Thursday, December 22, 2011

Schools out . . . for Christmas

Today officially began my Christmas break. With Christmas around the corner, I have lots of exciting things to do. For example, today my main goal is to do laundry and back for my trip. I'll be traveling some during Christmas break. (I'll post all about the trip when I get back on the 5th).

But before leaving, I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Christmas Tree and Manger Scene in Piazza Venezia, Rome

God Bless!

You are a Priest forever...

... a Priest like Melchizedek of old. (Ps. 110:4)

On Saturday, December 17th at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Gaylord, MI, Bishop Bernard Hebda ordained Fr. Joe Ortega to the Holy Priesthood.

Even though I was not able to be there in person, I was able to pray for Fr. Joe and all those gathered at the Cathedral at the same time that the Mass was happening in Michigan. Every ordination is a joyous event, but especially when the one being ordained is a friend and diocesan brother. Every ordination is an act of renewal for the whole Church as she continues on her pilgrim journey.

What a beautiful time for an ordination too! How appropriate it is that a man is called forth and ordained a priest in this time of preparation for the Lord's coming. A priest, who is able to speak by the grace of God in the very person of Christ in order to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, is a cooperator in the Advent of Our Lord. Is not every Mass an advent of Jesus, who is made present for us so that our whole being may be nourished? What a blessing for Fr. Ortega to be able to celebrate the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ for the first time as a priest so soon after his ordination.

Best wishes to Fr. Ortega and to the rest of the seminarians of the diocese of Gaylord. May God continue to bestow his blessings upon us during the rest of our discernment.

(Photos courtesy John Smith)

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Official

This announcement came through the Vatican Information System today:

VATICAN CITY, 19 DEC 2011 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in
audience Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the
Causes of Saints, and authorised the promulgation of decrees concerning the
following causes:

- Blessed Maria Anna Cope, nee Barbara, German religious of the
Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse U.S.A. (1838-1918).
- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, American laywoman

With this approval of the second miracle for both Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha and Bl. Marianne Cope we can anticipate sometime this next year a canonization of TWO new American saints. Bl Mother Marianne is known for her work on the lepper colony in Hawaii with St. Damian. I know of many people in the diocese who have a devotion to Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha. How awesome will it be to have a Native American saint! Praised be Jesus Christ!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Lady, Star of the New Evangelization

In the last few days we have celebrated two very important Marian feasts. The Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is of course an important feast day back in the States, but in Italy it is a national holiday. There were no classes (nice huh?) The day's main event was the celebration of Solemn Mass in the Immaculate Conception Chapel here at the North American College. It is a very important day for the college. Not only is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception the patroness of the college she is the patroness of the United States of America. So of course, in typical fashion, we would celebrate such a festive day with a banquet.

There were over 100 priests, 24 bishops and 2 cardinals concelebrating Mass that day. Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia was the principal celebrant.

The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the belief that Mary in the moment of her conception was saved from original sin by the merits of her Son's death and resurrection. In that way, God prepares Mary to be a holy tabernacle for the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Nostra Signora dell'Immacolata Concezione...prega per noi

On December 12th we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
This year, the Holy Father celebrated the feast in St. Peter's Basilica. Originally, the Mass was scheduled for St. Mary Major. The official reason given for the Papal Mass was to mark the 200th anniversary of the independence of Latin American countries. The Holy Father took this opportunity to announce his plans to visit Cuba and Mexico this upcoming spring. This is great news! It will be Pope Benedict's first visit to those countries. His homily, which was delivered in Spanish rather than Italian, focused on the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in evangelization. Close to five hundred years ago, Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego and asked to have a basilica built on top of a hill. For proof, Our Lady gave a miraculous image of herself to St. Juan Diego to show to the bishop. The miraculous image is venerated by millions of pilgrims each year. Following the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe millions of people were converted. I think that is the reason why Pope Benedict has chosen to draw our attention this year to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization.

Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe...ruega por nosotros.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ad Moltos Annos

Two years ago today our bishop, Most Rev. Bernard Hebda, was consecrated a bishop at St. Mary's Cathedral in Gaylord. Pray for him and all of our past bishops of the diocese.

Ad moltos annos...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy New Year

Sunday marked the beginning of the new liturgical year. May the year of grace 2012 bring health and goodness to you all.

It doesn't feel like Advent yet. I don't know why. Perhaps because it is still warm enough in the afternoon that I don't need a jacket. I saw on the news that there was snow in Michigan the other day...

Advent is a great season, but perhaps the most forgotten and under utilized. I think because we are so busy running around doing so many things. I encourage you (and me) to take some extra time this advent to truly prepare for the coming of the Lord. The proximate preparation for Christmas liturgically isn't until Dec. 17. Before then the advent liturgies focus on our preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The collect for Mass on Sunday made this same point:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy
one God, for ever and ever.

What a beautiful image for us today: running forth to meet Christ. So much of modern day advent is characterized by running here and there making preparations for the holidays. This is not all bad, yet we ought to stay focused on He to whom we should be running towards.

Just a few thoughts on advent...

Spagetti Bowl Sunday

What would Thanksgiving be without football? Thanksgiving weekend ends with an epic game of American Football.

The tradition is that the New Men play a game of flag football against the Old Men. The New Men haven't won in something like 12 years. The pressure was on us since we're the biggest New Men class since the 1960's. It was made known to us that many alumni were placing their hopes and aspirations in our chances to beat the Old Men.

The game started out good for us. The first half was an offensive battle. The Old Men came out of half-time ready to play and we simply weren't able to make key stops on the defense. It was a great game, but the Old Men were victorious once again.

Afterwards I felt exhausted. Not because of the game, but because the whole weekend was so intense. From Turkey Trot to Spaghetti Bowl with lots of eating inbetween, it was a busy weekend. As a whole it was a wonderful experience of brotherhood. As the psalmist puts it, "how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1)

Catholic New Service did a great article on the game.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rest in Peace

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." II Cor 5:20

Msgr. William Lyons a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for over 55 years and Spiritual Director at the North American College for the past 8 years passed away on Monday. He is a beloved priest and spiritual father for the seminarians at the college. His health failed him very quickly in the last week. He died at the end of Mass celebrated at the foot of his bed by his longtime friend, Cardinal Law.

Msgr Lyons was my own spiritual director these last few months. He really is a holy and humble priest. He helped me so much these last few months make the transition to life at the college so far away from home. My fellow new men got to know Msgr. when he led our silent retreat in September.

As a sign of his love and fidelity to his priestly ministry, Msgr Lyons never stopped administering the sacraments. For three weeks with what was probably a broken hip from the cancer in his bones, he stayed at the college hearing confessions and keeping up with his spiritual directees. I had gone to him for confession and spiritual direction only two weeks before he passed away. Even from his hospital bed he heard confessions and gave spiritual direction. Archbishop Dolan told us that his last words to him on the phone was that he was so happy to be going to the Little Sisters of the Poor (nursing home) because from there he could hear confessions and give spiritual direction.

Msgr. Lyons' funeral was celebrated today by Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis. Msgr. loved the college and her seminarians very much. So much so that his final wishes were to remain here in Rome to be buried and remain close to the college. He will be buried along side other American seminarians who in previous years before the invention of airplane passed away and were buried here.

This week I lost an awesome spiritual director and priest mentor, but now with faith and hope I've gained a powerful intercessor in heaven. Rest in peace Fr. Bill.

Vergine Immacolata: Aiutateci!

Lots To Be Thankful For

You might be wondering how the seminarians and priests of the North American College celebrated Thanksgiving thousands of miles away from the United States. Well for us, we celebrated Thanksgiving in typical NAC style...BIG. Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday in Italy, but all of us take the day off of classes in order to celebrate Thanksgiving all together.

The day began with the second annual turkey trot 5k race around the Vatican. After the race we all gathered in our respective hallways for breakfast. Everyone pitches in and helps to cook breakfast, which we try to make as American as possible. My hallway also has the tradition of watching Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving.

At noon we all gathered in the main chapel for Mass celebrated by Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. Archbishop Dolan of New York preached the homily. He reminded us all of the many things that we have to be thankful for. If you've ever heard Archbishop Dolan preach before you'd know that it was not only a really good homily, but really funny too. Eucharist mean thanksgiving in Greek. For us, the Eucharist is the central act of thanksgiving to God everyday.

Next came the big feast. Over 300 people filled the refectory to enjoy an American style thanksgiving. Everything tasted great. It wasn't as good as my Granny's and Grandma's turkey and dressing, but for Italians it was pretty good. And of course, they served us some pasta too. Another tradition is that the 5th year priests bake the pumpkin pies. This year the priests baked over 100 pies with another 20 being donated by the Americans at the naval base in Naples. After dinner I needed a nap!

After dinner some of us got together to watch some football. Just like back home, I watched the Lions lose to the Packers...again.

All in all it was a blessed day. At the end of the day I realized just how much I have to be thankful for...

Corso dei Tacchini

Thanksgiving at the NAC is full of rich traditions. One of those new traditions is a 5k race Thanksgiving morning. 60 seminarians and priests woke up early to run 5 kilometers at 6 in the morning around the entire Vatican City State. So I'm pretty confident in saying that this my first experience of running a race AROUND an entire sovereign nation. We had to run the race so early so as to avoid traffic. Along with the race there was also a costume contest.

This picture isn't the best since my head is cut off, but you get the point. You can see St. Peter's dome in the background.

After a brisk run in the morning we all were ready to put away lots of turkey at Thanksgiving day dinner.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pilgrims on a Journey

Last week over 53 pilgrims from the Diocese of Gaylord made an eight day pilgrimage around Italy, ending in Rome. I was last week...forgive me for not posting for so long.

It was a wonderful visit. It was good to see so many people from home. Even though I didn't necessarily know everyone, it was great to have people around that knew where Tawas (my hometown) is. Two moments of the trip were especially poignant for me: First thing was when Matt saw his mom again after almost a year and half. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. Second thing was meeting with Bishop again. Since he has experienced everything about living in Rome it was great to hear his advice and encouragement.

The other memorable aspect of the visit was attending Mass with the group at St. Mary Major and St. Peter's Basilica. Bishop celebrated Mass for us in the crypt near the bones of St. Peter. It was so powerful to be there with a sucessor of the Apostles, and not only any sucessor to the Apostles, but OUR sucessor, our tangible link to the Apostles.

Finally, the trip wouldn't have been complete without lots of tours and LOTS of food. Italians know how to enjoy life. Though after a week of feasting, I've come to realize that I need to run even more to try to stay fit. So luckily one of the pilgrims was kind enough to bring me new running shoes. Thanks!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A New Year

The Holy Father celebrated Vespers (Evening Prayer) on Friday evening for the beginning of the new academic year for all the Pontifical Universities. All the students and faculties of the various Pontifical Universities were invited to St. Peters to pray in Vigil for the current academic year. During Vespers, the Holy Father delivered a moving homily on the importance of study in the life of seminarians, young religious and lay men and women. Also he reminded us that each vocational calling from the Lord must also entail a foundational encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In his homily, he also mentioned the 60th anniversary of Serra International which was found in the US to promote vocations and to assist seminarians financially around the world.

Friday also was the liturgical memorial of St. Charles Borremeo. St. Charles is the patron saint of seminaries and seminarians.

Friday, November 4, 2011

To the East

This past weekend I had the chance to travel around a bit. Since All Saints day this year fell on a Tuesday, Monday and Tuesday classes were suspended. One of the opportunities while studying in Rome is to travel abroad. So I went with three other guys to Romania for five days.

Rather than give a blow by blow summary I'd rather share with you some of my impressions. I was most impressed by how kind and patient the Romanian people are. Even though none of us spoke a word of Romanian the people we encountered were extremely understanding and patient. A trait that I find that I myself don't always have with other Americans let alone foreigners. After spending sometime in a foreign country it doesn't take long to sympathize with those who come to the US form other parts of the world. Patience is key.

I was also impressed by our Jesuit hosts. For a few nights we stayed with a few Jesuits at their retreat house in Cluj-Napoca. I was especially impressed by a 94 year old brother who I saw still faithfully living out his vocation as a Jesuit. His first words of advice to us was to be sure to study hard and to learn languages (something Romanians are really good at...). Also, just as another brother was taking him to bed he pulled out his rosary and said, "I can't go to sleep yet, I haven't prayed my rosary. Push me to the chapel." The other brothers laughed and took him to the chapel. What a witness of a life of pray and dedication at age 94. We also learned that he had spent most of his life as a Jesuit in prison for his faith. Inspirational...

We also had the chance to go to Mass in Romanian and Hungarian. Since most of the Roman-Rite Catholics in Romania are Hungarian almost all the Masses available were in Hungarian. Hungarian is a completely foreign language to my ears. I didn't catch a word, but it didn't matter since we were still praying and participating in the Mass. Romanian has Latin roots so it was easier to follow along. Most of the country is Romanian Orthodox. It is a fascinating mix of western and eastern cultures throughout Transylvania.

Finally, the weekend was an opportunity to drive through the country side and take in some beautiful sites. The fall colors were amazing. It reminded me of Michigan. When I was back home it was easy to take for granted the natural beauty of Michigan... And of course, we got to visit the castle that is attributed to Vald the Impaler or as he is better known, Dracula.

All in all, it was a great weekend of exploration and learning. I'm in awe of just how big the world is...and yet each person is loved and known by God.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All You Holy Men and Women...

On Sunday, Oct. 23, the Holy Father canonized three new saints. If you look at the picture you can see their tapestries hanging from St. Peter's Basilica. I got to the square early in order to get a chance to visit with the pilgrims who had come to Rome for the canonization. I met five wonderful Italian ladies sitting behind me. They had come for St. Conforti. I enjoyed talking with them about the new saint since they came from the same part of Italy as St. Conforti. I think they enjoyed telling me all about life in Italy and of course, all about their children and grandchildren. Sitting in front of me were pilgrims from Salamanca, Spain. I had less luck conversing with them, since my Spanish is a bit rusty. The whole celebration reminded me or World Youth Day because of the excitement in the air. I was impressed by the number of young people in attendance.

Now a little about these new saints (paraphrased from the worship aid) who already having been in heaven can intercede for us.
  • St. Bonfiacia Rodriguez de Castro (1837-1905) was born in Salamanca, Spain. She founded a novel way of feminine religious life called the Congregation of the Servants of St. Joseph. Their charism is to recreate in their houses the "Shop of Nazareth" by offering work to poor unemployed women. The religious women lived in the world neither wearing habits or contributing a dowery, yet working side by side with lay women. Her spirituality can be summed up like this: "To harmonize prayer and work." Her work is not finished. She continues to look after the dignity of women workers today.

  • St. Luigi Guanella (1842-1915) was born in Fraciscio, Lombardy (northern Italy). As a young diocesan priest he was attracted to the work of St. Don Bosco, who worked with poor boys. After three years in that order, he came home to start a similar congregation of women whose charism it is to serve young girls. It is called the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence. He gathered a group of priest around him called the "Servants of Charity" who also dedicated themselves to the service of young girls. He even came to the US for a small time just before the outbreak of WWI. His life was dedicated to the service of poor young girls. He once said "It is impossible to stop as long as there are poor people to be helped."

  • St. Guido Maria Conforti (1865-1931) was born in Parma, Italy. From a young age, he felt called to the missions, but because of poor health he could not go. So instead he founded the St. Francis Xavier Foreign Missions Society to be able to send priests to the missions. In 1902 Pope Leo XIII named him archbishop of Ravenna, but his health was too poor and he resigned. Later in 1907 his health improved enough to be asked by St. Pius X to govern the diocese of Parma. His particular focus as bishop of Parma was the Christian education of the children. He is loved around the world wherever the missionaries from his society have worked. In fact the miracles for his beatification and canonization were in Burundi and Brazil, respectively.
...Pray for us

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Memorial of Bl. John Paul II

Today is the first liturgical memorial of Bl. John Paul II. His memorial is celebrated in the diocese of Rome and Poland on Oct. 22nd, the anniversary of his inauguration as the 264th successor to St. Peter. I went to St. Peter's today to make a visit to his tomb. Of course there were scores of people.

Today is also a special day for me. I was baptized at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Tawas City 23 years ago.

Bl. John Paul II...Pray for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Diocesan brothers...

Another thing about being away from home is being away from the other seminarians of the diocese. I was sort of thinking about that the other day, so I thought I'd ask you all to pray for all of us. In today's world it is not easy to discern any vocation. Our society is so afraid of permanence. So keep these men in your prayers.

In seminarian jargon a fellow seminarian is called a diocesan brother or DB for short. We truly are brothers even if we go to different seminaries. This year we've been blessed with three new seminarians for Gaylord. I couldn't actually find a picture of all of us, but I did find this recent picture of five DBs. These guys are all from the same parish, Holy Rosary Parish in Cedar.

Seminarians for the diocese of Gaylord:
  • Deacon Joe Ortega
  • Deacon Peter Wigton (Theology IV)
  • Bryan Medlin (Theology III)
  • Chet Collins (Theology III)
  • Matthew Cowan (Theology II)
  • Will MacMaster (Theology II)
  • Tyler Bischoff (Theology I)
  • Michael Wigton (College IV)
  • Chris Jarvis (Pre-Theology II)
  • Ben Rexroat (Pre-Theology II)
  • Nicolas Cooper (Pre-Theology I)
  • Bradely Nursey(Pre-Theology I)
  • Sean Farkas (College II)
  • Matthew Furgiuele (Pastoral Year)
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel...Pray for us
If you want you can read more about the seminarians on our diocesan website.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Go out into all the world...

At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." - Mt 22:21

Today, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in ordinary time, the Holy Father celebrated Mass at St. Peter's Basilica to inaugurate the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. You may not have ever heard of the New Evangelization, but it refers to the need to re-evangelize so many parts of the western world which have become very secular. Places that have been Christian for millennia now need to have their faith reinvigorated by the fire of the Holy Spirit. The question is how to make the faith something real for people in the western world which is weighed down by secularism and an economic crisis. Just yesterday violent riots broke out in Rome. Teenagers were burning cars and vandalizing buildings including a church to protest the government and the bad economy (which is pretty bad here in Italy). The materialistic, secularitic project is falling apart around them and so many young people are left with what they see is no future, no hope. And for them, Christ is not their hope, he isn't even real for them. Yet, that is what the whole New Evangelization is about, to proclaim the gospel anew to a whole generation of young people in western world who live as if there is no God.

A group of us seminarians were able to attend the Papal Mass today. Those of us in the back row in the left transept were at the last minute moved up to the front and center to fill in some empty spots (The first shall be last and the last shall be first). I ended up having a seat in the second row! This was my first Papal Mass at St. Peters. As you'd expect the Mass was absolutely beautiful. What struck me the most was how silent it was after the homily and after communion. It was an intense, prayerful experience. The Holy Father's homily (should be in English within a few days on the Vatican website) focused on the need for a new evangelization. He mentioned that at the heart of the new evangelization is the fact that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. He quoted St. Augustine who pointed out that the order of Jesus' statement is necessary. We have to be on the way, that is asking questions, in order to know the truth and to live the life in Christ. Way, Truth, Life; these are not abstract ideas, but a person...Jesus Christ. The Holy Father also announced at the end of his homily that next year will the called the Year of Faith. It will begin on October 11, 2012 which is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It will end on November 24th, 2013 which is the Feast of Christ the King. I'll be looking forward to hearing more about this. I even predict that we might see an encyclical on faith. The Holy Father has already written on hope and love, it seems only logical to finish up the series.

NB. Be sure to read the homily once it is translated, I may be paraphrasing the Holy Father incorrectly.

UPDATE: Click here for the English translation of the homily

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach - Rite of Ordination to the Order of Deacon

Last week, on the feast of St. Bruno, 6 October 2011, thirty-five seminarians from the North American College were ordained deacons. If you've never been to an ordination before, you really should go to one. (For example, I know that Dcn. Ortega is scheduled to be ordained to the Priesthood on Dec. 17th. in Gaylord)

Even though as a new man I haven't had a chance to get to know these men, it was a really moving experience to see them lay down their lives for the service of the Lord. One of the most moving parts of an ordination for me is the Litany of Saints. The men to be ordained lay prostrate in front of the altar immediately proceeding the act of ordination, that is the laying on of hands by the bishop (in this case, Cardinal Lleveda). How beauitful and powerful it was to invoke the prayers of saints, whose remains are not only in the city but in the basilica. My heart was moved during the Litany when I heard the invocation of St. Peter chanted. I remembered that his earthly remains were directly below us. Just as so many men and women have laid out their lives as martrys (Greek for witnesses) before, these 35 men freely have laid out their lives as celibate deacons (and soon to be priests) in service of the Lord and his people.

Another aspect of this ordination that struck me was the image theHoly Spirit in the sculpture of the Chair of Peter. In every sacrament there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. During the rite of laying on of hands I found myself staring at the dove above the Chair of Peter. I thought of the passage of the Gospel of John where Jesus promises to send us the comforter, the Paraclete. Click on the picture below and look at the center of the golden circle and you should be able to see the dove, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. There really are not words to describe the beauty of ordinations. Pray for these men as they will soon enough be ordained Priests for service to the people of God in the United States and Australia.

May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment. - Rite of Ordination to the Order of Deacon

Open wide the doors and gates...

On October 14th, the college celebrated the 58th anniversary of the dedication of the Immaculate Conception chapel by Pope Pius XII in 1953.

You may know this but the anniversary of a dedication of a church or chapel is celebrated each year in that church as a solemnity, that is a Mass with its own special readings and the Gloria and Creed are said. Also you may have noticed that in many churches there are candles hanging on the walls that are rarely lit. These candles are the dedication candles which on the anniversary of the dedication are lit. The Church celebrates the anniversary of the dedication of churches so solemnly because it a reminder to us all that Christ is the cornerstone and we are the living stones which build up the Church, which is a great mystery to contemplate.

I found this video of Pope Pius XII. The video is silent, but in it you can see him as he arrives at the North American to bless and dedicate the Immaculate Conception chapel. Click Here to watch.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Off to Class

Today marked the beginning of the academic year for the Pontifical Universities in Rome. So this morning after 6:15 morning prayer, Mass and breakfast, I packed my backpack with paper and pens and made my way to the Angelicum. The weather this morning was brisk. (I can't tell you how happy I am that I needed a light jacket this morning. The heat may finally be done!) After a 35 minute walk I arrived at the Ange.

My first class was Introduction to Theology, followed by Pentateuch and the Historical books of the Old Testament, and then Early Church history. I'm so happy to finally be back in school. After FIVE months I can say I'm a student again.

Classes in Rome are different than back in the States. For example, almost all my classes the only examination will be a 10 minute oral exam at the end of the semester. Also the professors will not assign any readings or homework. Rather they give you a bibliography of suggested reading. You are on your own to find the right books to supplement your studies. Since it is a Dominican University, all the classes that I'll be taking are taught by Dominicans.

My mom always had the tradition of taking my picture on the first day of school every year. Since I've been in college I'll admit that I've not followed my mom's tradition. But today I was feeling a bit nostalgic so I had my picture taken outside the NAC just before walking to class. Hope you are happy mom...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Familiar Faces

Last night I was delighted to receive and email from the Macmasters. They are in Rome to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. John and Jacki are the parents of Will Macmaster, one of Gaylord's seminarians.

We ended up meeting after the Holy Father's general audience on Wednesday. After the audience I got a chance to give them a tour of the NAC. It was my first tour. Needless to say, it was really good to see some familiar faces.

Happy Anniverary and may God grant you many more years of married life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ordination week

On Thursday 35 men from the 4th year class will be ordained to the deaconate by His Eminence Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in St. Peter's Basilica.

Please keep them in your prayers as their ordination quickly approaches...

Grace-filled days...

Thank you all for your prayers last week while I was on retreat. It was a really grace-filled silent retreat.

I wish I would have remembered to bring my camera because the location was absolutely beautiful. The retreat was held at a Franciscan retreat house in Greccio. Greccio is on the side of a mountain about halfway between Rome and Assisi. About 100 meters down the road from the retreat center was a Francisican monastery. At that monastery, St. Francis built the first creche' (manger scene). It was a great place to pray. Just think, St. Francis would have made retreats in the same location that I was able to make a retreat. What a powerful intercessor! St. Francis loved nature. He also embraced the suffering and death of our Savior. For me, a powerful image throughout the week was the San Domiano crucifix hanging in my room. A reminder for me to pick up and carry my cross each day.

The retreat was my 4th experience of a silent retreat but for some of my brothers it was there first time. Everyone seemed to a have a prayerful experience. (How could you not?)

I also got a chance to run around during the retreat. I thought that running would be great, but in fact it was really hard. I had no choice but to either run up or down the side of a mountain. Needless to say I was really sore all week.

Now I'm physically, mentally and spiritually ready to begin theology classes next week.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Silent Retreat

I ask for your prayers as my class begins its annual 7-day silent retreat. I don't really know the name of the place we're going for the retreat, but I heard that it is in the mountains (they told us to pack a sweater). It will be a great time to spiritually prepare for the year ahead and reflect on the many graces of the past few months.

La Festa di San Pio

Friday was the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (25 May 1887 – 23 September 1968). St. Pio (also known as Padre Pio) was canonized by Bl. John Paul II in 2002. St. Pio is the patron saint of civil defense and emergency workers.

The Italians have a strong devotion to Saint Pio. Here in Rome there is a parish which houses some of the relics of Saint Pio. I decided to make a trip over to that church and pray. Since it was his feast day there was quite a few people there. The people were gathered there to celebrate Mass. I just kind of hung around in the back and took it all in. First, there was a procession with a marching band through the streets with a statue of St. Pio. Then everyone gathered outside in the piazza where a temporary altar was set up. The church bells started ringing while a cardinal made his way into the church to vest for Mass. I went into the church and prayed and listened as the clergy gathered and sang vespers as the cardinal vested at the main altar in the church for Mass. I couldn't stay for Mass since I had to get back to the seminary for our own vespers service. On my way out, an Italian women asked me why Mass was 20 minutes late. I laughed and told her the cardinal was still in the church vesting for Mass.

It was pretty amazing to witness and be part of the devotional life of the people of Rome. They have so many traditions. This of course be a relatively new one since St. Pio is such a new saint. It was especially meaningful for me to take part in the prayerful celebration because St. Pio is a patron of mine. He was born into eternal life exactly 20 years before I was born. For me he is a powerful example of priestly holiness and a life of sacrifice.

San Pio di Pietrelcina, prega per noi.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Running through Rome...

As you may know I enjoy running. Before arriving in Rome I had no idea what to expect while running in Rome. After 5 weeks here I've manged to plot several different running courses through Rome. One might think that because there is so much traffic in Rome that it would be nearly impossible to run here. On the contrary, there are so many different trail, parks and roads to choose.

My a favorite run so far was Sunday's run. Rome, as most ancient cities, has outside walls which were constructed and maintained as a means of defense. The outside walls of Rome were build about 1700 years ago. The NAC is just inside the Roman walls. So it was really easy, or so I thought, to run around the outside of of the city. The first half of the run was really nice. It was pretty easy to follow the walls around the city. The landscape was beautiful and there was a paved road/path all along. Over halfway around the city I ran into Termini (the train station) and I couldn't find the wall. So rather than look for it I just ran through the center of the city back to the seminary. In all it was about a 13 mile run. Once I got back I looked a map of the walls and realized where I took a wrong turn. So hopefully soon I can try it again and make it all the way around.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Permesso di Soggiorno

Today I was introduced to Italian bureaucracy!

I guess part of life in a foreign country is the process to apply for a resident alien card. In the Italian system one must apply for Permesso di Soggiorno (resident permit) in order for one to stay in Italy for more than one year and to travel throughout Europe. Anyways, the process is very confusing especially since everything is in Italian. Luckily here at the college we have a staff person who works all year to help us acquire our Soggiorno cards.

Let me describe for you my experience today...

Ten of us went to the 6:30am Mass at the convent and then went to the office of Ministerio d'Interno for religious near St. Peters. We got there at 7:15am to pick a number in order to wait until 8:30 (when the office actually opened). Of course they opened late, it is Italy.

Each one of us was called in and our paper work was examined and our fingerprints taken. So far not too bad. But around 10:30 we began to wonder what was taking so long. It wasn't until 12:30 that they gave us back our passports and told us to come back next Monday because the computer system was broken. This was of course mildly frustrating.

All in all it was a wonderful experience, because as I mentioned, this office is exclusively for religious sisters, priests and seminarians. So I got a chance to literally meet people today from all around the world. Since in most cases the only language we all had in common was Italian, we got a chance to practice Italian. It was encouraging to meet a Franciscan sister from Egpyt who was so positive even though it was her fourth time waiting in line at this office. For all of us in line Italian was not our native language, and it was even easier to communicate since we spoke slowly and clearly. Overall, despite the fact that we waited outside an office for 5 and half hours, this morning was really awesome.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Some people have been asking what life is like living in Rome. One of the first things once might notice is the difference in the food. The main meal in Italy is Pranzo. Pranzo in English is lunch. Food is so important to the Italians that they have a different verb for each meal:

Fare colazione = to eat breakfast
Pranzare = to eat lunch
Cenare = to eat dinner

Pranzo at the NAC begins with the salad. (NB. In Italy pranzo typically does not begins with salad but rather it is the second to last course, but since the Rector found that most seminarians were not eating enough salad it was placed at the beginning.) The salad is always served with oil, vinegar, cheese, salt and pepper on top. After the salad comes the pasta. After pasta comes the main course which consists of some sort of meat and vegetable. Finally desert is served. Half of the days the desert is fruit while the other half it is some sort of sweet.

Hopefully that gives an idea of what lunch time is like at the NAC in Italy.

Ad Assisi

We spent this past weekend as a new man class on a retreat in Assisi. It was an awesome experience. It was also great to get out of the business of Rome for a small town. Assisi is famous as the birthplace of Sts. Francis and Clare. Both saints are buried in Assisi. On Friday we were privileged to celebrate Mass in the crypt of San Francesco Basilica near the bones of St. Francis. On Saturday we had Mass up near the top of Mount Subaso where St. Francis built a retreat/hermitage for his friars. On Sunday we had Mass in the main church of Santa Chiara basilica (See right). I have to admit, I'm a bit exhasted from three weeks of travel. Yet, this trip to Assisi was really refreshing. For one reason the hotel we stayed in had AC and I finally was able to sleep through the night and secondly it was nice to be out of the big city.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tu es Christus ...

One the most amazing things I've done in Rome so far was the Scavi tour. You can explore the Scavi online here. Back in the 1930's Jesuit archaeologists began excavating under St. Peter's to try to locate the bones of St. Peter. Tradition has always maintained that under the main altar is where St. Peter was buried. We do know that he was crucified upside down near the vatican hill. All the history is very fascinating, but for me what was the most impressive was the whole experience.

After descending and moving underneath St. Peter's for over an hour we came into a chamber. From this chamber we could see the bones of St. Peter. I knew that it would be impressive, but I didn't think it would be as powerful as it was. The seminarian tour guide read for us from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
It was so awesome to realize that the bones of the man in front of me two thousand years ago in the district of Caesarea Philippi said: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God". To think that Peter, who even denied Jesus during his passion, went on to preach the gospel all the way to Rome where he died for Christ.

Later that day, during expostion of the Blessed Sacrament, I was reflecting on my experience when I realized not only am I blessed to have seen the bones of the prince of the apostles, but how much more am I blessed that every day I get to receive the Lord of the of the prince of the apostles. The very man Peter knew as the Christ. Of course the physical relics of a saint are powerful reminders indeed, but the Eucharist we receive and adore in every Catholic church around the world is what the saints truly lived and died for.

Sancte Pietri et Pauli, orate pro nobis.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Do not be afraid..."

Every Sunday the Holy Father prays the Angelus with the pilgrims and people of Rome. During the summer months he leads the Angelus from his summer residence, Castel Gondolfo,which is in the mountains outside of Rome. On this occasion, the Holy Father took time after the Angelus to greet us, the New Men class at the North American College. First of all, it was so inspiring to be so close to the Holy Father. Most importantly it was breath-taking to know that the Pope actually knew we were there and that he had a few words for us.

The Holy Father had this to say to us: "Dear Seminarians, do not be afraid to take up the challenge in today's Gospel to give your lives completely to Christ. Indeed, may all of us be generous in our commitment to him, carrying our cross with faith and courage."

Afterwards, we ate pranzo overlooking this giant lake in the crater of an ancient volcano.

We were also lucky enough to have Archbishop Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household, give us a tour of the papal gardens at Castel Gondolfo. The location of the current summer residence of the Pope used to be the summer residence of the Roman Emperors beginning with Domitian. We could see some of the ruins. Some of the ruins were used by Pope Pius XII during WWII to shelter Jews.

Archbishop Harvey explained that both Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict during the summer prayed the rosary here everyday.

Matt and I at the Holy Father's Angelus address.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A mother's prayer...

Today is the feast of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine and the patroness of all mothers. St. Monica prayed unceasingly for her beloved son that he would convert from his pagan ways and become a Christian. Not only did St. Augustine convert but he became a priest, bishop and doctor of the Church. In St. Augustine basilica the bodily remains of St. Monica are under one of the side altars.

It has become a custom at the NAC for new men to spend a few moments in prayer before the tomb of St. Monica, asking her intercession not only for all mothers dear to them, but especially for all whose mothers watched them leave to go and study in Rome. St. Monica, who knew the loss of a sons, is an excellent intercessor and consoler.

A mother's prayers are powerful indeed.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Thursday was my first full day in Rome. I arrived on Wednesday from Madrid.

Hopefully I'll post some reflections later. The orientation schedule is full. We've already gone to see St. Peter's Basilica. It was only a 7 minute walk from the college. It is sort of surreal being in Rome. I have never been to Rome or even Europe before this trip. I've read about Rome. I've seen pictures of Rome. But I've never been to Rome until now and now I live here. Crazy...

After the tour I stayed behind to spend sometime praying at adoration chapel and at the tomb of Bl. John Paul II. I never saw JPII in real life, but now I have actually seen him.

Today, Friday, the rector celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. Peter for us. It is impossible to describe how awesome it was to be at a Mass celebrated in the crypt of St. Peter's basilica so close to the bones of St. Peter and so many other Saints.

As for living in Rome, I've begun to settle into my room. It is terribly hot here. It is 100 degrees right now during the heat of the afternoon. Luckily the chapel and the library are air conditioned.

Until next time... God Bless