by Patrick Kuplack,’21
“‘Rome!’ The pilgrims took up the cry and repeated, ‘Roma, Roma!’ Then I knew that I was not in a dream, but truly I was in Rome.”—St. Thérèse of Lisieux
The Little Flower’s words accurately sum up the reaction of the entire sophomore class of Thomas More College, who landed on Italian soil just a few weeks ago. This semester abroad in the Eternal City, which all students of the College undertake in the second semester of their sophomore year, is a highlight of a Thomas More education; it gives the students the opportunity to experience the roots of the Catholic Faith in the most real way possible.
Hannah O’Connor, ’11, Director of the College’s Rome Program, spends much of her time with the students, assisting them in becoming savvy in Italian ways. She describes the inauguration of the new Rome semester: “After arriving weary, excited and a little nervous, the sophomores alighted on a sunny day at the Program’s Villa Magnolia and got their first glimpse of San Pietro’s dome from the upper terrace. During Orientation, students walked in the footsteps of saints, met martyrs of the early church, and prayed at the tomb of Peter.” The Chaplain of the Program, Fr. Kim D’Souza, met the group at dawn during their whirlwind Rome introduction for their first private crypt Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Rome program residence, Villa Magnolia, is nestled at the top of Via delle Fornaci, just a few steps away from the ancient Via Aurelia Antica. Designed by notable Italian architect Gaetano Minnucci, the villa’s beauty and charm are increased by winding terraces, gardens and spectacular views. Stepping out of the gate, the students have, on one side, St. Peter’s Square a short walk down the street, and on the other side, the Janiculum Hill, where ancient Rome opens up before them.
“cobblestone and marble, houses in every shade of yellow and rust, clotheslines hanging from house to house, shutters and canopies along every wall, vines and plants cascading down the sides of all the buildings—everything so casually and unapologetically Italian…”—Torrey Culbertson
Hannah O’Connor describes the students’ enthusiasm for their courses during the Rome semester, in which they read everything from the Letters of St. Paul to Hawthorne’s Marble Faun. “Art and Architecture class has captured everyone’s hearts,” she says. “For three glorious hours twice a week students tour through sections of the city and delve into its art, saints and history: from the ancient pre-Roman Etruscans, to the persecutions of Nero, the Papal piazzas and palaces, frescos, fountains, relics, icons, and all that is The Eternal City!”
Sophomore Torrey Culbertson admits to being enchanted by Rome and articulates the common experience of being both acclimated and overwhelmed. “Already we have visited so many churches and seen so many historical landmarks, and yet I know that we have barely scratched the surface of Rome. Every day has been so packed with basilicas, monuments, gelato, and cappuccino—by the end of the day, when meditating upon the events of that same morning, they seem already to have happened weeks ago!”
Miss Culbertson particularly enjoys the slightly bohemian Trastevere area, where “every road looks like the stereotypical Italian Street: cobblestone and marble, houses in every shade of yellow and rust, clotheslines hanging from house to house, shutters, and canopies along every wall, vines and plants cascading down the sides of all the buildings—everything so casually and unapologetically Italian.” Torrey goes on to describe what seems to be the perennial sensation of being at home in a foreign place and how “all the strange mix of sights, sounds, and smells seem somehow familiar and safe.”
Classmate Peter Thompson agrees that the mix of the sacred and the ordinary in Rome makes the city both inspiring and inviting. He already discovered a perennial favorite café near the villa, Carlo Menta, where he and his classmates have enjoyed “great inexpensive pizza!” A futbol aficionado, Peter plans to attend a match with Italian team Juventus over the course of the semester, in the hopes of watching the famed Cristiano Ronaldo play. “But my favorite place is St. Peter’s,” he says. “Its sheer grandeur never disappoints.”
“Students in the Rome Program are not checking off a list, and merely getting a ‘study abroad’ experience,” explains Hannah O’Connor. “They are on a pilgrimage.” A pilgrimage reminds us that we are all wayfarers in the City of Man, on a lifelong journey toward the City of God. From private masses held in the Crypt of St. Peter’s to pilgrimages to Poland and Assisi, the Rome semester offers many opportunities for students to grow in their faith. By visiting Rome’s most beautiful Churches for prayer and meditation, and walking in the footsteps of great saints, students are reminded that God, as the Incarnate Word, does work through flesh and bone and place.