Experiencing Rome: How HSP’s Senior Pilgrimage Brings Classical Catholic Education to Life

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” – G. K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

There is no city in the world quite like Rome. Its antiquity is obvious: the city is layered like the rings of a tree to mark the centuries. Eternal City, indeed. Its incredible art and architecture is quite literally breathtaking, featuring the greatest geniuses of the Romanesque and Baroque. Its innumerable saints, from Sts. Peter and Paul to St. Philip Neri, to Pope St. John Paul II, mark it as the real heart of the Catholic Church – and a visit to Rome is truly one ad limina apostolorum – to the thresholds of the Apostles. Its scenery is indelible: who can forget looking down the Tiber from Ponte Sant’Angelo (the Bridge of the Angels) or turning a narrow street corner suddenly to view the Trevi Fountain or Pantheon? Its delicious dishes, from pasta cacio e pepe to gelato, serve as a fittingly pleasant dessert for a city that is already a meal unto itself. After all, man does not live by bread alone.

A Fitting Conclusion to an HSP Education

HSP students in front of the Cathedral of San Ruffino

At Holy Spirit Preparatory School, our seniors, on the cusp of their graduation, have the opportunity to go on pilgrimage to Rome and nearby Assisi in Italy (with profound apologies to those classes for whom the most recent plague made the trip impossible!). Just last month, I had the joy of escorting the class of 2023 on this journey. It is hard to imagine an activity that forms a more fitting conclusion to our educational formation than a pilgrimage to Rome.

Our pilgrimage is always a deeply enjoyable experience and a moment of healthy friendship among classmates. There is something particularly delightful about sharing genuinely good things with friends. One now-alumnus observed to me during one of our delicious Italian dinners that he had never had so much fun in his entire life. I’ll drink an espresso to that!

Classical Education in Its Native Habitat

Students view the tomb of a saint

Our pilgrimage to Rome is also the most educational field trip our students participate in. From Latin, to literature, to history, and even to the natural sciences, the city of Rome presents vivid and relevant examples of their studies. On one tour alone, we saw the “pine cone” referred to by Dante in his Inferno, saw the Papal coat of arms and maps of the pontiff who gave us the Gregorian Calendar, and noted the major characters portrayed in Raphael’s The School of Athens, from Aristotle and Plato to Euclid – and then we experienced the Sistine Chapel! Moments later, we visited the Roman necropolis two stories under the high altar of St. Peter’s, walked the original 1st century slope of Vatican Hill, and saw the bones of St. Peter. This is not just classical education as a museum piece, but in its native habitat and as it truly is.

Pope Francis made an appearance during our time in Rome

Our pilgrimage to Rome is, above all, perhaps the most impactful retreat an HSP student ever participates in: the opportunity to see the Holy Father, to visit the tombs of St. Peter, St. Francis of Assisi, and a host of other saints, and to pray, attend Mass, and receive the sacraments surrounded by beauty and the rich historical patrimony of the Church. On campus in Atlanta, our students learn about our Church which is Apostolic and Catholic: in Rome they experience it with all five senses. It is little wonder that the trip always bears such great fruit! Beauty inspires like few other things – how much we need beauty!

We earnestly hope that the education that Holy Spirit Preparatory School seeks to provide equips our students for the larger pilgrimage that is our life on this earth. May we all find ourselves throughout that journey accompanied by good friends, an enthusiastic search for the truth, and above all, a love of the Beautiful – so that at the end of the journey, we find ourselves enjoying the wedding feast of the Lamb.

HSP's Class of 2023 on pilgrimage to Rome



Thomas Cole is the Upper School Assistant Principal for Academics and the Dean of Humanities at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.

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