Holy Land explorations 

In the spring of 1990, I studied in Jerusalem at Notre Dame’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute. In the 1960s, Pope Paul VI asked Holy Cross Father Ted Hesburgh, then president of Notre Dame, to launch an ecumenical institute in the Holy Land. Off and on, as the political situation would permit, students have been sent to study at Tantur. I was one of eight fortunate enough to go that year.  

When most people visit the Holy Land, they jog where Jesus walked. Having five months to soak it in was an amazing, blessed experience. Scripture came alive! The biblical places were amazing. Meeting leaders within the Eastern-rite Catholic traditions, as well as Orthodox leaders, introduced me to a breadth of Christianity previously unknown to me. Learning from Jews and Muslims of their faiths was rich. Seeing not only the ancient stones of archeology, but seeing the living people, Arabs and Jews, lent itself to a deeper understanding of ancient and modern conflicts in this turbulent region. 

At 19 years old, I could have no idea of what a formative experience it would be! 

— Father Chris Cox, pastor, Our Lady of Andacollo Parish, Santiago, Chile

Austrian pilgrimage 

The Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program was basically a semester long pilgrimage and retreat for me, sprinkled with some classes and fellowship at the pub.  

At a holy hour in Rome one night, I remember thinking about how exhausting it was to be constantly engaged in your spiritual life. It was a challenging semester.  

But it was so worth it, because it bore such fruit. I was discovering the richness of our faith and learning about Church history while visiting the sites where these events took place. Under the pastoral leadership of Father Dave Pivonka, and with the theme of “Truth, Beauty and Goodness,” I was growing ever closer to Christ. It was the most formative semester of my college years. The experiences I had in that program are invaluable and will forever shape who I am as a person. 

— Rebecca Herr, Washington, D.C.

Roaming in Rome 

It was one of the greatest blessings of my life to be a part of the University of St. Thomas’ (in St. Paul, Minn.) yearlong Catholic Studies in Rome program 2005-2006.  

We lived at the Bernardi Residence, along the bank of the Tiber just east of the Vatican, and studied at the Angelicum (Dominican Pontifical University of St. Thomas) both in regular Angelicum classes and in classes led by St. Thomas professors. No other American college’s undergraduate Rome program offers this unique mix of living right in Rome (not the outskirts) and attending classes at a regular Roman university in English, while continuing coursework from the university’s own professors. 

Where else but in Rome can one go to a papal Mass in the morning and visit the tombs of six apostles and six Caravaggio paintings in the afternoon? The people, activity and life of Rome are unique, as are the opportunities for spiritual pilgrimage. Rome was where I first realized what it is to live in a culturally Catholic country, where habited nuns are on every bus and shrines to the Madonna on every street corner, where priests in cassock ride mo-peds through crowds and the sounds of a procession are not uncommon in the streets.  

Rome was where I was able to do the Seven Church Walk attributed to St. Philip Neri, where I was able to visit the relics of practically every saint listed in the Roman Canon (so that’s why it’s called that!), where I could pray the Stations of the Cross before the relics of the cross itself, and where I could contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation in the Sistine Chapel not once, not twice, but multiple times. Only at St. Peter’s was I able to have a breathtaking encounter with the Lord at early morning Mass at the very tomb of Peter the Apostle, and the ethereal experience of St. Peter’s in the early morning with dozens of priests celebrating Mass on every side altar in the peace and quiet of the dawn, and the receiving of holy Communion from the hand of Pope Benedict XVI.  

Rome was where the universality of the Church became more and more manifest to me at each papal Mass, where thousands of pilgrims speaking every language came together to say the Lord’s Prayer and other parts of the Mass in Latin — one body, one spirit in Christ as I never knew it before. 

Rome was where I matured in my Catholic faith, and that year abroad was a turning point in my life both of faith and of my vocation to live as a layperson in the world. I cannot encourage young people enough to take advantage of a study abroad program, particularly the one through the University of St. Thomas — they do accept students applying for study abroad from other universities. 

— Mary Gibson, St. Paul, Minn.

Longing for Rome 

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (in Merrimack, N.H.) has a program where all the second years go to Rome for a semester. It was a wonderful experience that opened up my eyes in many ways. We lived just a bit above Trastevere and had the incredible joy of doing daily tours of the art and architecture of the Eternal City.  

Along with the city, there are also day trips organized by the college for cities such as Assisi, Cerveteri (to tour the Etruscan tombs), and the port city of Ostia Antica.  

My time there was nothing less than life changing, and I still long to be in Santa Maria Maggiore for Sunday Mass.  

I believe that the college has made changes to the program, but it’s still worth investigating. Everyone should see Rome at least once. 

— M. Jordan Lichens, via email

Additional articles from the Catholic college special section:

Engaging with the world through foreign studies programs

Languages teach students more than just words

Facts and figures on international studies

Promoting overseas study

College mission trip checklist

Benefits of study abroad indisputable, long-lasting