Early in the academic school year when students signed up for a spring break study trip in Rome, they never thought they would be attending Palm Sunday Mass with a new pope. But there they were, at the start of Holy Week, with some 250,000 other people in St. Peter’s Square, cameras out and a great view of Pope Francis when he rode by in the popemobile. “It was incredible to be there for two hours to see everyone so excited about the new pope,” said Ryane DeFalco, a freshman who was in Italy for the first time. “You could feel that he was trying to speak to everyone,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lauren Delanoy, a senior.
“The whole Mass reaffirmed my Catholic faith and commitment to the Dominican tradition,” said Laura Dispenzere, a senior who was “three chairs away” from the Holy Father when he passed.
The 15 students were taking “The Foundations of the Dominic Tradition” theology course led by Caldwell President Nancy H. Blattner along with faculty Donna Orsuto and Robert White from the Lay Centre at Foyre Unitas, where the group studied. Dr. Blattner’s husband, Tim, and Student Activities Volunteer Outreach Coordinator Meghan Moran were trip chaperones. The class focused on the historical, cultural, literary and religious foundations of the Christian church in Rome and how they provided the theological base out of which the Dominican tradition emerged.
There were so many opportunities to learn about Dominicans, said DeFalco, “to meet Dominican priests, visit churches where St. Dominic had been, read about Dominican saints and the Dominican order.” Among those Dominican sites were the Basilica of Santa Sabina and the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
DeFalco was particularly moved when the group visited Santa Sabina and sang the Dominican Blessing in the chapel, which had been St. Dominic’s bedroom. She felt very much in touch with the Dominican order. “Before (the trip) anything religious was internal, but now we share together our faith, our opinions about faith, and share the practice of our faith,” she said.
Other highlights included going down into St. Peter’s prison cell and climbing Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs, which are believed to have been climbed by Jesus in Jerusalem to meet with Pontius Pilate before the Passion.
Students made individual Power Point presentations on articles that they had read on the history of Christianity and the Dominican heritage, kept a daily academic journal and are completing research papers focused on how Caldwell University can work to enhance the Dominican experience for all of its students.
Dispenzere said the experience made her a better person. “I’m kinder, calmer than usual. I was very blessed to be able to go. I was very lucky.”