Our local church of Springfield in Illinois is giving a great gift to the larger Catholic Church in the United States, as Father Peter Harman assumes the post of rector of the Pontifical North American College, Rome, on Feb. 1.
In our survey of our "big small world," this is a good time to learn about the Roman seminary of the dioceses of the United States.
Currently our diocese has two seminarians studying in Rome, as well as a priest who is completing a canon law degree.
I lived at the seminary department of the North American College from 1979 to 1984. I had begun to study for our diocese in 1975, and soon after I began my studies, I learned that our diocese had two seminarians studying in Rome. I said to myself, "I'd like to do that!" As I see it, if you want to know and love what you work for, it helps greatly to go to "headquarters" and the place which is the origin of much of the historical shaping of that work.I asked Bishop Joseph McNicholas about this possibility and he sent me to Rome; he asked me to get a canon law degree. (Bishop Daniel Ryan, who died Dec. 31, also supported my studies in Rome.)
My going to Rome was not merely a decision by our bishop. It was also a gift from the whole people of God of our diocese to a young man who was, at age 22, still very much in the process of growing up. I am ever grateful for this gift from you to me. It turned out that Rome was a very good place for me to grow up, in a variety of ways.
My U.S. classmates and I entered the halls of pontifical universities, where we sat in lectures with students from all over the world. At my university, the language of instruction was Italian. Following lectures in a language not my own was a definite challenge to me. And this challenge was only one of many.
I credit this time in my life with the circumstances which afforded me a personal conversion to Jesus. When I decided to enter the seminary, I suppose that I had experienced a "conversion to the church"; but the personal conversion to the Savior was still waiting for me. If you want to know more, ask me some time about the Letter to the Hebrews.
Some highlights: 1980's visits to the college by St. John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta; 1981, the assassination attempt upon John Paul II, his recovery, and his forgiveness of "the brother who shot me"; 1982, my deacon ordination in St. Peter's Basilica by Cardinal Terence Cooke, archbishop of New York, and with my family in attendance; also 1982, my entrance into canon law studies, with lectures in Latin, after three years of theology in Italian; 1983, a college-sponsored Holy Land pilgrimage; 1984, another college trip, this time to the Soviet Union. I had the opportunity to travel to many places in Europe, and I worked in a parish in London during the summer of 1982.
The outstanding interreligious event: a tour of Rome's Jewish ghetto, where the ancient Roman community of Jews, which existed long before Christianity came to the city, was consigned to live from 1555 to 1870.
I wish for Father Harman much joy as he directs his seminarians and helps them in their "inner journey," by which they come to know the personal love of God for them.