For the second time this semester, the students of Thomas More College’s Rome program enjoyed the company of Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. Effectively the Chief Justice of the Roman Catholic Church’s “Supreme Court,” Archbishop Burke is one of the highest ranking Americans in the Roman Curia, which governs the Church on behalf of the pope.
Archbishop Burke celebrated Mass in the College’s Rome campus chapel with students and staff on the Feast of Christ the King. His homily highlighted the importance of letting Christ reign as king in our lives and over society—and the practical steps Christians can take toward making this happen, principally by rediscovering devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thomas More College was formally consecrated to the Sacred Heart on October 16, 2009.
Archbishop Burke then joined the students in the dining hall maintained by the Maronite Catholic monks who host Thomas More College’s Rome program each year. During the three-course meal accompanied by local red wine, Archbishop Burke gave the students free rein to ask questions on a wide array of subjects, according to sophomore William Russell.
“He was very amiable and answered the questions with frankness and sincerity,” said William. “The topics ranged from the centrality of the family to the social effects of technology, mediocrity in America, and even the goodness of family farming. Burke is a native of Wisconsin and the son of a dairy farmer, so he has firm opinions on the subject.”
Sophomore Mary Monaghan recounts: “After Mass, when we discussed problems of the world over pistachios and peanuts, it was particularly encouraging to hear Archbishop Burke’s response to the issue of the breakdown of the family—which he cited as the source of most of the troubles in modern culture. He encouraged familial devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the importance of working together and eating together as a family. Though the atmosphere can become tense when dining with a renowned person, our lunch with Archbishop Burke was not like that. He listened to our opinions, too. It was a pleasure speaking with him.”
Over cups of espresso in the formal reception room after dinner, the prefect described the work of the Apostolic Signatura and answered students’ questions about the inner workings of the highest levels of governance in the Church.
Sophomore Benjamin Bible asked Archbishop Burke about his public statements concerning Catholic politicians who dissent from core truths of the Faith, such as the sanctity of life. The Archbishop gave a detailed explanation, which echoed the position he has consistently pronounced publically—that dissenting politicians should not receive or be offered Holy Communion.
The students and the prelate also discussed more global issues, including the recent intervention by the European Court of Human Rights into the Church/State relationship in Italy. In that case, the court decided to pull out the crucifixes which have traditionally been displayed in Italian classrooms. As the chief jurist for a very different international tribunal, Burke offered a well-informed and incisive critique of that court decision.
As the archbishop was preparing to depart, William Russell and Mary Monaghan (who are engaged to be married) asked him for their blessing, which Archbishop Burke cheerfully gave.
“The visit was a great success,” William said. “After an afternoon of worship, discussion, and feasting, we all left feeling renewed and refreshed.”
For most of the school’s history, each sophomore at Thomas More College has taken part in the school’s required Rome Semester to gain a first-hand experience of the capital of Christendom. Whether they’re touring ancient pagan temples, navigating the catacombs that hold the bones of saints, or learning the Christian import of masterworks by Bernini and Michaelangelo, students are guided by Thomas More College faculty to place each experience in the context of their broad, liberal arts education and the Catholic tradition.
The Rome semester makes intimate and immediate the school’s tight focus on the history and classic texts of the Western tradition. It pushes students to go beyond their textbooks and lectures to grow in their faith—as well as their understanding of the foundations of Western civilization and American democracy.
Thomas More College’s Rome program is housed in a monastery just miles from the Vatican, where students interact daily with a community of monks—seeing firsthand the mode of life that gave birth to medieval academic culture.
While in Rome, students also are given the opportunity to meet with high level Church officials. In addition to Archbishop Raymond Burke, Thomas More College’s Rome program students have attended Masses with Pope Benedict XVI and dined with Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Archbishop Burke has consistently praised Thomas More College for its fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church. Earlier this year, the archbishop wrote:
Both the liberal arts curriculum and the extracurricular activities at Thomas More College are outstanding for their fidelity to the Magisterium. The teaching at Thomas More College exemplifies the right relationship between faith and reason, which is always at the service of the truth. The faculty of the College are faithful in their teaching and example, and, therefore, are able to educate students in the way which prepares them to follow Christ, the Truth, in both their private and public life. At a time when some Catholic institutions of higher education are drifting from the Catholic faith, it is most heartening to know that Thomas More College continues to promote and defend vigorously the Catholic faith and its practice. To put it simply, Thomas More College is a gift for which all of us should be most grateful.
Dr. William Fahey, president of Thomas More College, said, “Thomas More College is deeply grateful to Archbishop Burke for taking time to visit our Rome campus, and for allowing our students to interact with him in such an intimate and personal setting. We look forward to his continued guidance and support as we seek to develop in our students a profound love for Truth.”