The University of St. Thomas is moving closer to its Roman Catholic roots — literally.
On Nov. 18, the university purchased a residential estate on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, Italy. The 20,000-square-foot facility is located directly across the river from the Piazza del Popolo, a major entrance to ancient Rome, and from the roof terrace of the five-level building you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The estate will be called the University of St. Thomas Rome Campus. The university is in the process of receiving contributions that will significantly help pay for the cost of the campus, about $4 million, and renovations, another $1 million.
The campus will be home to the university’s Center for Catholic Studies Rome Program. Other uses will include academic and religious conferences; academic study tours; a home base for other St. Thomas faculty, students and seminarians who are studying or doing research; and as accommodations for visitors to Rome, especially during the upcoming Jubilee Year 2000 observance.
"Opening a campus in Rome is an exceptional fit for the mission of the university," said Dr. Judith Dwyer, St. Thomas’ executive vice president, who was in Rome to complete the purchase. "The new campus speaks to St. Thomas’ commitment to its Catholic identity and to international educational opportunities for students and faculty.
"The campus’ location in the heart of Rome provides an ideal base for our students to experience the intellectual, cultural, historical and religious traditions of one of the world’s greatest cities," Dwyer said.
"It’s an invaluable experience because you immerse yourself in another culture and a very rich Catholic tradition with a link to the Vatican. The Rome Campus offers rich possibilities for our efforts to internationalize our students and faculty.
"Planning is underway with Campus Ministry for a group of students to go to Rome in August for a youth conference which is part of the Jublilee Celebration," Dwyer said. "Art history and other disciplines at St. Thomas are interested in using the campus. It’s also a marvelous opportunity for the School of Divinity, the graduate level seminary at St. Thomas, and St. John Vianney, the undergraduate seminary. The Rome Campus marks an important moment for our university."
Under the Catholic Studies Rome Program, St. Thomas juniors and seniors who are majoring in Catholic studies spend either a semester or year living in Rome and studying at the Angelicum, the Dominican Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, located near the Vatican.
UST only U.S. university affiliated with the Angelicum
St. Thomas has a formal affiliation with the Angelicum and is the only U.S. college or university with an affiliation to a pontifical university in Rome. The Catholic Studies Rome Program, which began last year, had 13 students last semester and 20 enrolled for spring semester; those numbers include five students who are spending the entire year in Rome.
In St. Paul, about 100 St. Thomas undergraduates are majoring in the 6-year-old interdisciplinary program in Catholic studies. A master’s program in Catholic studies will begin in fall 2001.
"The new campus in Rome presents an exciting opportunity for St. Thomas from many standpoints," explained Dr. Don Briel, who holds the Koch Chair in Catholic Studies and is director of the St. Thomas Center for Catholic Studies. "Currently our students attend classes at the Angelicum but are housed at different locations in Rome. This will allow all our Catholic studies students to live, study and worship as one community in the heart of the city.
"We wanted our students to live and study in Rome, but we’ve had difficulty finding suitable housing," he said. "This residence is ideal and we were extremely fortunate to be able to purchase it."
The Angelicum, where St. Thomas students attend classes, was founded by the Dominicans (of which St. Thomas Aquinas was a member) in the 16th century. It has a student body of about 1,000 clergy, seminarians, religious and lay people, and a faculty of about 140. Both students and faculty come from all over the world. The Angelicum is unique among the Roman pontifical universities in that classes are taught in both Italian and English.
"By studying with an international mix of other students and faculty, the St. Thomas students at the Angelicum encounter the universal church in a full and very real way," Briel said.
Students are immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition
"The Angelicum is very pleased with the quality of students that St. Thomas is sending to Rome," Briel added. "And the students love the opportunities to study with other Angelicum students. They handle the academic rigor well. It is a huge cultural dislocation, in that they meet students from a wide variety of cultures and they are struck by the slower pace of Italian culture, but all that is good for them."
St. Thomas’ Rome Program immerses its students in the Catholic intellectual tradition through courses in theology, philosophy, literature, art, history and the social sciences. The mission of the program is to help students understand the role that the church plays in culture and in daily life, and be aware of how Catholicism interacts with the modern world.
Rome program students each semester take three required courses, one elective and a course in Italian language and culture. The required courses are Introduction to Catholicism in Rome, Introduction to Catholic Social Thought in Europe, and a course taught by a visiting St. Thomas faculty member from the Catholic studies program. The faculty member also serves as an adviser.
The Rev. Michael Joncas, a member of the St. Thomas Theology Depart-ment and a noted composer, was in Rome last fall semester teaching a course on the history of liturgy. Faculty planning to teach in the coming year are, in spring 2000, the Rev. Arthur Kennedy, also of the Theology Department, and, in fall 2000, Dr. Mary Reichardt of the English Department.
"A number of study-abroad programs for U.S. students are challenged by the fact that students do not have ample opportunity to be integrated into their host culture," reported Ann Hubbard, a study-abroad coordinator at St. Thomas who visited the Rome program. "At the Angelicum, our students are part of an international student body. Our students take classes in English but they study Italian (the working language of the Angelicum). They are in a unique, mature learning environment. I believe they truly recognize and take advantage of every opportunity in Rome. Few U.S. undergraduates are offered such a rich experience."
Students can walk to school through ancient Rome
Because of the affiliation between St. Thomas and the Angelicum, its courses apply directly toward a St. Thomas degree. The cost of the semester program, including airfare, is about the same as tuition, room and board for a student attending St. Thomasin St. Paul or Minneapolis.
In addition to academic work, students in the Rome Program also participate in service projects, working with communities such as the Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa) and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The St. Thomas Rome Campus is located along a Tiber River boulevard called Lungotevere delle Armi. By foot, it is about 10 minutes north of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square and 20 minutes north of the Angelicum. It is a five-minute walk to the Villa Borghese park, and the ancient part of Rome can be reached by crossing the Ponte G. Matteotti, a bridge just down the boulevard from the campus. Students can reach the Angelicum by taking the bus or subway, or by walking along the Corso to Piazza Venezia and on to the Angelicum.
The campus is located in a quiet neighborhood that is a mixture of well-kept homes and law and other professional office buildings. The Italian Supreme Court is about a mile away, and planned for the neighborhood is a new contemporary art museum being designed by Zaha Hadid.
Originally built as a private home in 1923, the building was purchased by an order of Spanish nuns in the 1950s. Most recently they used it as a residence for troubled girls and young women. In 1999 only four sisters resided there and the facility had become too large for them to maintain.
Building sold to St. Thomas to preserve educational and religious purposes
"The sisters had been offered more money for the facility," Briel said. "They decided to sell it to St. Thomas, in part, because they wanted it to be preserved for educational and religious purposes. They also wanted a new owner who would cherish and preserve the building’s beautiful, 50-seat chapel."
A noted European architect, Cinzia Abbate, is overseeing the structure’s remodeling. When renovations are complete by this spring, the facility will include comfortable accommodations for 35 to 40 people, several guest suites, and separate quarters for a faculty member and resident director. It has complete kitchen and dining facilities.
The fenced property has a landscaped courtyard and the building’s fifth floor is mostly an open terrace that offers views of both ancient and modern Rome. The building still has well-maintained details of its original Italian stucco, tiles and cast-iron fixtures.
Remodeling of the St. Thomas Rome Campus will take place this winter and spring; it is expected to be available for conference use by June 2000 and for the Catholic studies and other academic programs by fall 2000.
Marlene Levine, who has been director of the St. Thomas’ Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna since 1996, will assume a temporary assignment as director of the St. Thomas Rome Campus for the coming year.
Levine, formerly associate director of the Minneapolis campus, holds an undergraduate degree in industrial psychology from St. Cloud State University and a master of business administration degree from St. Thomas. She also is a graduate of the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Minneapolis program and the Blandin Foundation Community Leadership Program.
Although St. Thomas offers programs in other countries, this is the first campus the university has opened beyond Minnesota. The university’s main campus on the western end of Summit Avenue in St. Paul opened in 1885. St. Thomas opened its Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna in 1982 and its downtown Minneapolis campus in 1992. In addition to those university-owned facilities, St. Thomas offers classes in Chaska, Anoka, Woodbury and Rochester; at the Mall of America in Bloomington and at the Ford plant in St. Paul; and in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Taipei, Taiwan.
What are the prospects for the Catholic intellectual life?
Briel joined St. Thomas students in Rome when the Angelicum requested that he give the formal opening lecture on Nov. 15 (although the semester actually begins in October). His topic was "The Prospects for Catholic Universities in a Secular Age."
The prospects are "fairly good," Briel thinks, but "this is a time for us to think seriously about what is distinctive about our mission in terms of intellectual climate. We have taken a number of steps in recent years and we need to do more."
The Catholic intellectual life, Briel explained, emphasizes "the importance of a unity of knowledge, of the complementarity of faith and reason, and of how disciplines relate to each other in the search for a common truth. Our faculty are trained in specialized programs of study. Such formation produces fundamental new insights but it also poses new challenges to the traditional emphasis on the unity of knowledge which has characterized Catholic liberal education."
Briel has found watching the development of the Catholic studies program very interesting. Of the 100 majors, approximately 80 to 85 percent are double majors in fields as diverse as finance, biology and literature. Graduates go on to careers in law, medicine, education or business, as well as lay ministries and seminaries. "In the beginning, I thought we would have more minors than majors," Briel said, "But that was wrong. We have about 10 minors.
"The resurgence of interest in the Catholic intellectual tradition is not limited to St. Thomas. Catholic studies programs are under development at a wide variety of colleges and universities around the country.
"Young people today are seeking a greater integration in their lives and work. They ask, is there a coherence to life or is it just a scattering of isolated facts? Students are interested in programs, like ours, that make connections, and provide some sense of the whole. It is not that they are less committed to their careers." Briel said, "but young people feel a sense of loss of tradition and they want to be tied into a deeper sense of the integrity of human life and purpose.
"Young people do sense that they don’t know much about the Catholic tradition and now desire to engage religious questions directly. In the Catholic Studies Rome Program, St. Thomas students can do so within the rich and diverse expression of cultures that reveal the complex unity of the universal church."