Friday, June 29, 2007

‘When in Rome…’ Eyes and Ears in the Eternal City

The first in an occasional series from one of our Alumni who is in formation at the English College in Rome.
It has now been nearly a year since starting seminary formation at the Venerable English College, Rome, and now is perhaps a good time to pause a bit and reflect on it all. It is said that John Paul II encouraged seminarians to ‘learn Rome’, during their time here. Indeed, to take him at his word, the past year has opened my eyes and ears to a city which cradles a profound and remarkable amalgamation of faith and culture, something not apparent during previous, more or less fleeting visits, and which has some rather interesting consequences.

What is there to learn, then? Lived prayer, primarily: prayer not simply as an action, but also as an attitude towards daily life. The growth of these two branches of prayer has led to some interesting implications, namely, due to the nuanced blend of faith and culture in Rome, one can be walking down the street, see a wonderful sculpture or piece of architecture, or hear some startling music, and somehow, it becomes substance for prayer. I don’t mean this in a literal sense; I don’t find myself praying for Michelangelo or the Trevi Fountain for instance! I mean that seeing or hearing something beautiful on a human level may act as a sort of skylight onto the Triune God, if, indeed, one has the eyes to see it and ears to hear it. At prayer, the memory of these little aesthetic signs enables prayer to be somehow more incarnational as all those material things of daily life, both the beautiful and the ugly, are not simply put to one side in order to make way for something more pure and spiritual, but are caught up in the dramatic process of offering up everything to the mystery of God, which at heart, I suppose, is what priestly vocation is all about. For me, this has been an experience specific to Roman life, although, of course, this need not be the case at all; inspiration being more or less readily available wherever one cares to look. However, I wonder if this captures something of what John Paul II meant when he encouraged seminarians to ‘learn Rome’.
David Wingfield was a member of the community at Newman House during the Academic Year 2004-5.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summertime...and some memories

The summer months are an odd time at Newman House. Many of our friends who have been here for the Academic Year have moved on, and we are preparing for the new batch in September. It's probably wise to point out that posting to the blog has dropped off a little, and between now and September there will still be occasional postings, but they will be less regular for the moment.
If you're an alumnus and would like to contribute some memories, please get in touch with us at
However, here's a piece by Sue Lyons, who lived here during the year 1967-8. Our thanks to her for putting these memories together.
Any memories I have of the Chaplaincy must start in the library, a dozen people studying quietly in the pools of light coast by the table lamps, Pete in one of the comfy chairs in the middle, just “resting his eyes”, book on the floor beside him, until the murmur goes round, “drinks in the bar?”, “coffee’s brewing in room ….” And the library is deserted.

My overwhelming feeling when I think of my time at 111 is the sense of community and support. As a non-catholic I was slightly taken aback in the first week, when Max appeared at my room to recruit me as a member of Cathsoc. I think he was more embarrassed than I was at trying to recruit the ‘heathens’ and beat a hasty retreat. I nevertheless participated in most parts of life at 111, drinks in the bar, the Sunday night dances, folk singing, talks, and even including the occasional attendance at Mass. I will always the have warmest admiration and affection for the wonderful team of priests and nuns who were always available to support and encourage those in need, especially the bottle of whisky that came out of the Bruce’s office drawer. That of course was only for a real crisis!

I do recall other occasions when staff rose magnificently to the occasion, Bruce Kent appearing clad in pyjamas to rescue a group of revellers, stuck in the lift, desperate after a couple of hours spent consuming beer in the bar. My time at the Chaplaincy also seems to include some distinctly watery episodes: an unexpected shower, whilst trying to revise quietly on the roof on the annexe – may you be forgiven, you perpetrators of the dastardly deed; an even wetter occasion, an unexpected bath inflicted upon me by my “friends” – well, what if I had woken one of them brutally at around 6 am with a glass of water splashed gently over his face, in response to a dare; Sister Reggie, queen of the kitchen sweetly requesting that the culprits mop up the bathroom and hall floor.

I end where I started, creeping in late at night past the library, peeping in at the night owls completing last-minute assignments in the pools of light from the table lamps on my way to bed……