The Eternal City

A chilly and rainy Saturday in Rome, untypical for this time of year, has provided the opportunity to relax and reflect–and not to go rushing about in this tempest to add lines to the list of worthwhile things I have seen in Rome. At my age, that would be unseemly.

This trip to Rome, aimed at two weeks’ research in the Jesuit Archives, has been a wonderful experience. It started with an overlong flight on Monday night. We flew over North Africa in order to avoid the Icelandic ash plume. I was taken by the fact that I was seeing Africa for the first time, albeit from 30,000 feet, the place where my niece spent three happy and generous years in the Peace Corps and the place of origin of so many colleagues, acquaintances, and friends.

The superior of the House of Writers, a genial Californian named Fr. Ernie Martinez, made room for me in the infirmary since the regular guest rooms are full. It has the advantage of a comfortable chair and bed and a private bathroom; and it’s agreeably close to the dining room. What food! I love the fresh-baked rolls and cappucino for breakfast; the main meal at 1, served in four courses; and the informal suppers–leftovers and sandwich makings. Last night, they offered four types of pizza: the sweet onion pizza was fantastic, washed down with a good glass of beer.

What company! I have enjoyed re-connecting with Father Jim Pratt (HC ’76) whom I knew in his student days. Jim now works at the Curia in the Istituto Historico and is a font of information and hospitality. Tomorrow, we will travel to Orvieto on a day trip; since his Italian is fluent and his personality is friendly, I’m looking forward to a good outing, even on a meterologically drippy day. The Jesuits in this house are a microcosm of the whole Society. Many of the younger men in the house work at Vatican Radio, and most of them (Southeast Asians, Poles, Chinese, and others) can converse in English. Yesterday, when I went to breakfast at my accustomed time, we had a surprise visit from Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the general of our Society. Since he wasn’t expected, few were present and I had the pleasure of sharing the table with him and one other Jesuit. Fr. General has happy memories of New England, where he learned English at the former Jesuit house at Shadowbrook in the Berkshires. (On it, I highly recommend the Shadowbrook website prepared by Ms. Alice Howe, curator of the N.E. Jesuit Archives.) A great surprise and treat to meet the head of our Society, a genial and unassuming man.

What research! I have enjoyed working my way through the documents relating to the Maryland Mission of the Jesuits, which became the Maryland Province in 1833. The archivists are helpful, particularly Mauro Brunello, who has been helping me and even assisted me yesterday with the translation of a letter of Fr. Mulledy to then-Fr. General Roothaan. It seems that, early in his Jesuit life, Fr. Mulledy volunteered for service in the Indian missions in the Missouri River Valley, where he would have joined Fr. Peter DeSmet. For the sake of Holy Cross and the other apostolates he served, I’m grateful that his superiors had the good sense to keep him in higher education and governance.

What fellowship! There are regular socials on many evenings here. Wednesday evening, the Americans in the Curia gather for a social and dinner at the Curia. On Thursdays, the House of Writers hosts the social. This week, a special treat: midway through our gathering, a newlywed couple from Poland, with three musicians, entered the gathering. Her Jesuit uncle, who plays a mean accorian, had performed the nuptials earlier in the day, and they were still in wedding garb. After being serenaded by the musicians, those of us who knew the words serenaded them with a rousing version of “Niech zjye nam.” Our new provincial, Fr. Myles Sheehan, is in Rome for the training workshop for new provincials and was with us on Thursday evening. (Tonight, Saturday, is the monthly gathering for Mass and dinner of the Maryland-New York-New England Jesuits [soon to be one East Coast Jesuit province]. Fr Sheehan is going to host all of us for dinner.) Last night, there was a showing of The Hurt Locker over at the Curia–connected by a passageway to the House of Writers–a movie I was glad to be able to see. I, who brought a fair amount of reading to occupy me during what I presumed would be quiet evenings, will take substantial unread materal back to the Cross.

So the Eternal City is also an international city. The chance to experience the spirit of the Society of Jesus from this particular geographic and human vantage point, is a wonderful blessing. Oh, and you can even see the dome of St. Peter’s from my room, if you crane your neck a bit.

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