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Rome Abroad

Rome Abroad

The New Evangelization in Broken Italian

 Written by Maureen Harrington ’14, Catholic Studies and English

It has been about two months since the fall 2012 Bernardi clan first congregated in the Eternal City, and I can say with confidence that the Spirit is moving! Over the last six weeks we have had an abundance of opportunities to see the Church as the Body of Christ in a very tangible way, not only through the sacred art and history of Rome, but through the literal thousands of pilgrims, clergy, and religious we encounter daily.

Another good thing about living in Rome, and even Europe in general, is that one is afforded many opportunities to visit the tombs, birthplaces, schools, and relics of almost any saint, blessed, venerable, Servant of God, or random holy person who will probably be canonized at some point. Neither of my closest patrons, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Teresa of Avila, are buried here in Italy, but I’ve still been amazed at how present they’ve been since I left the US back in September. I am blessed not only to take classes at yet another university named after my favorite socially awkward, phlegmatic philosopher, but to have two of his fellow Dominicans as professors. One of them, Fr. Paul Murray (who was Mother Teresa’s spiritual director, no big deal) quotes Teresa of Avila at least twice per class, which increases his awesome factor by about one thousand percent, if that is possible.

Speaking of that fabulously sassy Carmelite sister, in addition to her frequent appearances in my Spiritual Theology notes, Teresa of Avila has had a particular presence in my attempts to enter into the Year of Faith here in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI’s homily to open the Year of Faith hearkened back to Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi, in which he stressed the importance of reinvigorating the Church from the inside out. As recent events in our country have made clear, complacent evangelization in this day and age will not be enough to sustain religious freedom, let alone spread the gospel. This makes the task of effective witnessing all the more important for us as Catholics.  A few weeks ago, I was reading Teresa’s Interior Castle when the Lord allowed me to stumble upon this gem:

Let it cost her what it may and as dear as she desires, for she longs to lose a thousand lives to lead one soul to praise Thee but a little better. If as many lives were hers to give, she would count them well spent in such a cause, knowing as a truth most certain that she is unworthy to bear the lightest cross, much less to die for Thee. (6.3)

On the “how humbling is this?” scale of 1 to 10, I would say that this was an 11, except that it actually probably didn’t humble me enough because I’m so dang prideful and Teresa is so dang holy. Over the years since I’ve truly started to live my faith, I don’t think I’ve once stopped to ponder the fact that any suffering I undergo for the gospel is not a gift simply because I can offer it up, but because I am completely unworthy to do so. I’m not even talking about real suffering; I’m talking putting on a retreat when I’m tired or waking up for morning prayer after a late night of homework. I am blessed to suffer even the tiniest discomforts for the kingdom only because He is humble enough to work through weak and corrupt human beings.

Teresa’s pep-talk came at a providentially opportune moment for me, because there’s nothing like being plopped in a foreign country and surrounded by people who are much holier than you to affirm that you are not God’s gift to the new evangelization. As full of blessings and consolations as this semester has been, there are definitely trials that come along with being uprooted. For one thing, I don’t really speak much Italian, and most of the words I do know have to do with food. Being so limited in how I can relate to people outside of our community vocally makes imperfections in how I act and present myself glaringly apparent. Just when I start to tell myself that I’m a patient person, I get lost on my way to class and have to ask for directions from someone who can’t understand a word of my Minnesota-accented Italian, and then they tell me the wrong way because they’re confused and I end up missing 45 minutes of Modern Philosophy… hypothetically, of course. On top of the language barrier is the fact that, as difficult as asking for help or directions is, I have to do it a lot. I’m just starting to get used to things like ordering food and buying train tickets, so I’ve had more of these humbling interactions than I can begin to count.

As uncomfortable as these experiences can be, they’ve forced me to focus on reflecting Christ to people in little ways, like answering with a smile when somebody gets annoyed that I can’t understand what they’re telling me in Italian. As Mother Teresa so aptly says, “We can do no great things- only small things with great love.” This truth has never been clearer to me than now. Sometimes I can’t even remember how to tell someone to have a nice day, let alone tell them about the Lord. All I have is Christ, and the ability to let him love through me. Living in Bernardi is such a gift, because I’m surrounded by people who are striving to live their Catholic faith as well, and definitely call me on to holiness.  This sometimes puts my life into rather harsh perspective, but it has allowed me to grow in areas that I didn’t even recognize previously. There’s nothing more humbling or beautiful than interacting with people who allow themselves to be filled with Christ, and I’m blessed to do this constantly.

In one of our first meetings back at St. Thomas last semester, I remember being told that the Rome experience was sometimes difficult in the midst of it. Although I will say that it has overall been a wonderfully peaceful and joyful time for me, it is also certainly challenging for all of the reasons that I described. However, being so removed from distractions, living under the same roof as the Eucharist, and being physically surrounded by the saints, martyrs, and a faith-filled community, these difficulties have born much more fruit than I’ve ever allowed them to before. For each trial that I’ve had (and really, they’re small trials), I’ve been better able realize that any tiny good I do is only possible by the grace of God. Only when I’m really humble will I be able to be a light to anyone, and then only because He allows me to be.

Catholic at UST, Classes, Rome Abroad, Student Profiles

An Immense Gift for Seminarians

Written by Colin Jones ’14, Philosophy, Catholic Studies, and Classical Languages

When I first came to Saint John Vianney Seminary, my academic advisor gave me two reasons why I should major in Catholic Studies in addition to my required Philosophy major.  One, it wasn’t very hard to do, since a few of the classes overlapped with the seminary curriculum, and two, it offered the once-in-a-lifetime experience of studying in Rome.  Let’s just say it didn’t take me a very long time to make a decision (I mean, come on, it’s Rome!).  Before I had even taken my first class in Catholic Studies, I had declared it as one of my majors.

While you would probably be correct in saying that this was a rash, spur of the moment decision, looking back two years later I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  And I haven’t even gone to Rome yet!

For a seminarian studying to be one day ordained to the priesthood, God willing, the Catholic Studies program at St. Thomas has been one of the most tremendous blessings of my formation.  In the two Catholic Studies classes that I have completed, and the one that I am currently taking in the program, I have been blessed with the rich, profound, and transformative experience of learning about the beautiful faith of the Catholic Church, the Church which I hope to one day take as my bride.

In Catholic Studies 101, The Search for Happiness, Fr. Keating gave us a description of the Church which I will never forget: “To believe the way of truth, to pray the way of sanctification, and to live the way of love and transformation.” As a priest, my ultimate task will be to impart this understanding of the Catholic Church to every man, woman, and child who walks through the doors of my parish.  It will be my job to teach my parishioners that it is only in the Catholic Church that they will obtain the truth, the sanctification, the love, and the transformation for which they so ardently long.  And it will be up to me to show my flock that in a world which so often sees religion, particularly the Catholic Church, as a detriment and a hindrance to society, it is actually only through the salvific teachings of the Church that we can become truly free.

In my current Catholic Vision class with Dr. Junker, this has been precisely the topic at hand.  We have been reading everything from the Gospel of John, to Pope Benedict’s homilies on creation, to St. Augustine’s City of God, and in doing so have delved into two of the deepest realities of humanity with a “Catholic lens,” showing how the human person only comes into his true self when he is in union with Christ.  It is my prayer that, as a priest, I will be able to help others to see the world through this same “Catholic lens,” and thus show them the way to Christ.

In his 2012 letter to seminarians on the topic of Intellectual Formation, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington states that “ you are required to take so many courses in Catholic teaching, history and philosophy so that you are not only aware of the immense gift of the Catholic tradition, but that you are also well prepared to access it, understand it, appropriate it and share it”

While the Catholic Studies program is by no means a “required” field for SJV seminarians, it fits exactly into this description of intellectual formation which Cardinal Wuerl describes.  Through the Catholic Studies program, I have indeed gained a much greater awareness of and appreciation for the “immense gift of the Catholic tradition,” and have become “well prepared to access it, understand it, appropriate it and share it.” If it be the Father’s will that I one day bring Christ to world as his priest, I have no doubt that the beautiful gift of the Catholic Studies program will be an immense blessing for my priesthood.

And I haven’t even gone to Rome yet.  Praised be Jesus Christ!



Rome Abroad

The Immaculate Conception

Some words from our Rome Blogger, Alison Coffman ’12

There were no classes last Thursday. Shops were closed; people had a day off from work. All for the national holiday—the Immaculate Conception.

Now to what degree the celebration is cultural vs. religious is out of my scope, but, regardless, it was interesting to experience what it’s like to live in a not completely secularized country.

So what was it like? A party was thrown in Mary’s honor across the city. I went to the beautiful church Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the People), which was a fitting place to go given that people were streaming in and out of the churches every hour for mass. The piazzas were crowded with people. On one of the busiest streets, Via del Corso, all of the church doors were thrown open, and people were pouring in and out to pray and light candles. I took the photo above as I was walking down Via del Corso. I was just struck by the serenity of Mary, watching the people as they swirl by on the street.

But the center of the party was Piazza di Spagna. There’s a large obelisk/column with a statue of Mary on top, and so every year the firemen of Rome get out their huge ladders to place a wreath of flowers on her arm. The base of the column is just covered with flowers, wreaths, and bouquets that people leave. Then, to crown the day, the Pope makes his annual appearance at the Piazza. I waited for two hours to get a prime spot, and it was well worth it. There was a wonderful sense of unity when the crowd prayed the Rosary during the last half hour of the wait. Pope Benedict XVI, or “Papa Bene,” gave an address about the Immaculate Conception based on the daily reading from Revelation. 

All I can say is that the Italians really know how to celebrate Mary in style.

Faith and Career, Rome Abroad, Student Profiles

Quo Vadis?

The following account was written by Paul Solomon, a senior studying at the St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Many of us are familiar with the famous “Quo Vadis?” account from the Acts of Peter. St. Peter is fleeing the city of Rome to avoid persecution and death, and as he is departing along the Via Appia he encounters Christ. Peter questions Him, “Where are you going?” Christ responds, “I am heading to Rome to be crucified once again.” Ultimately, St. Peter rethinks his decision and returns to Rome, becoming a martyr for the faith. Continue Reading

Rome Abroad

Finding a Home in Rome

Group at St. Peter's

Blogging has become a way for students studying abroad to stay in touch with their friends and family, but it also serves to encourage a great deal of reflection while encountering a vast array of new experiences.  At least this seems to be the case for most Catholic Studies students who travel to Rome.  Kristin Vasko, a junior studying Elementary Education and Catholic Studies, is amongst the 30+ students and faculty spending the next four months in the the Heart of the Church.  Together they will be experiencing the transformative power of community life, prayer, and formation.  They will marvel at Italian culture (including, but certainly not limited to food and drink), beauty and art, the Saints, and the Holy Father.  As they pursue their studies at the Angelicvm, they will be privileged by the knowledge of well-known Dominicans and Art Historians.  This, however, only briefly scratches the surface of the myriad of experiences and events one encounters during a semester in the Eternal City. Continue Reading

Rome Abroad

Rome: Student Writes on the Gift of Silence


          Encounter. This word, in many ways, expresses the goal of spiritual retreat. In spiritual retreat, one has the opportunity to go into the silence, and for a little while, get away from the many distractions that fight for our attention every moment of our busy lives. Going into the silence has been often compared with going into the desert, and the use of this imagery is quite apt, for retreat often feels like a being in the desert. Nonetheless, there are such tremendous wonders awaiting us in the silence. There, in the quiet of our hearts, God’s voice is heard. In the stillness of prayer we can encounter our Creator and our Father, we can encounter our Savior and our King, and we can encounter the Living Spirit of Love moving within us. In the silence we can truly encounter God.

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Rome Abroad

Update from Rome: Spring and European Travels

Posted by Katie, UST junior, Business Leadership and Management, Communications, and Catholic Studies

Katie is one of about 30 UST students studying on the semester long
Catholic Studies Rome Program. Follow her Rome blog.
The Bernardi community is reuniting from a week of travels for the excitement of a blessed Holy Week in Rome. I cannot yet imagine the magnificence of spending this week in the eternal city, but hopefully in a few days the experience will earn some words to help describe it! Look for an update to come!

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