Vistas from the Eternal City: A Reflection on Thomas More College’s Rome Semester

by Thomas More College on September 24, 2013

DSCN3689Thomas More College has a feature no Catholic college could be without: a semester in Rome, the heart of the Church. Every sophomore has the chance to study and live within the Eternal City itself for three months, discovering the foundations of Christian and Western culture through firsthand experience.

More than a study abroad program, the Rome semester is designed around the city. Texts read correspond to the importance of Rome in the Christian tradition. For example, students read such works as Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Livy’s Early History of Rome. Courses are also provided that engage the rich heritage of Roman civilization. In Art and Architecture, sophomores do not simply examine a series of  slides in a lecture hall. Walking around Rome, they consider the churches, piazzas, and monuments of the city itself, leading students to develop for themselves a lived knowledge of the great works of Bernini, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio.

In addition to formal studies, the semester provides an opportunity for unique experiences found nowhere else. Every Thomas More student has their own stories to tell about their time in Rome.

Here’s one from a current senior:

“I think I can say that Rome was, quite honestly, the best semester I’ve had at Thomas More. Not only because I got to travel and see places I never would have otherwise, but especially because living in Rome really gives you a perspective on life. You really sense that for all the craziness on the surface, Romans really understand that life ought to be lived on a balance. It should be savored.

DSCN3810I remember reading Josef Pieper’s book, In Tune With the World, where he talks about leisure as a necessary part of life. Not just relaxation or recreation, but time spent doing the sorts of things that are really worth doing. Walking around the streets of Rome, especially Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood, gave me a sense of what that looks like. I especially like the piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It’s like a world in miniature. You have houses and shops, fountains and statues, churches with beautiful bells, but most of all you have people of all sorts—families, lovers, beggars, friends—coming and going, spending time with each other, being foolish and being generous, all at once.

One of my favorite experiences was on Holy Thursday. Since I was there during Holy Week and Easter, my class and I were able to participate in the traditional observances found in Rome. Since there are probably more churches in Rome put together than there are in—say—New England, there’re a lot of choices.

IMG_0653Some people went to the Coliseum on Good Friday to say the Stations of the Cross with Pope Benedict (this was in 2012), some people went to a Latin Tenebrae service. But on Holy Thursday, our whole class went on a Seven Church Walk, something traditionally done in Rome after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It’s exactly like it sounds: you walk to seven churches and pray at each one during the evening.

We went though Trastevere, beginning at Santa Maria in Trastevere. The Seven Church Walk is especially beautiful because each parish decorates an Altar of Repose, trying to outdo each other. The final church we went was Santa Maria dell’Orte, which is rarely opened. On Holy Thursday, however, the church is opened and kept entirely dark except for candles. When we went in, you had to blink, because there were probably three hundred candles lit around the altar. The effect was breathtaking. It is definitely something I’ll remember in the future.”

 

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