To the thresholds of SS. Peter and Paul
Delta delivered us to the threshold of SS. Peter and Paul almost on time this morning. Leaving JFK in New York the captain was almost delirious about what an absolutely glorious day today would be in Rome: seventies, not a cloud in the sky, gentle breezes out of the southeast. As we were bouncing our merry way along Newfoundland, he repeated his weather forecast like Santa Claus on the night before Christmas. Couldn’t see the ground when landing, bumpy on the way down from brisk winds and temps in the low sixties. But we were here, thank God, safe and sound.
I am accompanied on this trip by several of my long time, long suffering staff: Joan Morgan, Chancellor and her husband, Dick; Elizabeth Deptula, Secretary of Diocesan Administration and her husband Stan, Paul Ward, Diocesan Chief Financial Officer and his wife Claudia, and Monsignor Bob Morris, my long-suffering Vicar General. All but the Morgans have been to Rome before so there will be no surprises for them.
The Holy Father this morning met with the bishops from U.S. Region XIII (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) to give them the fourth in a series of five talks which means that in all likelihood we will not have a second meeting with him next week. There are fifteen episcopal regions comprising the Church in the United States and Region XV consists of all the eastern and oriental rites, which are in communion with the Holy See – it appears they will get the last word. We also know today upon arrival that the province of Atlanta will meet with the Holy Father on Monday leaving us likely candidates for seeing him on Thursday or Friday. He must be tired of the string of American bishops he has been seeing almost every week since the fall.
Ryan Boyle, our seminarian completing the first of his four years as a student here at the North American College met me at the front door when the car turned in. I have come here so often in my life, found my room number at the front door and just gone right to it that it was a pleasure to have Ryan at my side with the suitcases. He beams when describing his first year here at the College and at the Gregorian where he studies. Himself a graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; he is no stranger to discipline and good order. We “co-sponsor” Ryan with the Archdiocese of the Military Services and this means that after three years in a parish in the diocese, he will be released to return to the Air Force, this time as a priest-chaplain. I am looking forward to spend some quality time with him this week. He will be joined in late summer by another of our diocesan seminarians, Alex Padilla from Spring Hill (and our first vocation from Bishop McLaughlin High School) so next year we will have two and each will have a brother to share life and experiences with.
The North American College is a monstrous building erected after the close of the Second World War to house the expected increase in American seminarians who would be studying in Rome. Sitting on Vatican owned property directly above St. Peter’s and the Vatican City State, it commands a sweeping view of the city of Rome as well as the Vatican City State. I have often thought what would Conrad Hilton or J.W. Marriott have been willing to give for a spot like this. The almost two-hundred and fifty seminarians living here basically just sleep, study, pray and play here. They walk thirty to forty minutes each day to one of the several Pontifical Universities in city for their education. Oldest among the universities are the Gregorian staffed by the Jesuits, the Angelicum staffed by the Dominicans, the Anselmo staffed by the Benedictines, Holy Cross staffed by Opus Dei, and many others. U.S. seminarians usually attend one of the first two aforementioned. Here at the North American College the staff is comprised mainly of diocesan priests from the United States of America with some religious sisters included. Monsignor James Checchio has served as Rector for about the last seven years and has presided over a major increase in enrollment making the NAC the largest diocesan seminary-training priests for the United States.
One more piece of nonsense. I am writing these words while staying in the “Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite” at the North American College, a beautiful four room suite looking right at the dome of St. Peter’s. Other “suites” on the hall are devoted to the late Cardinal’s Bernardin of Chicago, Sheehan of Baltimore, Wright of Pittsburg, Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Cooke of New York. What, you might ask, is Lynch doing among the dead cardinals and he is (a) alive and (b) just a lowly bishop?
In 1996 when I was in my first year as bishop, my friend Timothy Michael Dolan was Rector of the North American College. He asked me if I would gather together some people of means from the diocese so he could meet with them and make a plea for money for the North American, which he led. Fool that I was, I quickly agreed and Dolan came to my house for the first time to raise money. That night he left with about $750,000 in pledges and gifts. There was money for a new gymnasium so the men could safely and seriously exercise (c. $200,000), there was money for a new computer lab ($100,000) so the men could write papers, send e-mails etc. which was not possible then from their rooms, there was money for two new vans which could help the seminarians get to and from their apostolic work ($100,000) and finally there was a gift for a new suite of rooms being built on the roof of the college which would house bishops when they were in Rome. The diocesan donor of that gift wanted the suite to be named the Monsignor Timothy M. Dolan Suite but the Chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the time said it would be unseemly for a sitting rector to have a monument to himself dedicated while still in the Rector’s Chair. So the diocesan donor from St. Petersburg reluctantly gave in and insisted that it be named for Bishops Larkin and myself. So there is my name in marble above the “threshold” just like two others we have come to venerate and recall. If the kids on the block could see me now! My humble home away from home.