Last month, students in Thomas More College’s Rome Program split into two groups: the boys departed to tour Montecassino with the monks that operate the monastery campus that houses the College’s Rome program, and the girls went to Nettuno with the Sisters of the Servants of the Home of the Mother where they visited the shrine of St. Maria Goretti as well as her house and the hospital where she died.
Montecassino is an hour and thirty-five minute car ride from Rome. St. Benedict founded the abbey in 529 A.D. and it was the first European abbey. Montecassino was destroyed during World War II by the Allied troops under the mistaken impression that the Germans were using it as a garrison.
Nettuno is a seaside town an hour by train from Rome. The shrine to St. Maria Goretti is within Saint Mary of Grace church, which is located next to the beach. Saint Mary of Grace was built over the original church that St. Maria Goretti attended for Mass and where she received her First Holy Communion.
In the crypt of the church, St. Maria Goretti’s remains are enclosed within a statue of her in the altar. There is also a museum off to the side that holds several of her relics: articles of clothing, a lock of hair, and a medal that she wore. The table on which she was operated on is also there as well as the first memorial that was built to her.
“It was a very beautiful experience,” Sophomore Maureen Lloyd said. “The theological discussions disclosed many insightful thoughts in what we saw. It was wonderful to be where St. Maria Goretti had been.”
St. Maria Goretti was an eleven-year-old girl who died rather than commit a mortal sin, even pleading for her attacker’s soul in the process. She was attacked on July 5th, 1902 by Alessandro Serrenelli who stabbed her fourteen times before leaving her for dead. From the three fatal wounds to her stomach, lung, and near her heart, St. Maria Goretti died July 6th, 1902, a martyr for purity.
A priest who told St. Maria Goretti’s life story to the Thomas More College students said, “You should all value your modesty, purity and chastity; when you meet a man who respects all three of these virtues, that is the man for you.”
At Noon, the group ate lunch on the beach and braved the freezing water by wading in almost up to their knees. Afterwards they sang songs and the nuns led a group discussion on St. Maria Goretti; touching the subject of the importance of purity as the priest said.
Although there were no buses going to St. Maria Goretti’s house, the group managed to find a tour bus driver who had exactly as many seats in the bus as the group consisted of. He agreed, for three euros, to take them to and from the house of the saint. At the house, the group was able to see St. Maria Goretti’s bedroom, the kitchen where she was attacked, and the spot where she was found lying unconscious.
The boys and girls who had split earlier re-joined to attend Mass before splitting again. The boys returned to Rome and the girls went to the hospital where St. Maria Goretti died, as well as to a chapel that is dedicated in her honor before returning to Rome as well.
“What made going to Nettuno exceptional is going with an open heart to experience it as a pilgrimage,” said Marina Hernandez, “and also to learn and gain the faith of St. Maria Goretti. The trip was particularly special to me as she is my Confirmation saint.”
Several of the girls, besides Marina Hernandez, had taken the little saint as their Confirmation name and for each of them the pilgrimage was a moving spiritual experience. One even said, when she kissed the relic of St. Maria Goretti in the hospital’s chapel, that she felt an immense joy blossom within her and expand outwards. Her classmates testified to this, reporting that she was beaming when she turned from kissing the relic.
Students Explore the Art and Architecture of Florence
“I give a tour of Florence, not because it’s something to check off your list,” said Liz Lev, “but so that you, as Catholic students, see the height of Christian architecture and see the change that the style of art underwent with each new Christian painter.”
Although the sky was clouded and there was a threat of rain, the students followed Liz Lev through the streets of Florence at a fast pace, as they were determined not to be swayed by the dismal weather.
The first stop was to the museum where the Medici family kept a vast collection of artistic pieces ranging from great artists such as Giotto, Martini, Cristoforo, Lippi, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael. Liz Lev pointed out the difference in each artist’s technique and even gave the background of some of the works.
The next stop was to the Baptistery where the body of the anti-pope, John the 23rd, is buried, but it is not for this reason that the students were led there. The Baptistery has three sets of bronze doors, one set was done by Andrea Pisano and the other two sets were done by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Both are widely recognized as the best in the art of bronze sculpting. Inside the Baptistery, the main attention is drawn to the ceiling, which is completely covered by mosaics, the center of which is Christ.
The tour paused to give the students a chance to attend Mass at the Duomo Cathedral, the dome of which was engineered by Flippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral is the fourth largest church in the world and, until the modern era, its dome was the largest in the world.
After Mass, the tour made its way to the Academy of Florence where the most prized sculptures of Michelangelo are kept. The sculptures were set up in a hallway with Michelangelo’s David the main event of the exhibit.
Liz Lev escorted the students back to their waiting bus and saw them off shortly after thanking them for their attention. In return, the students thanked the professor for her time before making the nearly three-hour trip back to Rome.
“I enjoyed the trip,” said Elena Theleman, sophomore of Thomas More College. “Liz Lev’s knowledge of the art galleries we went to was astounding. She pointed out the differences between oil and water color and also how the artists differentiated from each other in their styles.”