To judge by the many of you who inquired after my trip or kindly welcomed me back, many of you know I traveled to Rome earlier this month. I went for a reunion on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical North American College – my seminary, and Fr. DeRosa’s, and Fr. Toups’…
Alumni of every vintage were present, from priests still in their first assignments to several long retired, with job descriptions of every sort, including Parochial Vicar and Archbishop, professor and Cardinal Prefect. We were privileged to enjoy an audience with the Holy Father, who very generously spent time greeting almost all of the seminarians.
Amid all the splendor of Rome and the Universal Church, in which you know I rejoice, one thing did catch my attention, and that is the true strength and beauty of the church in Washington.
Not that you probably think about it much, but our Archdiocese is quite young – founded only in 1939, and then only over the strenuous objections of Baltimore, from which we were taken, which is the first and therefore senior See in the United States. We are also quite small, geographically, and not so large by population, either, as Archdioceses go. We embrace the capital city of the greatest nation on earth, but a city that never has been culturally Catholic, where visions of the separation of church and state have often been exaggerated to our detriment.
On the day that was the centerpiece of the reunion, Sunday, we were all at the seminary itself, first for a theological lecture, delivered by Archbishop Donald Wuerl – of Washington.
We of course had Mass, for which the chapel was more crowded than I had ever seen it. We then had, in true Roman style, a grand banquet, students and alumni all together. According to the tradition of the College, three toasts were offered, each a speech or address in itself. The first one given was to the Holy Father, offered by Fr. Charles Cortinovis, a student priest – of the Archdiocese of Washington.
At the end of the meal, the Chairman of the Board of the seminary presented the Founder’s Medal, the College’s signal annual award, to William Cardinal Baum, the second longest–serving Cardinal in U.S. history (34 years!), former Prefect of the Congregation for Education, Major Penitentiary emeritus, three-time papal elector, and Archbishop Emeritus – of Washington.
At the heart of the Church, among the finest she has preparing to serve, serving, or having served, one finds the clergy of Washington singled out. It gave me great pride, with two of my brother Washington priests, to take out for a long dinner in a Roman trattoria, the seven men from our Archdiocese currently in formation to be priests. It was a long and delightful evening filled with laughter and common purpose, and joy at the grace at work in our local church.
That grace is at work in our parish, too, for sitting next to me at that dinner was young Patrick Lewis, in his second year of theology at the North American College, a son of Saint Bernadette Church, dedicating himself to serve and preach the Gospel of Christ as a priest – of Washington.