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.

Current Events Pope

HABEMUS PAPAM: Pope Francis, We Are Praying for You!

The white puff of smoke emerged and ignited a firestorm of joy and wonder from St. Peter’s Square and spanning across the globe. In an instant, newsfeed on all social networks were claiming “Habemus Papam!” From the balcony, our new pope gives his first blessing and accepts the weight of a billion souls. He has been given time to weep and mourn as he has stepped aside and let the Holy Spirit take over.

To be Catholic, at the moment, is almost beyond words. From the first puff, we were collectively overwhelmed with anticipation that could not be rivaled by even the most hopeful child on Christmas morning. And, now, we prepare to fall in love with the heir to St. Peter’s throne.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


As the doors to the balcony were opened, the much anticipated words Habemus Papam were proclaimed to all below in St. Peter’s Square. Then the doors closed. We waited to see who would emerge. And then we knew. The giddiness turned to excitement as then Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio was presented to the world as the first pope of the New World, Pope Francis.

Who exactly is Pope Francis?

Name: Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio

Born: December 17, 1939

Ordained: December 13, 1969 for the Jesuits during his theological studies at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel.

Member of:

  • Congregations: for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments; for the Clergy; for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ;
  • Pontifical Council for the Family;
  • Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Random factoids:

  • he lost a lung as a young child
  • his father was an Italian immigrant railway worker from the area around Turin and emigrated to Argentina
  • Pope Francis was a runner up in the 2005 conclave
  • he has four brothers and sisters
  • he originally wanted to be a chemist, but in 1958 entered the Society of Jesus
  • Jesuits are generally discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancements, making his rise to Pope all the more interesting
  • he is unapologetically orthodox when it comes to teachings on sexual morality
  • some cardinals candidly admitted in 2005 conclave that he lacked “fire in the belly” that was needed to lead universal Church.
  • he is seen as a successful evangelist
  • he lives simply, cooking his own meals and taking a bus rather than a chauffeured limousine
  • Sistine Chapel smoke recipe: Blacksmoke made with potassium perchlorate, anthracene, and sulphur. White from potassium chlorate, lactose, and rosin, Vatican says.
  • upon acceptance of being named pope, he spent time in Adoration in the Room of Tears
  • he first asked for a blessing from the faithful before giving his blessing
  • the first official Pope Francis Pontifex tweet was “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM”
  • Vatican confirms pope’s choice of name is for Francis of Assisi
  • announcement of new pope breaks Twitter all-time record citing 130 MILLION tweets per minute just after announcement, shattering presidential inauguration and Olympics. ::source FoxNews Neil Cavuto:: ETA – it has since been corrected to 130 THOUSAND tweets per minute.

Visit the vatican’s website to hear the transcript of Pope Francis’ first words.


Where were you when you saw the white smoke?

How did you feel?

How did you feel when the new pope was announced?