Students Relive Church History at PC’s New Rome Center
Providence, R.I. -- Four Providence College students who studied in Rome last semester read the letters of Saint Paul not in a classroom, but while standing over the spot where the apostle was buried, in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
The experience was a revelation, said Dr. Dana L. Dillon, assistant professor of theology, who is faculty resident director of PC’s new Center for Theology and Religious Studies, which opened last September in a historic villa in the Nomentana district of Rome.
“Many students only think of the New Testament as some obscure, historical religious document,” said Dillon. “They’ve never even thought about the people who wrote it. Then we’re standing at the site where St. Paul was buried as we study his letters. All of a sudden, there’s something real to them about the whole story. It’s really quite phenomenal to watch them realize that.”
PC operates the center in partnership with Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA) of Tempe, Ariz. Last semester, four PC students and five from other colleges were enrolled in Dillon’s course.
This semester, 11 students from PC are studying at the center, and six students from other colleges are enrolled in theology courses offered through the program, said Adrian G. Beaulieu, dean of the PC’s Center for International Studies.
Dillon, who teaches the required course The New Testament in the Eternal City, writes a blog about the experience at http://pcinrome.blogspot.com/
Students enrolled in the PC program also are required to study Italian. They can choose from two electives offered through PC, The History and Theology of the Papacy, which includes a papal audience, and The Church and Major World Religions. They also can select from other courses offered through the CEA, including The Culture of Food and Wine in Italy, Art and Architecture in Ancient Rome, and Living Italy, a sociology class about modern Italy.
Learning about religion, culture
Kathleen W. Miller ’13 (Lenox, Mass.), who studied at the center last semester, lived with other students in an apartment that was a 15-minute walk away. In their Italian neighborhood, they practiced their language skills while shopping in open-air markets and small groceries.
“I learned a lot about Italy, the different churches, about religion, about myself, too,” said Miller. “I was pushing myself. I usually get very homesick when I’m at school. I’m surprised at how much I grew when I was there. I wish I could have stayed the whole year.”
Ann-Marie Bossa ’13 (Norwell, Mass.) is spending the full academic year in the Rome program.
“Overall, the PC in Rome program has been one of the most valuable -- not to mention fun -- experiences of my life,” said Bossa. “Academically, CEA provides a selection of classes that I think any student would find fascinating. The atmosphere in the classrooms is usually fairly relaxed because of the small class sizes. However, we’re usually not even in the classroom at all, because many classes are taught on-site, which is easily one of CEA’s greatest assets.”
Dillon said the CEA assigned her a classroom, but she never used it. Instead, the students and she traveled to major churches and basilicas, studying Luke’s Gospel in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and discussing Constantine at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the official cathedral of the Diocese of Rome.
The best part of the experience “is definitely having the opportunity to be in these places myself, and even more so to share them with students,” said Dillon.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday in Rome, Dillon watched Pope Benedict XVI crown the statue of Mary, then walked through the Piazza del Popolo.
“It was 6 p.m., and four opera singers were on a stage assembled in the plaza, and everyone was singing along, ‘Figaro, Figaro,’” said Dillon. “It occurred to me that nobody sings opera in the United States because it’s in a language we don’t understand. I thought, ‘This is something I won’t ever experience again. It’s random moment in time. Here I am standing in this crowd as they all sing along to opera.’ It was kind of amazing.”
Adapting to a new country is always a challenge, as Dillon and her students discovered earlier in February, when a rare snowstorm shut down business in Rome for four days. In September, Dr. Patrick V. Reid, professor of theology, will take a turn as faculty resident director at the center.
“It was a great time. I think everybody should study abroad,” said Miller.