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Donahue Students Explore History of Rome and the Church

rome-donahue400It wasn't a typical field trip. Eight students from Donahue Academy explored the history of Rome and the Catholic Church this summer on a pilgrimage led by Donahue teacher Mark Jahnke and Peter Atkinson and Mark's wife, Maria.

One of the students, Claire Guernsey, wrote for The Ave Herald about what the trip meant to her and her and the other students.

The trip is also the subject of the latest column by Ave Herald Editor Patricia Sette, Rome Trip Brings History to Life for Donahue Students.

Students, Romans, Countrymen

By Claire Guernsey

July 5th marked the beginning of a Rome Pilgrimage for eight Donahue students, but this trip was to be different from a mere group of touristy teenagers going on vacation (though a selfie-stick may or may not have been purchased).

On this trip, made possible by the generosity of benefactors, we strove to become a group of young adults seeking intellectual and spiritual growth amidst the city of Rome under the expert guidance of our 3 chaperones; Peter Atkinson, Mark Jahnke, and Maria Jahnke.

guernsey200I won't deny we were an obvious group of foreigners in the city, but something set us apart from the mass of other tourists. When you first encounter such awe-inspiring sights as St. Peter's, the temptation is to immediately snap as many photos as possible to remember the moment and show everyone where you've been. However the danger with this is the moment which seemed so memorable at the time soon fades to the background as you take in more and more sights as magnificent as the first. You're soon left with only memories of seeing pretty things which don't have any relevance other than their being beautiful. (Right - Miss Guernsey in Italy

Our goal was to be very deliberate with our sight-seeing. Mr. Atkinson compiled an extensive reader which explained historical background on all the places we went along with copies of many of the Latin inscriptions we saw. Each location was given a much greater significance when we took a moment to soak in the history and translated the inscriptions for ourselves. Our chaperones guided us towards an experience which could truly make an impression on us spiritually and intellectually.

History has always been a more boring subject to me. I had found it dry and took for granted the reality of the things I was learning about. However being in Rome changed that for me. History came alive in a unique way when we visited Ostia Antica. We were able to walk through a well preserved town and really imagine where the people would have worshipped in the temple, traded in the stores, and gone to bathe. The Colosseum and the Roman Forum had similar effects on me. I was really able to imagine how my family and I might have lived years ago in Rome, and realized how the people I'd read about in history that I'd never thought much of had lives as vivid, intricate, and complex as my own. History became relatable to me as I was able to literally put myself in the place of people long ago.

This realization also made a great spiritual impact on me as we entered the Catacomb of Callixtus. We spent the day biking the Appian Way and stopped at the Catacombs, descending into the dark, dank passages where Christians had offered mass and hidden from persecutors. We stood in the very place where a pope was arrested for offering mass and was soon after martyred. We saw the original burial site of St. Cecilia, also martyred for her faith. Being underground in the dim corridors, it wasn't hard to imagine the fear they must have felt when they heard soldiers storming through them on the hunt for Christians, and the courage that they showed in the steadfastness of their faith.

St. Peter's was an experience all its own. It was packed full of people and was filled with a buzz of indistinguishable voices. The noise was distracting and shocking at first, but somehow the inadvertent irreverence of the mob drew me to a more contemplative state and intentional awareness of the sacred place I was in. It was incredibly powerful to be in such an extraordinary masterpiece, and to be so near the relics of powerful saints such as John Paull II and St. Peter himself. Being amidst such grandeur; magnificent art, enormous statues, angelic music, was like walking into a space of heaven. No description would give the art pieces we saw at the Borghese and Vatican Museums justice. You could spend hours and hours in the Vatican museum and still be overwhelmed by the magnificence of the art that each new room holds. Every site we went to demanded a moment of contemplation and appreciation. The Sistine Chapel, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, and the Holy Stairs Jesus walked up to face Pilot, are just a few of the most memorable places we went that immediately drew my mind to prayer and reflecting of the Divine.

Aside from the intellectual and spiritual growth I experienced in Rome, I also grew in my cultural education. As someone who had never previously traveled outside the country and who has lived in a small town almost her entire life, encountering a new culture and group of people was an enriching affair. It was a bit intimidating to be totally ignorant of the common language and certain customs of the people around me, but it forced me to try and understand as much of the Italian practices as possible so I could understand and communicate with the people. It was a humbling but valuable experience, and nothing can compare to the Italian dinners, gelato, and coffee we had every day. From performing songs in the streets, to seeing some of the most spectacular sights, to having intense discussions nearly everywhere we walked, every moment of the trip was glorious. Through the Roma pilgrimage I was able to realize the smallness of my perspective and begin to let it grow. I gained knowledge of myself, others, history, and culture.

I am immensely grateful to our chaperones for devoting the utmost time and care to organize the trip, and most of all to our benefactors who showed such tremendous generosity. I had a genuinely fruitful and memorable pilgrimage, and I hope that many Donahue students after me will have the privilege of experiencing Rome as I did.


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