For semester, seminarians live on ‘Irish island’ in the center of Rome

| October 25, 2017 | 0 Comments
Pontifical Irish College

Seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary studying Catholic Studies have the opportunity to spend a semester in Rome, where they now live at the Pontifical Irish College, pictured, alongside Irish seminarians and priests from around the world. Courtesy Pontifical Irish College

Each day, 11 St. John Vianney College seminarians staying at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome are served a side of potatoes with their Italian pasta as they experience a confluence of cultures through Irish hospitality and other glimpses of the universal Church.

While attending classes at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, the seminarians from the college seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul are getting to know Irish seminarians and priests from dioceses around the world who are also staying at the College, located near the Roman Coliseum.

The College, which doesn’t offer instruction, can accommodate 60 students. Last year the College housed 14 Irish seminarians and 27 post-graduate priests.

The Minnesota seminarians gain from their hosts a new way of looking at hospitality, said Father John Bauer, who served as formator-spiritual director for the seminarians in Rome last year, and who is now parochial administrator at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka.

Meanwhile, conversations with resident priests from Romania, the Netherlands, India and Africa expand seminarians’ understanding of the Church, he said.

“I think it was really a good experience for the men to see another perspective, to see Catholicism through a different lens,” he said.

Last year, SJV moved its housing for seminarians studying in Catholic Studies’ semester abroad program from St. Thomas’ Rome campus to the Irish College. The change has given participants the opportunity to learn more about the priesthood as they continue their discernment, the seminary’s leaders say.

St. Thomas had made more rooms at its Bernardi Campus available for general liberal arts students, not just those studying in the university’s Catholic Studies program, as are the seminarians. In order to continue to have housing for seminarians studying in Rome, SJV looked into other options.

The Pontifical North American College, where St. Paul Seminary seminarians live, couldn’t house the SJV seminarians. However, the Irish College was able to accommodate about 15 men per semester, SJV Rector Father Michael Becker said. Father Paul Gitter, an SJV formator and spiritual director, is with the seminarians in Rome this year.

The College building was constructed in 1926, though the College has had a Roman presence since 1628. The College’s roughly two-acre walled campus features courts for tennis and soccer and a swimming pool. Exiting its green gates, seminarians walk 25 minutes to their classes.

The campus “is like a little piece of Ireland in the big city of Rome,” said Dominic Shovelain, 21, an SJV senior who lived at the College last spring.

While the SJV seminarians study philosophy, literature, art and architecture, the Irish seminarians are further along in their formation and are completing their major seminary theology studies at the Angelicum and other universities. As such, they give the college-aged men a glimpse into major seminary life.

“I really appreciated chatting with the guys about their experiences and taking their advice as well,” said Shovelain, of St. Michael in St. Michael. “They are in the same process … but they’re a little further down the road.”

Seminarian John Utecht, 22, also a senior, appreciated getting to know the Irish seminarians through chats on the College’s rooftop garden during the fall semester last year.

“Seeing these guys completely intending to become priests was a really awesome experience,” said Utecht, whose home parish is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings. “It was a taste of what’s to come. It affirmed my vocation a lot.”

Though the seminarians and priests were on different tracks, they had opportunities to pray together, and share meals and events.

“We worked together, studied together a little bit, prayed together and also recreated together,” Shovelain said.

Last fall Utecht served as goalie on the winning Irish team in a soccer tournament the College hosts for the major Roman seminaries. In the spring, SJV seminarians joined in the College’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which included a play and festive luncheon attended by Irish dignitaries.

From their base on an Irish island in the center of Rome, SJV seminarians continue to learn about the priesthood from many perspectives.

“The heritage of the Irish Church inspires the men: the Irish saints, monks and priests,” Father Becker said. “We experience a tremendous gift of God beyond words.”

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Category: Faith and Culture