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Daniel

Daniel

The Fall of Rome ’09

The curtain is dropping on the fall semester in Rome. Our group, i.e. “Fall of Rome ’09,” is now preparing to head back to the St. Paul campus. I am in the semi-enviable position of being one of the four students staying in Rome for the spring semester as well. As the other 25 students have been packing and saying their fond farewells to the hallowed places and favored haunts of Rome, I have been beside them, constantly catching myself from adding my goodbyes to theirs. I’m looking forward to spending the spring semester in Rome, but it is not easy to see our Fall group’s vibrant community move across the Atlantic and say goodbye to the great friends I’ve made over the past four months.
So as we stood in the courtyard at 3am on a chilly Roman morning awaiting the bus for the airport, and the departure of twenty-some of my fellow Bernardians sank in, the vast distance, both physical and experiential, hit me like a ton of bricks. In grappling with this beastly transience, two phrases came to mind that helped immensely. The first was some wise words of our already departed leader, Fr. Keating. He had said at our last night of layman formation, speaking of our times together, “I have enjoyed this chapter tremendously. Now I look forward to the next one.” The second was a simple statement from a fellow year-long Bernardian. To those heading back to the States, she said, “see you in the Eucharist.” These two simple phrases brought all leave-taking into perspective. So, without sinking into the nasty morass of nostalgia and rear-window watching, I want to thank everyone from the Fall of Rome, particularly Thanos and Fr. Keating, for the marvelously and variously holy, hilarious and harrowing experiences we’ve shared in Rome. What a brilliant semester. And now for the next chapter.

Daniel

Monday Night Formation

Monday nights here at Bernardi could be my favorite night of the week. These are the nights that the seminarians, laywomen, and laymen all separate and join either Fr. Carola, Nina Heermann, or Fr. Keating for a night of fellowship and spiritual formation. As one of the five laymen, I would argue that we had the best night. Beginning with vespers and Mass at 6pm, followed by Scripture reading and discussion, a splendid meal cooked by that wizard of Italian cuisine, Fr. Keating, we’d cap it off with cigars “topside,” on the Bernardi terrace. The fruits of these Monday nights? This past semester’s formation deepened in me a more thoughtful approach to my faith, one that is attuned to the Word of God that we would read and discuss in depth each week. Then there was the fraternity of the group. The fellowship we shared was marvelous, and was a source of strength and accountability throughout the semester.

Daniel

Christmas break

Christmas break has officially started! I celebrated by sleeping in ‘til 1—in the process almost getting more sleep than in the previous three nights combined (it was a long week). Everyone has agreed that the holidays have come shockingly quickly. We’ve now been in Rome for 11 weeks. It really doesn’t seem that long. That’s not to say that we’re not overjoyed to take this marvelous time to rest, read, tour the city, watch movies, and in general lead the good life, sans classes.
The weather has taken a decided turn for the colder. These are all clear brisk days, with the occasional spot of rain. It’s very odd not to be catching the train, bus or plane home to Michigan at this time. This will be my first Christmas away from home, and now that my attention has shifted from classes to Christmas break, I’m only beginning to get used to the idea. There are a good number of people staying here for the holidays, so there will be no shortage of community to keep the feast with.

Daniel

To market, to market


To market, to market. Tomorrow I’m going to the market at Porta Portese for the second time. Every Sunday morning they have a huge outdoor market that sells everything from kitchenware to jewelry to secondhand clothes. I suppose it’s the Roman equivalent to a flea market. Or so people tell me. Not having had the experience of a flea market, I bow to their superior judgment. Regardless, Porta Portese is a winner. Last time I picked up a sweater, two ties and a wallet for about 20 euro. A few people have had great luck finding Christmas gifts, kitchenware to supplement Bernardi’s sketchy collection, and the odd cardigan. Some of us are heading over to Mass at St. Paul’s outside the Walls tonight and then catching the bus to the market early tomorrow. I could really use a scarf.

Daniel

Peter’s Bones

I’ve found many times this semester that history has a way of coming alive when in Rome. So much of the civilization of the West and the history of the Church is rooted in Rome. In visiting places like the Forum, St. John Lateran, or the Catacombs, the dry stuff of history books becomes, in the shape of crumbling temples and magnificent churches, a rich experience of past meeting the present.
“No politician or celebrity receives as many visitors to their places of burial as Peter, the fisherman from Galilee,” said our guide as we began our Scavi tour last week. This was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had during my time here. When you at last reach the small room where Peter’s bones can be seen, you leave behind the sense that you’re in a museum, where artifacts lie lifeless and one views them with a certain detachment. You enter a hallowed place. As we stood there in the unpretentious side room where the bones of Peter are visible, our guide led us in an Our Father. As I began to pray the words that Jesus had taught to his followers, I got chills up and down my spine. The remains of one of those men lay right before me. It wasn’t something you could ignore; it wasn’t an exhibit that you could casually disregard. These words that I was praying, he, Peter, prayed. I am a part of that very tradition that he spearheaded. With that, the reality of the Christian tradition hit home. It was as though the cloudiness of everyday life cleared for a moment, and the light of a deeper reality shone through. Peter, prince of the Apostles, rock of the Church, ora pro nobis.

Daniel

Thanksgiving in Rome

I have to admit that celebrating a peculiarly American holiday such as Thanksgiving in Rome can be a little surreal. That at least was my first take when we all walked into the dining room and saw the roast turkey lying in state on the long serving table and surrounded by all the fixings. After two months on Italian soil one gets so accustomed to all things Italian from pasta and pizza to grazie and prego that it felt a little odd to be turning to my fellow Bernardians, mouth full of turkey, wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and talking about pumpkin pie and football. Yet as Fr. Carola pointed out in his homily, it is especially as students in a foreign country that we have particular cause to recall our many blessings and be grateful. As I stopped to mull over the multitudinous graces I have received, especially in the last couple months, I realized how much we have cause (in the words of the immortal crooner Bing Crosby) to “fall asleep counting our blessings.” In fact, in the past week there have been several experiences that have done a lot to make me aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Here are a few particularly worth mentioning:
Experiencing the joyful faith and simplicity of the Little Sisters of the Lamb as some of us joined the sisters in working in their garden and afterwards shared mint tea and biscotti with them.
The marvelous community and competition in the Bernardi Thanksgiving football game, a colossal affair played out in the arena-like sand field at the nearby Borghese gardens. And no, it was not a tie.

Using a phone card for the first time, realizing, Dorothy-like, that there’s no place like home, yet taking that moment to particularly thank God for the beautiful gift of family.
Looking on as ten of our seminarians served vespers for the Holy Father at St. Peter’s on Saturday evening. Our very own Sharon Reed read the English intercession. I was struck by the dynamic, historical reality of the Catholic faith, the leaven that transforms this doughy life into an offering to God.
Such, in a nutshell, was my Thanksgiving Day in Italy. Buona festa to all y’all.

Daniel

Art and Architecture trip to Bologna

We’re all just back from a weekend with Dr. Lev (art and architecture) up in Bologna. The trip was a marvelous experience of the vaunted Bolognese cuisine, glorious Gothic architecture, and the joy and camaraderie of community. We visited the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the West. Dante Alighieri, composer of the Divine Comedy, is one of the many famous individuals to have studied in Bologna. The highlight I would like to share (selected from the many, I might add) would be our time spent in San Petronio, the 5th largest church in the world. It took 700 years from when building began to the consecration of the church. Trivia aside, what really blew me away was the sweeping, mystical majesty of its Gothic architecture. Before coming here, I had never realized the power that architecture has to lift mind and heart to God. From the Roman basilicas of S. Maria Maggiore and S. Sabina to the Romanesque Bolognese church Santo Stefano to the Gothic masterpiece S. Petronio, the various styles employed are far from haphazard. There is a specific path to God that artist and artisan are pointing to, beckoning each of us further up, deeper into the mystery of Church both historical and eternal. Among the massive pillars of S. Petronio, a group of American students began to experience the joyously audible silence of Gothic architecture.

Daniel

Looking Ahead to Midterms and Silence


Well, we’ve been here for over a month now. Our first midterm is looming on Monday. As dangerously easy as it is to lose oneself in the experience of Rome, and think more of visiting the Forum, or the Vatican, or that new favorite restaurant down by Chiesa Nuova, the thought of a midterm is the surest wakeup call to the primary focus of our life here at Bernardi: studiare.
Last Sunday was All Saints Day, and some of us went with Fr. Keating to Santa Sabina. There’s actually a little story about this trip up the Aventine. As a little background, Santa Sabina is a 5th century church on the Aventine hill. the international headquarters of the Dominican order. I have two older sisters who are both Dominican sisters in the Congregation of St. Cecilia centered in Nashville, TN. My oldest sister, Sr. Beatrice, celebrates her feast day on All Saints, so to be at the Dominican church par excellence for her feast day was a blessing. What made it even more beautiful lies in the significance of both the feast and my sister’s name. Beatrice comes from the Latin word beata, which means “blessed,” and refers to the communion of saints, through which the Church is unified through space and time. So despite the barriers of distance and disparity of experience, the Church is one. The feast of All Saints, all the “blessed,” highlights this reality. So to pray in Rome at S. Sabina for my sister in Tennessee on this feast day was for me a profound experience of the communion of saints.
I’m really looking forward to this weekend. All of us here at Bernardi are going on a silent retreat, led by Fr. Carola. The retreat center is actually right across from the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. It’s only about 15 miles outside of Rome, and to the southeast, which was surprising to me. I guess I had assumed that the Holy Father had a place “up north” as we say in Michigan. Anyway, there’s a lake in a volcanic crater beside the property, and we’ll also be able to see the Mediterranean past the Castel Gandolfo. It sounds beautiful.
Since we live in the heart of Rome, and the clatter of a major city is unavoidable, I welcome the opportunity to take time in silence, collect myself, and be better able to hear the voice of the Lord. We’ll be boarding the bus this afternoon, and coming back on Sunday. Which means that this is a crucial time for studying for that art history midterm on Monday. Pace e bene.

Daniel

Ca$h Money

Here we are beginning the 2nd week of full classes. I’m beginning to find routine and rhythm, both of life at Bernardi, and studies at the Angelicum. We’ve had a recent cold spell, and this morning’s walk to class was quite chilly. Almost as though we’re back in St. Paul! It’s getting close to dinner time, as I write this. It’s interesting to observe how all of us have adjusted to the later dinner time of Italy. Restaurants here don’t typically open til 8pm, and our community dinners start between 7 and 8. Back home, I’m ready for dinner at 5, and if I haven’t eaten by 6:30, I’m absolutely famished. Yet here I am, quite content to wait for stew and potatoes at 7:30 tonight. Which reminds me, some very excellent students this semester have come up with a Tuesday night dinner event, known as Ca$h Money. Ca$h Money is the loose abbreviation for Casual Community Night, in which interested parties throw in a few bucks for a very chill meal, put on by students, cooked by students. Last week some 20 plus of us enjoyed some excellent pasta and chicken, and afterward several of us concluded the evening with a viewing of Gladiator. The irony is that Ca$h Money saves us all money, and we have a great meal, and wonderful fellowship. Who doesn’t want cash money, anyway?
I have a brief story to share, before I head down for stew and potatoes. Last Saturday afternoon we were over at the Vatican to pray the rosary for Africa with the Holy Father. It was beautiful to pray with Benedict XVI with and for Africa. Afterwards, led by Fr. Carola, we prayed vespers in the piazza. As we prayed, I looked up to St. Peter’s, towering over us all, and was struck both by the universality of the Church as well as her unity, her vastness as well as her nearness. The community that is being begun here at Bernardi, among the 30 students, 14 of whom are seminarians, is special. Fr. Carola has spoken about the uniqueness of our situation here, that we are able to live under the same roof as Jesus (we have a chapel downstairs), and how this Christocentricity (my word) is in fact the foundation and glue of our community. We are not 30 study abroad students who happen to be in the same house and same class, we are 30 students called to live, study, pray and recreate together, being formed by and helping form each other in this semester in Rome. This all kind of washed over me again as we prayed vespers. Community has its challenges, but I think I can say that the challenge of community life here at Bernardi is one that we are all glad to take up. I’ll end on that note. I can hear and smell the signs that dinner is very close. Better get down there. Salve.

Daniel

Arriving in Rome


Buona sera! I sit here on a Wednesday evening, finally winding down after a rather hectic day. It’s fall in Rome, and I’m enjoying my 6th day here in the Eternal City. My name is Dan Clarke, a sophomore and double major in Catholic Studies and philosophy at UST. This fall, along with 28 other Catholic Studies students, I’ll be immersing myself in a semester of study, prayer, fellowship and culture here in the Eternal City.
I’m sitting on our beautiful rooftop terrace here at Bernardi, from which I can see the magnificent dome of St. Peter’s, only a short 20 minute walk away. It has been a very busy first few days. But let me begin from the beginning. Two friends and I flew in on Monday/Tuesday, arriving in Rome around 11am on Tuesday. We then caught a 2pm train up to Alessandria, in Piemonte (NW Italy), where we had arranged to stay with a friend of Fr. Keating’s who runs a bed & breakfast. Our 6+ hour train ride took us up along the jaw-dropping beautiful western coast of Italy. We reached La Rocca, the bed & breakfast, (which was actually in Vignale, a 45 car ride outside Alessandria) a little before 10pm, after nearly 18 straight hours of travel.
Vignale is in wine country, and our host, Tracey (a UST alumna), owns a small vineyard, and we three actually got to help with the wine making. Not a lot, but we helped clean up the cantina, and when there was a minor crisis because the acidity level was too high, we stood in and helped move the yet unfermented wine from one massive holder to another. We tasted the wine, too, which was cool. It was very sweet, like an amazingly fresh grape juice. All chemical free, too, I might add.
The town was beautiful, and rather quaint. It was perched on a hill, with the church — S. Bartolommeo — at the top. The streets are very narrow, the houses very old yet well-kept and charming, and the view from the hilltop out over the surrounding country (all vineyards and small, similar towns) is stunning. It was truly amazing that these streets and houses, the townspeople and (in many ways) their way of life, has been passed on from centuries before, and there we were, three young Catholic Studies undergrads from the States experiencing it. The whole trip, which lasted from Tuesday night until Friday morning, was truly special. On our last night in Vignale, we splashed out a bit and went to the nice ristorantes in town, La Trattoria Panoramica. I ordered one of the nicer wines of the region and our main course was delicious meat ravioli, with a pumpkin sauce. It was amazing — who would’ve thought that pumpkin and ravioli could work? All in all, a wonderful meal and the perfect bookend to a relaxing 3 day jaunt in Piemonte.
The next morning we caught our train into Roma, and got in around 4. The night of our arrival in Rome through yesterday has been jam-packed with orientation, registration, events and introductions. Since getting in on Friday, I’ve already visited St. Peter’s twice; went to an audience with the Holy Father (fifth row!); begun classes at the Angelicum; had a visit from Archbishop Neinstedt; toured and registered with the Gregorian library (more on that later); gotten lost multiple times (not a bad thing); and seen the inside of an amazing 16th century monastery that used to belong to French nuns. Tomorrow night we’ll be going to an ordination of several deacons at St. Peter’s, as well as a tour of the Catacombs with Dr. Lev (for our art and architecture class), and on Saturday we’re joining other university students in praying a rosary with the Holy Father for Africa.
I hope to write more soon, especially about our upcoming visit to the Catacombs and the Vatican Museums with Dr. Lev. As tiring and intense as this first week has proven to be, I‘ve come to realize just how blessed and fortunate I am to be here, studying and living in Roma. Buona sera, e pace.