend; several of those students also have oral presentations in my class (Monday morning at 9:00am). We’ll see how well they balance work and leisure!

Thanks for tuning in!  Go Friars!

Overheard on a bus: “I wish PC didn’t count the courses that we take in Rome.  Other programs don’t!” The... MORE

Engaging at all levels

Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

During the course of one 7-day period,  PC and CEA students participated in a one-day excursion to Naples, had mid-term exams, participated in our first colloquium, attended a papal audience, and some are now traveling in Italy or elsewhere in Europe on a weekend excursion.  While not the norm, this week was not entirely atypical either, mostly because it illustrates how students studying in the PC-Rome program are called upon to engage at all levels: intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic, historical, social, and gustatory, to name but a few.
Our tour guide met us at the Garibaldi metro station in Naples.  In her introduction, she noted that we would travel backwards, starting with contemporary Naples and going back millennia to the times of Greek and then Roman conquest and occupation of the strategically located city.  The metro station was the perfect place to begin; it has only been recently completed.  All sixteen metro stops are distinctively adorned in the style of  arte povera, modern art installations designed by different Italian artists that feature commonplace materials and themes, such as the mosaic wall featured on the wall behind the students in the image above left.  During our tour, we walked around the historic center, seeing the various styles and eras reflected in the art and  architecture and physical layout of the city, learning about its history and its place in Italian culture.   This, of course, also included its distinctive cuisine.  Students particularly enjoyed our mid-morning break at the famous Scaturrchio pastry shop:  the espresso coffee and the sfogliatella, a pastry filled with a ricotta cream, were delicious.

The Cloisters of Santa Chiara

Allied bombs destroyed the roof of the Church of Santa Chiara in August 1943.  The fires burned so hot that some of the marble columns and sculptures were charred.  Students toured the church, which has been restored to its original Gothic state,  marveled at both the beauty and the serenity of the cloisters in the attached monastery, and then saw the excavations of Roman baths located at the perimeter of the complex.  At the entrance to the church, they were wowed by two toddlers, who were dressed up as the Pope and as Mother Theresa.  Parents often dress children in costumes during Carnevale, the festive time before Lent. Many of our students were very intrigued by this custom.

One of the most awe-inspiring moments was our visit to the Sansevero Chapel, a small Baroque chapel that is filled with the most amazing sculptures. Among them are the Veiled Christ (Sammartino, 1753) and Disillusion (Queirolo, 1753).  Both of these, the prone figure of Christ covered by a veil and the figure of a man trying to disentangle himself from a large net, are carved from a single block of marble.  They are astonishing in their beauty and intricacy.  Click here for some images.

Of course, no visit to Naples is complete without tasting the delicious pizzas, including pizza Margarita, rambling through the narrow winding streets, or browsing its many shops, including the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street dedicated to the production and sale of nativity scenes.  While the day trip to Naples was a wonderful day of discovery on a number of levels, it was only the beginning of a week of continuing engagement.  This has also been mid-term week.  We remind our students that this is PC in Rome.  That means the expectations regarding their academic work are high.  Students must balance their time and energy so that they can read, study, reflect, and recall as they submit reflection papers, case studies, or take exams. We recognize that it is not easy for our students, given the many distractions of living in Rome.  On the other hand,  we emphasize that they are here to study (abroad).  They must learn to manage their affairs or suffer the consequences of poor time-management skills or decision-making.

On Tuesday night, Providence College and CEA were privileged to host Sister Judith Zoebelein, director of  the Vatican documentary, Nostra Aetate:  “the leaven of good”, at our first colloquium of the semester.  The film features interviews with religious leaders in Rome, the Holy Land, Malaysia, Africa, India, Latin America, and the US, all of whom reflect on the impact of the Vatican II document on inter-religious dialogue from the perspective or their own faith tradition.  This is a  really inspiring dialogue and call to action that flies in the face of all of the hate and demonizing we’ve been witnessing in recent times. It raises important questions for both believers and non-believers about how they respond to the “other” and calls on the members of the audience (as does Nostra Aetate) to open their hearts and their minds and to resist the calls to violence that seem to be proliferating around the world.

The very next morning, students in the New Testament attended a papal audience in St. Peter’s Square.  While the entrance of Pope Francis always electrifies the crowd and we were privileged to be in attendance, the audience made manifest the  themes that were raised in the documentary the night before.  In a concrete and tangible way, students were witness to the universal Church. The Pope’s address and the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans were first spoken in Italian.  These were followed by translations in Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Russian, and English.  The English-speaking pilgrims at this week’s audience came from England, Ireland, Norway, India, and the United States. The audience itself reiterated the themes of inclusion and encounter stressed in Nostra Aetate.  The final blessing extends to all present and to all of their loved ones.

Given all of these activities, there was not a lot of time for reflection.  Students still had to finish their exams and mid-term projects. Some were also planning their weekend travels, while others were looking forward to staying in Rome and just relaxing a bit. This past week may seem overwhelming, but it has provided experiences that will form the basis of recall and reflection for years to come.  And that is one of the ultimate goals of the study abroad experience–personal growth.

Thanks for tuning in. Go Friars!

During the course of one 7-day period,  PC and CEA students participated in a one-day excursion to Naples, had mid-term exams,... MORE

Peeling the Onion

Posted by: on April 12, 2017   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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

St. Clement’s Basilica

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

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

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

St Agnes

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

Statue of St Paul at Santo Stefano

Anytime we travel in Italy, we are called to peel the layers of the onion. I attended a conference in Bologna last weekend. While there, I had the opportunity to visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano, known locally as the Sette Chiese (Seven Churches). It is an incredible complex of churches and a monastery. Bologna Magazine calls it the “House of Many Mansions”. The earliest church in the complex was founded in the 5th century on the earlier site of a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. Other parts date to the 8th, 11th, and 13th centuries. The frescoes, mosaics, and other artwork were breath-taking, and the fact that these churches and monastery have been in constant use for more than a millennium was awe-inspiring.
All of us, student and faculty alike, benefit from the broadening of perspectives, the growth in our historical understanding, and the placement of our Catholic faith and heritage within its geographical context. It also enhances our understanding of the universality of the Church. It is one of the gifts that the study experience abroad provides, and it is what makes the PC-Rome program both unique and special.
Thanks for tuning in. Go Friars!

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

Friars in Firenze

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

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

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

CEA goes to Florence

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

The David (detail)

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

Students in the Angels and Demons Art History Class

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


Zucotto Cake

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

The Dome viewed from the Bell Tower

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

On the Ponte Vecchio

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

Friars in Florence

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


Thanks for tuning in!  Go Friars!

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

How to Decode

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

Mosaics in Walkway at Foro Italico 

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









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

PC and CEA Students at Mussolini’s Obelisk

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

Entrance to Stadio di Marmi (Stadium of Marbles)

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


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

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

New Year, New Semester, New Adventure

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

Welcome to CEA and to Rome!


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

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

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

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

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

Students submitting paperwork for their residence permits

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

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

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

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

Thanks for tuning in and Go Friars!


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