Guest Posts Studying Abroad

Studying Abroad Part I: One Short Week in the Eternal City

Two Pairs of Toms and a Rosary Walk into the Pantheon:
A Young Woman’s Study Abroad Experience

I have been given the greatest opportunity to study abroad with the University of Dallas at the Rome, Italy campus. Months of preparation, forms and permissions led up to the boarding of our flight from Atlanta to the Fiumicino airport in Rome. My first days in Rome were rough. Jet lag is very real and culture shock is actually terrifying. Handbooks and planning, meetings and orientations, cannot prepare you for landing in a country where you can’t read or speak the language. Living in close quarters with 106 peers, some of whom you know, some you don’t, some you dislike, and some you love is not always fun. Studying abroad isn’t all beautiful pamphlets and sunshine. In fact, it’s quite cloudy and cold. Very cold. And for some reason, “footwear of any kind” cannot be shipped to Italy. Neither can “haberdashery.” But I digress…

St. Peter Basilica, Rome, Eternal City, Vatican City
St. Peter Basilica, Vatican City

Despite my struggles, I also have had some of the greatest days of my life here. Our first day in Rome started with a private mass at the Altar of St. Joseph (Altar di San Giuseppe) in St. Peter’s Basilica. Walking into the breathtaking basilica made the 5am wake-­up call completely worth it. I walked passed some of the greatest art and architecture ever created and walked by the bones of saints that lived hundreds of years before I was born.

Ceiling in St. Andrew the Apostle, Rome, Eternal City
Ceiling in St. Andrew the Apostle

Our walking tour that first took us through beautiful church after beautiful church. We stumbled upon (and I do mean that literally, as Roman cobblestone streets are very uneven) the skull of St. Agnes in her namesake church at the Piazza Navona. We visited the beautiful Pantheon, previously a temple to many gods and now a Catholic basilica dedicated to Mary and all the martyrs. And wandered around St. Andrew the Apostle, which had some of the most beautiful ceiling art I have ever seen (granted, I have not visited the Sistine Chapel… yet).

While I know that everything I am seeing is new for me, at the same time it is all familiar. The monstrous dome that is the Pantheon feels like my best friend’s house. The statues of countless popes are like decorations in my own home. The small streets filled with Smart Cars and scooters feels like my neighborhood. Everything is foreign and familiar, strange and known. My heart feels the presence of Christ in these places where He lives, and where I now live for the next few months.

Pantheon, Rome, Eternal City

There is no doubt that there are marvelous things in Rome besides the churches and basilicas. Area Sacra di Largo Argentina, where Julius Caesar was killed, is now a stray cat sanctuary (I know it sounds like I’m joking. I’m very serious). The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and temples to Hercules and Portunus are grand and glorious. Trevi Fountain during the day has a majesty that makes tourist and local alike stop and stare.

But despite these marvelous other things, there is nothing quite as amazing as the smoky aroma of incense wafting over your tired body while walking into a church you’ve never seen, but feel like you’ve entered a thousand times.

I’ve been here for a very short and long few days, and I cannot wait for more adventures here in the heart of the Catholic Church!


Avery Profile Picture


Biography: My name is Avery Utz, and I am on my semester abroad for the University of Dallas at our Due Santi campus, thirteen and a half miles outside of Rome. I currently have 6 scarves, 4 pairs of shoes, 1 jar of peanut butter, and no idea what I’m doing, but thankfully God does. And I think He agrees that I look great in a scarf, and that peanut butter is delicious. I love the Mass, my family and friends, and drinking way too much Italian coffee.

Allison Crafts Feast Days Lent Prayer Recipes Saints

A Day for Feasting

Since I am almost entirely Irish, St. Patrick’s Day is every day. His medals are worn by two of our children, his prayer is a common choice for the mornings, and his biography by Tomie dePaola is regularly plopped in my lap by a child for evening reading. Irish food and Irish music are our normal and Guinness is my Scot/Norwegian husband’s favorite drink.

j2But I also have one Italian grandmother (Waterford lad fell for a Latin beauty!), so when my daughter decided that St. Joseph was her favorite saint a few years ago after reading a prayer book, she requested a feast for his day on March 19. It only took a couple of minutes snooping on the history and traditional foods for my memories of the Italian side of my family to begin drooling. Minestrone? Remember that. Cream puffs and zeppoles? Remember those, too. Red wine? Yes please, and glad to be Catholic! I eased up some of the recipes to better work with my scattered brain and came up with some plans for the children to keep them spiritually and craftily busy so that the mothers can eat and visit. For the second annual St. Joseph’s Feast Day, our invitations read:

Please join us March 19 at 11am to celebrate the best of fathers and pray-ers, Saint Joseph.
We will have lunch and crafts for the children.
Please wear something RED!

Here are the ideas adopted by the Howells:

1) Use boxes under sheets to create a three-tiered table,

2) Put cream puffs and zeppoles on the top tier.

~I make these very easy cream puffs and fill them with plain whipped cream.

~For zeppoles, which are too complicated for me, I just make normal white bread dough, flatten and
twist up two-inch pieces, drop them into hot oil like doughnuts, and dust them with powdered sugar.

3) Put plates of edemame (substitute for fava beans, which are too time-consuming for me) on the
second tier.

4) At the table level tier, put a crock pot of minestrone, pretzels shaped like Joseph’s staff (made by us ahead of time), and sparkling “wine.”

5) Decorate the table with paper plate lilies and candles. And probably red hearts because the kids are still thrilled with folding a paper in half, cutting a curve, and unfolding it into a heart shape (from St. Valentine’s Day and Addie’s birthday!). But we do love St. Joseph and red is the right color for the day, according to the Sicilians, who have honored him since medieval times when a famine ceased due to his intercession).

6) Have 3×5 cards, red markers, glue sticks, and small pictures of Joseph copied from the computer ready to make holy cards. In some countries, this day is also Father’s Day, so the kids can give them to their dads.

7) I’d love to say that we gather around the table and pray a litany together but it is too long for us. My daughter loves typing and choosing fonts and photos, so she types and prints off several copies to pass out.

8) Make everyone listen to Michael Card’s beautiful prayer, Joseph’s Song.

And that’s that. Takes up two days of homeschooling- one day to prepare and one day to party. Let the feasting begin!

Dear St. Joseph, thank you for loving Jesus and Mary and working so hard for them. We love you. Please pray for us this day and every day.

j1 is beginning the St. Joseph’s novena tomorrow! Click here to join in!