Saturday, 8 September 2007

A Decade Ago

Ten years ago today, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, I flew out to Rome to start at the Venerable English College. I well remember meeting the other five students who were flying from Gatwick - out of those, one left in the first year and all the others were ordained. We got to know each other fairly well there and then because the plane was delayed five hours.

The first year was a whirlwind of an experience. I quickly made some good friends - who I still see regularly and thankfully live in or near London - but the three weeks of Italian lessons hardly prepared us for philosophy lectures at the Pontifical Gregorian University. I could order a pizza but couldn't understand much about Plato! The twice-yearly exams were also very challenging; having spent 21 years mastering the art of essay writing in examinations, it was quite a shock to be faced with ten minute oral exams with a professor who spoke poor English (which was, thank God, a recognised exam language).

Looking back, some of the issues that occupied us at seminary seem rather trivial. The Rector once called some of us in because we were seen wearing cassocks in the streets - we were allowed to wear them to serve Benediction at the neighbouring Bridgettine convent but not elsewhere in the Eternal City. I think we had taken a minor detour on returning from Benediction one day. This, of course, caused much debate within the seminary community.

However, I survived (just about!) and, generally speaking, really enjoyed my seminary years and recommend it to anyone. Whatever was lacking was well made up by being able to explore Rome, meet students from all over the world and regularly take the 15 minute walk to St Peter's for the Papal Angelus on Sunday. I also particularly enjoyed frequent trips to 'our' beautiful villa at Palazzola and acting as the College's archivist for two years. I came out a complete Italophile!

And one can't complain. If we are supposed to be 'priest-victims', so closely identified with Jesus Christ Crucified, then we can expect that the process of formation also involves the carrying of many little crosses.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really enjoy your posts..very eloquent & can almost imagine being there. My PP just came back from Italy looking wonderful..

7:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you, Father. It was very heartening to read this post.

Lord knows, if I get through the Seminary Applicants Year next year, I am quaking in my boots about Italian... but I didn't know English was an exam language!

7:52 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Good luck for the application, Mark. Don't set your heart on Rome, just in case you're not sent there. And beware of listening to many stories or gossip about seminaries - the reality is different (and, in many cases, not as bad) as the myth!

8:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good luck with your application, and don't worry overmuch about the Italian. Hundreds have made it through before you, and most seminarians surprise themselves at how much of the language they absorb.

A Roman.

9:00 pm  
Blogger M.J. said...

What?!!! Is there still some anti-Catholic law on the Italian books that prohibits cassocks being worn in the streets? Or is this a case of anti-Catholicism from within?

11:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks you Father, and Anonymous. I decided a long while ago that, were I successful, I would go wherever the Cardinal would send me. Of course, before then I have the possibility of the FSSP to rule out too--very appealing. :-/

8:19 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

M.J.Ernst-Sandoval - no, it was a rectorial decree. The Vicariate of Rome actually states that all those admitted to candidacy and above must wear either the cassock or clergyman suit in Rome.

8:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of clerical dress could you say a little more perhaps on what canon law or other key documents say on this. I have recently been staying with a freind in Berkshire and have been travelling around many different parishes in about a 30 mile drive. I have only found 1 priest wearing clerical dress. This includes when saying mass and even on a Sunday when greeting parishioners before vesting. The 'uniform' here seems to be open shirt and chinos. Where I live elsewhere in the SE this is not the case. Thank you.

PS I know that things are more complex than just equating orthodoxy with wearing of clerical dress. However, it is noticable that also in these parishes purification of vessels is being done my laity after mass and in the penitential rite we are not asked to seek forgiveness of our SINS but rambling references are made to such things as 'those times when we have not related to others as we should'.

11:43 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Canon 284 says: 'clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Bishops' Conference and legitimate local custom'. Permanent deacons, however, are not bound by this canon.

As far as I know - and I stand to be corrected - many Bishops' Conferences have not issued norms in this area, including our own. However, the normative dress for the English clergy has long been clergyman (or cassock on the church precincts).

Clerical dress is more than just uniform or a rule to be followed. It is a powerful incarnational sign, expressing the presence of the Church in the world. I'm especially aware of this when I walk around the streets of London or travel on the tube. My collar says 'I am a Catholic priest' - and rather than placing a barrier between myself and others, actually makes the priest more accessible and available'.

As you rightly say, clerical dress is not everything and I know some fine priests who, for whatever reason, are seldom seen in a Roman collar. As I found out on my recent trip to Arabia, there are occasions when it would not be appropriate or prudent to wear clerical dress. However, in my experience, most English priests wear some sort of the collar, at least for Mass and other 'official' functions.

3:06 pm  

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