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Journeys for the mind, heart and soul

The maiden trip of the College’s new Alumni Travel Study program sets the stage for a lifetime of learning in cities around the globe.

By Maria Healey

alumni in TuscanyHoly Cross alumni speak often of the worlds that the College opens to them. Be it the wisdom born of a liberal arts education, or the continuing opportunities the Holy Cross family affords after graduation, the reach of the College into the lives of its graduates is meaningful and enduring. There has long been an annual Alumni Education Day on campus. Alumni social trips to Ireland, France and Italy have always been popular and festive. But recently, the College added an adventurous new element that will further enrich its mission of building a lifetime learning community.

“We are trying to recreate the Holy Cross experience of values, quality education and friendships in the best classrooms that the world has to offer,” says Bob Crimmins ’65, the director of the program. “We started with a travel/study tour of Tuscany, and now we are looking at other horizons— Portugal, China, places like that.” Crimmins is working with the College as a consultant after 35 years of practicing law.

The travel/study program, he explains, is just one part of an overall program of alumni education, initiated and supported by Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., president of the College, and Senior Vice President Frank Vellaccio.

“We are hoping to get an online program under way this coming semester,” Crimmins says. “In the meantime, Fr. Philip Rule, who just retired from the English department, is looking into a speakers’ bureau of Holy Cross faculty, regional conferences and, ultimately, a residential college here on campus devoted to summertime courses for alumni. It’s all very exciting especially after the great success of the Tuscany trip.”

Structurally, the nascent Holy Cross program is modeled after the Washington & Lee University program, Crimmins explains. The director of that program reports to the University’s provost.

“That’s very important—it makes the faculty a crucial part of the program, and no alumni education program is going to be successful without the support of the faculty,” he says. “We have been very fortunate with the way the faculty has given wholehearted support to our endeavors—even donating the benefit of their individual experiences with alumni education elsewhere. We’re grateful to the dean of the College, Stephen Ainlay, in that regard.”:

“As for the content of the trips,” Crimmins continues, “that’s pure Holy
Cross. We self-produced the Tuscany trip. This was not an ‘off-the-shelf’ trip packaged by a travel company, in which the school’s professor is relegated to incidental status. Our educators picked the places we went and made sure the locales, the lectures and the activities fit the goals of alumni education that Fr. McFarland had prescribed for us: quality lifelong education for our alumni, the continuing inculcation of Jesuit ideals and the building up of a sense of community among all the class years.”

If its initial trip is any indication, the program is primed for success. Last April, 23 travelers departed for an eight-day trip to Italy on a journey that integrated intellectual, spiritual and social components. The itinerary for Tuscany: Culture and Christianity began in Rome, then moved to Orvieto and the Tuscan countryside—where the group spent the bulk of the trip touring ruins, museums and the homes of local Italians.

“The reason for the stops in Rome and Orvieto—neither of which is in Tuscana,” says Crimmins, “was so that Professor Tom Martin (chair of the classics department) could explain how Etrurian culture affected Western civilization and, so, Christianity, in ancient times, and then in Rome, and then again in the Renaissance.”

The trip was planned by Crimmins, Martin and Susanna Buricchi, an Italian art history scholar and consultant in the Superintendence of Fine Arts in Florence. The three assembled the itinerary a year in advance, in a preliminary scouting trip to Italy to find locations that were relevant to the theme and logistically feasible, given the time frame.

In Rome, the group visited the new Centrale Montemartini Museum, a converted power station now housing ancient Roman art among old generators and boilers. It proved to be a fascinating means by which to introduce a major idea of the entire trip: the conjoining of the ancient and the modern.

While in Rome the group visited Il Gesu—the Jesuit Church there—and viewed the rooms of St. Ignatius. Holy Cross president emeritus, Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., ’49, who traveled with the tour, said Mass—and due, in part, to Fr. Brooks’ rapport with the caretaker of the church, the hidden “treasures” of the rooms were opened up for the Holy Cross alumni, their families and friends.

“I lived in Rome for a number of years in the ’60s,” says Fr. Brooks, “and the rooms were not open then. This experience was pretty direct contact with the founder of the Jesuits.”

Fr. Brooks’ role on the trip was to speak on humanism and the history of the Jesuits—particularly the influence of the Renaissance on Jesuit spirituality and the educational traditions at the College.

“When the Society was founded back in 1540,” explains Fr. Brooks, “a lot of Jesuits were living in Rome, and their idea was not to duplicate monastic life but to move through the city—the city itself was their field of endeavor. They continued, as the years went by, with foreign missions to India and Spain and Portugal and the rest of Europe.

“To hear, in Ignatius’ rooms, how the Society embraced the Renaissance and its purposes was revealing to the group,” Fr. Brooks continues. “It tied in well with what we’re trying to do at Holy Cross. It was clear that we’re here to serve.”

“That Mass brought the group together,” says Stephen Reichheld ’83, who took the trip with his wife, Deb, and their three children.

“It was clearly a place that not a lot of people are allowed to visit,” he explains. “There’s a little stone in the floor of the room where Ignatius passed away. The caretaker opened up ‘The Cabinet of Relics,’ and we saw St. Ignatius’ death mask. It was powerful.”

“You walked out of that Mass so touched,” says Deb Reichheld, who went to Fairfield University in Connecticut. “There was elation at just being there, knowing it was such a special experience.”

The experience was made more special because the Holy Cross visit took place between the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the conclave that elected his successor. Rev. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., a professor at Rome ’s Gregorian Institute and the BBC’s Vatican expert, spent an evening with the Holy Cross group, privately briefing them on the traditions and expectations of the conclave.

With such a send-off, the group embarked for Orvieto, where the days revolved around places and artifacts that resonated with a similar theme.

“You really experience history—continuity and change—on this itinerary in an organic way that can’t be matched except through travel study in the true meaning of the phrase,” says Martin, who is an internationally known expert on the Etruscan and Roman cultures.

“We tried to touch on themes that included cultural views of religion,” says Martin. “Especially the connection between this life and the next life in these cultures, across times.

“In Orvieto,” he explains, “we began with a visit to the Necropolis (the Etruscan City of the Dead), with its tombs built like little houses in a carefully relegated subdivision, laid out mathematically—which implies a belief in the afterlife as an extremely orderly community.

“Later,” Martin continues, “we visited famous Renaissance frescoes by Signorelli in the cathedral in Orvieto—an entire wall covered in a graphic, even horrifying, depiction of the Day of Judgment in the Christian tradition—which anticipates Michelangelo’s Day of Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

“Then,” he adds, “we had lunch in an Italian bistro that sits atop a deep cistern system carved a hundred feet or more down into the living rock—where you literally climb through our theme: seeing how the Etruscans created the system; the Romans modified it—and, then, the Christians took it over by the medieval period.”

“They wove this picture for us of how pre-Christianity developed,” says Deb Reichheld—“how it grew over time. The scholars showed the layers of history that developed in order to establish what we think and believe today—all the way from our pagan roots to the Vatican.”

Reichheld praised the trip as a gift.

Journeys for the Mind, Heart and Soul, continued >>>

 

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