In happy spirits from their trip and exhausted from their travels, the senior class of Holy Spirit Prep recently returned from a long-anticipated sojourn to Rome. About 30 of the 45 graduating seniors attended, along with their three faculty chaperones, Michael Verlander, Jane Sloan, and Rochelle Rombalski. Michael Verlander has organized the senior trip for the last eight years, since their first trip in 2005. “It is the culminating capstone of their Catholic, classical education,” Mr. Verlander reflected. “So much of what they’ve learned, they get to see in Rome.”
And while Rome may be the See of Peter and the seat of the Holy Father from the earliest days of the Church, the visit to the Eternal City was more than a study in theology. It also encompassed the students’ studies in history, language, art, and culture. The seven-day walking tour took the students and their chaperones across Rome from their home base in Trastevere. The tour was intense: Rome is rife with the ruins and monuments of history, and you find yourself walking through historical sites en route to other historical sites.
The seniors visited the seven pilgrim churches of Rome and other notable churches, capped by a day-long venture into St. Peter’s Basilica. It was on the Wednesday of their week-long stay that they had the opportunity to participate in Pope Francis’ weekly papal audience. Though the group managed to stake out a suitable spot, gaining proximity to the pontiff was harder this year than in years past. The Holy Father was only elected two months prior, “and the audience was four to five times more crowded than any other year,” Mr. Verlander recollected.
Hardly a day went by without an excursion to historical sites like the Coliseum, the Forum, or the Arch of Constantine. The tour even took the students away from the city, catching a bus on a day-excursion to Assisi, two hours north of Rome. There, the students toured the city’s basilica, wandered the ancient town, and climbed the steep, Umbrian slopes that shape the city, taking in a sweeping vista of the Assisian hillsides.
And that is one of Mr. Verlander’s favorite parts of the trip, the opportunities to take in Italian life: “I lived in Rome, and what I experienced in a semester, I do my best to impart to our students in one week.” Mr. Verlander hopes not only to expose his students to the sites and scenes of their studies, but to impart to them the value of travel, of living abroad. It is why he schedules long lunches, and leaves time in the evenings for his students to enjoy the city. They not only see the sites of their studies, but learn about living with them and among them, a lifestyle wholly different from their own.
Mr. Verlander marvels at the experiences his students have, “It’s their enjoyment of it. I get to see them enjoying life, enjoying each other’s company.” The trip can even change a student. “I’ve seen conversions and reconversions, students who begin to take their faith seriously.” The trip caps an education steeped in the Catholic and classical traditions, cements the bonds of students as they prepare to graduate, and intimates the wide scope of experiences the world holds for them as they set out into a new phase of their lives.