By Elena Dini
ROME — A group of 19 students from DePaul University of Chicago were welcomed at The Lay Centre during their short-term study abroad program that led them to Rome and Assisi to learn about “Religion in Rome.” The Nov. 24-Dec. 9 program was affiliated with St. John’s University in New York and The Lay Centre.
The students’ intense itinerary was intended to maximize the time they spent in Italy.
“I am certain that the students will not remember all the dates and things they see, but I’m hopeful that after two weeks here, they will have a better sense of the magnitude of history and of the place,” said Scott Moringiello, assistant professor at DePaul University and one of the group leaders, during a dinner the students enjoyed at The Lay Centre.
“The program comes at the end of a very long fall quarter, but it brings a certain energy and excitement…because the students are very young and excited to be here and to see new things for the first time,” said Sheryl Overmyer, another associate professor and group leader. “Being in Rome with them reminds me of what it is to see these things for the first time… what it is to walk to St. Peter’s for the first time, for example.”
The two professors said they believe the site visits will be extremely helpful for the students and their own academic research.
“Teaching and learning in these environments, where really Early Christians were, is always helpful to me in terms (of putting) the words and texts in their context,” said Moringiello, whose field is Early Christianity.
Overmyer’s research focuses on St. Thomas Aquinas and she said time in Rome reminds her of the importance of embodiment and the need to avoid the risk of falling into too many abstractions.
“I talked to the students, preparing them for the experience of going to the catacombs, and I told them how this really involves all their senses. The sense of physicality is so important to Christianity and I don’t think a theologian could do without it,” she said.
A program in Rome also offers the right context to discuss, at a deeper level, the figure of the pope, as well as the important issues in the Church’s Magisterium that the Church is discussing.
“I think that the picture of Pope Francis the students have might be overly sentimental,” said Moringiello. He said he also believes part of his mission is to expose students to the idea that the pope is an intellectual presence, in close continuity with previous pontiffs and connected to the long line of Catholic social thought.