Catholic University students in Rome

Connecting with the Eternal City through Hands-on Learning

Earlier this month, Catholic University junior David Soltis watched the sunset in the forum at Pompeii — the ancient Roman city destroyed in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. “It was surreal,” he says, “feeling the ties back to that ancient place.”

His visit to Pompeii, with about 40 other students from the University’s Rome campus, was part of a weekend excursion to Naples — one of several that he took this semester while studying in the Eternal City.

Students in Rome's St. Ignatius Church
Rome Center Director David Dawson Vasquez with Catholic University students in Rome's St. Ignatius Church.

Soltis, a double major in art history and Italian studies from Lawrenceville, N.J., also spent several weeks in Rome at the end of his freshman year as part of the University’s First-Year Experience. When he studied there two years ago, Catholic University was running its Rome program out of a building owned by another school. But during the 2014-2015 academic year, the University partnered with Australian Catholic University (ACU) and moved the program to a property in the neighborhood of Trastevere.

Known officially as the Rome Center of The Catholic University of America and the Australian Catholic University, the campus is located on the city’s Janiculum Hill, about a mile from the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. For a university chartered by the Vatican, the Rome Center is a link to its roots.

David Dawson Vasquez, Ph.D. 2001, center director and instructor of theology and religious studies, notes that students “participate in the life of the Church as significant events unfold at the Vatican. We introduce students to Italian life on so many different levels — the food, the arts, the culture, the spirituality. They tell us they are changed forever.”

Rome is also a place where students “can experience first-hand the course material that we’re talking about,” says Stefania Lucamante, director of the University’s Italian Studies Program and professor of Italian and comparative literature who taught in Rome this fall. “I can see that every single day in the way they learn. Being in Rome gives a temporal and physical frame to all the things that we teach.”

Soltis took a course this semester taught by Lucamante called Social Issues in Italian Film. As part of the course, Lucamante took her students to the legendary Cinecitta (Studio 5), the largest film studio in Europe, located on more than 100 acres outside Rome. There they met screenwriter and director Monica Zapelli whose films they had studied.

Just up the Janiculum Hill from the Rome Center is the Fontana Acqua Marcia Roma Gianicolo, built in 1612 by Pope Paul V. The fountain appears in the opening scene of director Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty). Alex Rappold, a junior media studies major from Plainfield, N.J., who spent the fall semester in Rome, says she would walk up to the fountain when she had free time. From there she could see the church spires and bustling streets of Rome.

Rappold, who’s working on a certificate in digital design offered by the art department, says that her time in Rome has prompted “ideas about how to use art. I’ve grown up a lot this semester. I’m more independent now. Being out of my element has been a really good thing for me.”

Rome Center students at Easter Mass
Catholic University students studying in Rome attend Easter Mass at the Vatican.