After morning class today, we took a stroll into the city toward the Casa Santa Maria, the original location of the Pontifical North American College, a stone’s throw away from the Pontifical Gregorian University in the Piazza della Pilotta. From the PNAC website (www.pnac.org): “The Casa Santa Maria is part of the Pontifical North American College in Rome and serves English speaking priests who are sent from their diocese for graduate level studies in Rome.”
We had lunch with the community of priests in their dining room with an enormous painting of Pope Pius IX, who was pope and benefactor at its founding in 1859. Then Msgr. Francis D. Kelly took us to their chapel and gave us a brief history of the site, previously a convent of Dominican nuns.
Then we were introduced to the sisters who staff the Bishops’ Office for US Visitors to the Vatican. If anyone traveling to Rome is interested in tickets to attend a Papal mass or exhibit, you can email them ahead of time. It saves you the pain of standing in endless lines in the merciless Roman weather (slow soaking rain or oppressive heat). You can access their website through the Pontifical North American University website (www.pnac.org) and going to the tab PILGRIM INFORMATION. And if you just have questions, the sisters are most willing to help.
Then we ventured out into the wet weather, with the hope that we return to the Casa O’Toole by 5:30 pm for a presentation by some seminarians on the Roman Station Liturgy, the Lenten practice of visiting a different church each day of Lent on foot or by bus, and there gathering to celebrate mass. The local Catholic population (Roman) celebrates mass in the evening. The English-speaking community, under the leadership of the seminarians at the PNAC, gather to celebrate in the morning … as in 7:00 am. The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, mass takes place at Santa Sabina all’Aventino at 6:45 am. That is where our schedule will take us then. It might be the only one I attend, as I accompany mass here at Casa O’Toole on the guitar most weekdays.
And before heading back to the hill (the PNAC is built on the Gianicolo, not considered among the 7 hills of Rome), three of us (Fr. Dennis Yesalonia SJ, Fr. Tim McCauley, and I) took a side tour to the Palazzo Barberini, the historical home of the noble Barberini family who gave the church Pope Urban VIII. The palace is now a museum with works of art dating back to the middle ages and earlier, housing paintings that look familiarly like icons although originating in the West, paintings from the Flemish school, paintings by Caravaggio and El Greco, and many more whose names I cannot recall. We were not allowed to take photos in the museum. I am sure you can go online to see what can be found there. The only photos we can take are of the outside. The coat of arms of the Barberini family depicts three bees, a symbol I have seen repeatedly in various places in Rome, most notably on the stained glass window above the main entrance of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in the Piazza del Campidoglio.
Tomorrow, Msgr. Ray Dreiling and I get to visit the Scavi (Excavations) beneath the main altar in the Basilica di San Pietro. The rest of the guys will get to take the tour in a few weeks, the second module of the sabbatical program, which deals with church art and architecture.