10 Reasons to Enroll in a Roman Pontifical University

Eamonn Clark

Almost 2 years ago, I decided to leave the United States and move to Rome to study. There were, and probably still are, people who thought I was crazy for doing so. I can understand the sentiment, but it was an excellent decision. In this post, I want to demystify the “Roman Schools” a bit and give 10 reasons why taking the leap is totally worth it for anyone who wants a good theological or philosophical education.

First, a distinction. The universities are not colleges, and the colleges are not universities. If your seminarian friend goes to the North American College, that does not tell you what university he attends – it could be one of a dozen or so. A college is where a student (especially a seminarian) lives and would usually receive mostly non-academic formation, like help with personal growth or practicums on how to celebrate the sacraments. Some students live in religious houses (convents, monasteries, etc.) or in their own apartments and are therefore not at any college whatsoever.

There are many kinds of degrees that can be earned at the universities, though the three which are most pursued here are the theology degrees: the S.T.B., the S.T.L., and the S.T.D. Respectively, they are the Roman versions of a Bachelor’s, a Master’s (“Licentiate”), and a Doctorate. To study for the S.T.L., one must have the S.T.B. – a normal Bachelor’s in theology will not cut it, though some courses might be accepted for credit. The S.T.D. requires the S.T.L. The S.T.B. requires having a sufficient background in philosophy, although this can sometimes be made up for while studying for it.

A Pontifical University is a school which is accredited by the Holy See, and the degrees conferred (especially the S.T.L.) give one a heightened professional freedom within the Church. There are many such universities around the world, but here are 10 reasons why any prospective pontifical student should consider moving to Rome to go to school.

  1. It is cheap as dirt. I first approached a former professor who had done studies in Rome to ask about some of the basic things. One of them was money – it must be pretty expensive to go to some of the most storied schools in Church history, right? Wrong. Plan to spend about $2,000 on tuition… Not per class, not per semester, per year. There are not many extra fees thrown in either, and the ones that are added are reasonable and also relatively low. For example, a final comprehensive degree examination might cost 250 euro, a pre-requisite Latin class might cost 300 euro, etc. (Fun fact: when Fr. Karol Wojtyla finished his doctorate at the Angelicum, his diocese was so poor it couldn’t pay for the degree, so he technically did not receive it. When he became John Paul II, he made a visit to the university. Unsurprisingly, his degree was finally conferred!) Cost of living is the only hurdle, as it is impractical (and illegal) for most students to work a full-time job. However, part-time work is possible, and there are scholarships available. Private fundraising is possible as well, which is how I obtained most of my funding. Parishes and individuals are very generous with students coming here.
  2. You will get admitted. This was another concern I brought to my professor. I’ll never forget his response when I asked what was required for admission: “A pulse.” As long as you can gather the paperwork and pay tuition, you’ll be good to go. Every university has open seats which they are looking to fill, and they will gladly take your money and let you sit in class. It doesn’t matter how many intellectual giants, saints, and popes went to the Gregorian – you do not have to be any of these to get in. Low admissions standards may be the reality at some other pontifical universities, but given the tuition rate, it is especially true in Rome.
  3. You will pass. The entry-level degree programs (like the S.T.B.) are designed to be easy enough that the vast majority of students can pass. The difficulty might vary somewhat from university to university and from professor to professor, but in general, it is quite hard to fail a class in the entry-level degree programs. (To go on to the next degree level, you do need to get a good G.P.A.) Attendance policies are also quite lenient.
  4. There is real, meaningful diversity in the student population. At the larger universities, there will be students from around a hundred different countries or more. The networking alone is worth the price of tuition.
  5. You will learn Italian. Yes, most universities are taught exclusively in Italian, (with the notable exception of the Angelicum, which also teaches in English,) but most other students are in the same boat. There are ways to learn course material without knowing any Italian, such as note-taking systems, but with a little effort, immersion in the language will slowly render the fruit of fluency. Being able to add that to a resumé is a definite bonus.
  6. There are some of the world’s best professors here. Nowhere else is there such a concentration of competent Catholic intellectuals. And many of the big names who aren’t teaching here often visit to give talks at conferences.
  7. It’s Rome. Enough said…
  8. It’s Europe. If you want to go to France for the weekend, you can. If you want to take your spring break to go backpacking in Germany, no big deal. Etc. Everything is right next door.
  9. There are some extremely specialized programs, too. On top of your standard degrees, there are entire schools dedicated to Christian archaeology, oriental Christianity, scripture studies, patristics, and so on. (NB: Some of these might be pontifical institutes rather than full universities.)
  10. The degrees carry global respect. “You went to Santa Croce? Wow, you must know your stuff,” etc. It is a big advantage to go to a school which is known around the world for its high quality education.

It can be very intimidating to move to another country.  Family and friends from home will probably be very far away. And it is certainly difficult – sometimes maddeningly so – to deal with Italian bureaucracy. But there are so many people here who feel just as lost… Family and friends from home will want to visit… And as for the bureaucracy, well, you just have to suck it up!

I welcome any questions in the combox or through the contact tab.

Ci vediamo…

Some Art in Transylvania!

Have you ever heard of Cluj-Napoca? (Me neither until recently.)  Well, it’s the unofficial capital of Transylvania, the most famous region of Romania.

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Yes, like that kids’ movie. But IRL.

I stopped by the other day for a visit, right after Thanksgiving.

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Europe puzzles over America sometimes, and not without reason.

Transylvania has historically been the stronghold of Romanian Catholics (and Hungarian Catholics living in Romania), with most of the country being Eastern Orthodox. The Reformation took its toll on the region, with Saxon influences leaving most if not all of the countryside’s beautiful fortified churches Lutheran.

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The Orthodox cathedral. By the way, Romanians apparently LOVE their flag. It was all over the place.

Anway. I popped into the Greek-Catholic cathedral, which happened to be having a service of some kind. It was PACKED – on a Saturday morning… Didn’t look like a funeral or wedding. No photos from inside, and no apologies for it!

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But now check out the Latin Catholic church in Cluj’s city center, Sfântul Mihail (St. Michael):

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And yes, that’s a Christmas market going up in the corner.

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Setting up a Christmas market in the square outside! How quaint, right?

The church – which is actually not a cathedral despite its size and its city’s cultural centrality in the region – has a checkered history. It was originally Catholic when it was built in the mid 1400’s, then became Lutheran during the Reformation. Shortly after that it was taken over by the Unitarians. Finally the Catholics recovered it in the early 18th century with the support of the Habsburgs.

And now, behold, the largest Advent wreath I have ever feasted my eyes upon…

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Eastern Europe doesn’t have fire codes I guess. #awesome

The Gothic influence was as obvious on the inside as on the outside. It was also obvious that I would not be able to spend too long there staying still, since the place was not heated – cold enough to see your breath! And yet there were still people showing up to pray. Maybe there is a lesson here… Spend more resources on putting fire in people’s hearts than on putting fire in a furnace. (Really, every church I visited had people there PRAYING. Saturday morning and afternoon.)

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Looking over the Novus Ordo altar. You’ll notice the patron in the stained glass above the high altar. I’m generally not a fan of carpets in church, but this was done nicely.

The ambo, on the left side of the nave, was a real treat. I really just couldn’t get enough of it. (It’s even the background on my phone now.) The detail was exquisite!

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This little organ was cool too. Not sure if it’s functional, as there was also a set of pipes in the choir loft.

The wall used to be covered with frescoes, but if I remember correctly what I think I overheard someone saying during a private tour, they got messed up during the Reformation. Here’s part of what’s left:

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Another look at the sanctuary (and the ambo!) before leaving:

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Also there was this thing in the cramped antechamber before the nave:

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Later I saw it in action. A narthex greeter never looked so official!

Off to the Franciscan church I went. The architecture of the city was a bizarre mix of old and new. For example, compare the buildings at this intersection (left) with the library (right):

The Modernism of course comes from the Communism that once infected Eastern Europe. There were some monuments around the city remembering that time and its characters.

No Commies in the Franciscan church. Take a look for yourself!

This was far more baroque or rococo (barocacoco?)… I enjoyed it quite a bit – despite having the same bone chilling temperature as St. Michael’s.

The royal blue, off-white, and gold color scheme definitely worked for me. The use of carpet did not.

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Completely unnecessary stairs: devotional faux-pas or picturesque piety? You decide.

Back out into the city. Here are some other churches, probably all Orthodox (except for the clearly iconoclastic Reformed one):

Hey, what’s that thing with a Cross up on the hill?

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Over the Someșul Mic River, and up the Cetățuia hill to find out…

The monument was nothing too interesting, just another anti-Commie structure. But the view was fantastic.

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And not a sparkling, angsty, hundred-year-old teenager in sight.

With not much left to do, I wandered through the suburbs down the side of the hill.

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I don’t know what the triangular sign means, but I like it.

I wrapped up the day with a nice sit in the city’s central park and buried myself in an oversized helping of kürtőskalács. (Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it, it means you’re normal. The lady serving it even gave me a funny look when I tried.)

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This thing was HUGE. Tasted a bit like a churro, maybe not as sweet. Delicious.

That just about did it for me. Off to the airport the next day, where I was bombarded by the Duty Free shop with Dracula-you-name-it, including wines of every sort.

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It kind of ruins the fun, like a girl who knows she’s beautiful.

While the outer part of the city (where I stayed) was pretty bleak, I found the center part of “Treasure City,” as it’s called, rather energetic and pleasant. And cold. But the religious spirit of the place was edifying. I was even asked for my last name and my “Christian name” when checking in at my hotel! Can you imagine? All in all, a worthwhile excursion.

And with that, I peaced out on Wizz Air. (It’s real, trust me.)

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Post by: Eamonn Clark

Some art in the Roman Forum!

I was in the Roman Forum the other day to see Santa Maria Antiqua… It is the oldest church in the Forum, connects to the Imperial Palace, was the one-time seat of the Bishop of Rome, and it has some killer frescoes. Due to ongoing renovations and excavations, it is rarely open – this year it allowed visitors in for a few months, and the last time it did so was 1980. Sadly, as of tomorrow (Sunday, 10/30/16) it will be closed for who knows how long (the figure I heard was 20 years). Since you missed your shot, let me provide it for you!

First things first… Behold, the first basilica in the world!

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It has a sunroof.

No, it is not the brick building. That’s the old Roman curia – before it was a Church thing, it was a Roman thing. You are looking through the basilica, which is a ruin. You can see the pillars sticking up out of the ground. Once again, before it was a Church thing, it was a Roman thing. We baptized both ideas, and they stuck around.

Another first… Behold, the first real CCD classroom on planet Earth!

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The church itself is to the right, and leads up towards the Imperial Palace and observation platform. Hold that thought.

Before there was coffee and donuts at RCIA, there was the Oratory of the 40 Martyrs. If you teach Sunday school, here you can go back to your roots. Let’s take a look inside, shall we? (Click to enlarge the photos.)

The Byzantine influence is almost as clear as the weathering. But all throughout the site there are slightly different styles, reflecting the fact that there were many different patrons and artists at work over the ages. Like the rest of the Forum, there are layers, and analyzing this site is made especially difficult by the unique character these frescoes have among contemporary Roman works.

Here’s the exterior of the church:

Santa Maria Antiqua is called “Antiqua” for a reason… She’s been around since the 5th Century! After Constantine, the Forum became more than just a safe place for Christians, it became an opportune place for worship.

Into the church we go!

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The hanging picture is called an “iconostasis.” Notice the use of arches, with the apse in the back (surrounding the iconostasis). Many of the frescoes are in rough shape, but we will look at some of the better preserved ones.

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The left side of the nave.

Yes, even the pillars were decorated. See the one on the right there? This place was like stepping into an ecclesiastical coloring book. Every inch was covered, it seems.

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Close-up of the wall.

Here is an image of some the frescoes in one of two “corner chapels,” on the right side of the nave near the back… It is called the “Chapel of Physicians” (or the “Chapel of the Medical Saints”), where there would be constant intercession for the sick, whether the infirm were present or not. (The other is the “Chapel of St. Theodotus” on the left.) Apparently St. Francis visited this place, by the way, when he was in Rome.

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The saints pray along too! They cover all four sides.

The apse has the earliest Roman image of Mary as a Queen, and the image of the Cross (in the Chapel of St. Theodotus) is notable as well…

Pope John VII was totally enamored with Santa Maria Antiqua. Not only did he commission a ton of work on the church, he also moved there, way back at the start of the 8th Century before there was an Associated Press to misunderstand why he might do such a thing. However, only about a hundred years later, an earthquake would cover much of the church, leaving it dormant for 1,000 years or so. (The Chapel of the Medical Saints apparently remained accessible, and somehow people forgot there was a church attached!)

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Another view. This looks over where the ambo would have been toward the main altar.

Here there was a main altar and a “holy table” further back near the apse where the gifts would have been prepared.

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From the holy table toward the main altar.

To make sure that everyone understood that Christianity was not ditching its Jewish roots, there was significant emphasis on the Old Testament. Here is a sarcophagus with stories of Jonah and some more frescoes of OT events:

It was lunch time in Rome, which beckoned, but in the end the platform won out. The long climb was definitely worth it. Panning left to right:

There’s just too much to point out. Sorry. But do notice that the corner of the church is on the top left. The rest of the view is mainly out towards the Quirinal Hill and Capitoline Hill (the Forum is on the Palatine).

Considering that you will probably never actually be inside this amazing church… you’re welcome for the quick glimpse inside!

Post by: Eamonn Clark

Some art in Spain!

Back when I was in seminary…

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Aren’t cameras the best?

…I found a book at our “free store” that really struck me. It was the autobiography of St. Anthony Claret (get it, especially if you are a “professional” evangelizer!), whose feast day is today. He was something of a mix between Fulton Sheen, John Vianney, and Oscar Romero – he conquered the art of mass media evangelization, worked non-stop to the point where he was manifestly aided by extraordinary graces, and in the meantime managed to build up industry wherever he went to support the impoverished and uneducated.

Well, this past weekend I hopped on a plane to Barcelona to pay the saint a visit.

Barcelona is great. It is fun, not too expensive, and super Gothic. There is actually even a neighborhood called the “Gothic Quarter.” But we’ll come back to that.

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After finally figuring out how the train station worked (which took over an hour), I headed out into the foothills of Catalonia toward Vic, the apex of my pilgrimage.

The architecture, as I described to a friend in the USA through some very expensive text messages, was “low medieval, quaint, and Catalonian,” but most of the structures in the old city are probably only early 18th century. It felt like I had gone through a time machine nonetheless. I mean, where else do you find a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ Child over a dentist’s office (left photo)?

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Notice the similarity between this church and convent/rectory and the mission churches in the southeast of the USA.

The place was pretty packed with churches, but none were open Saturday except the cathedral. But not even a vigil there! I guess everyone gets up early on Sunday.

Alas! I had arrived. And sadly, this church too, would remain closed the whole of the day. Evening prayer outside would have to suffice. Horseshoes, hand grenades, and pilgrimages, right? And I have an excuse to return now, too!

I spent a good deal of time at the cathedral instead.

The Diocese of Vic has a pretty proud ecclesiastical history. They are actually even operating a whole episcopal museum near the cathedral.

The nave is large and dark, nothing too extraordinary, though the pillars are rather thick. What I found so distinctive about the interior was the mural of the stages of the crucifixion (as distinct from the Stations) which covers the entire upper wall, on all sides. Behold, a few samples.

It calls to mind El Greco, doesn’t it? But there is a touch of something else.

I discovered a new saint, buried in an exquisite side chapel: St. Bernat Calbó, 13th Century Bishop of Vic.

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It turns out St. Michael of the Saints (17th Century Trinitarian priest) is also buried in Vic, which is his hometown. Double reason to go back… I only found out as I was writing this post!

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Lettuce pray.

Back to Barcelona. Sunday morning I went to the cathedral for the 10:30 Mass, in Catalan (the main language of the region). But first I stopped in this church, which I think is the “Basilica de Mercé” though I could be mistaken. (Use your best Catalan skills to translate.)

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Finally I got to the cathedral, which is actually NOT Sagrada Familia, despite what you may have thought. More on that place in a bit. First, feast your eyes on this…

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They were being persnickety about pictures in the main nave – which I approve of – but I snagged a real keeper of what are undoubtedly the coolest choir stalls I have ever seen.

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The picture does not do these babies justice.

There were several side chapels, a few of which looked like this (pardon the tilt, I shot through a grille):

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The cathedral is also home to St. Eulalia, a 3rd century martyr, aged about 13!

I went to the harbor for a bite to eat, then I was off to Sagrada Familia for a Holy Hour… On my way I bumped into a guy who saw me at Mass way back at the cathedral – I was wearing a shirt with my Alma Mater on it, and he recognized it. (A small, American, Catholic, liberal arts college is not usually an international attention-grabber, but this was not the first time this had happened to me, believe it or not.) Had a nice chat, in English!

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The fact that construction is still ongoing since the 19th Century adds a touch of mystique.

Antoni Gaudi was a genius. We will have to do a whole article on him, or even just on Sagrada Familia. Take a look at just a little of what is going on in this place’s exterior:

Unfortunately, all visits to the main nave are ticketed, including for Mass, which is not on a schedule anyway. AND THEY WERE SOLD OUT OF TICKETS. I did go down for free to the lower church/crypt, but it was packed and Mass was going on (and without a chasuble… grrrrrrrr…).  So it was not very conducive to mental prayer, unless I was going to Mass for the second time. I went back upstairs for a walk around, then figured I’d go back to the cathedral for an hour – but THAT WAS NOW BEING TICKETED TOO. I’ve heard of “pay to play,” but “pay to pray” was a new one. Where is Pope Francis when you need him?

And with that, I returned to Rome, mostly a happy camper.

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St. Anthony Claret, pray for us!

Post by: Eamonn Clark