Marymount Students Experience Special Visit to Rome

Jessica Villeda, a Marymount University senior, wasn’t sure she wanted to travel to Rome with a group of classmates. At 42, the commuter from Mt. Airy, Maryland, is older than the typical student and was concerned about how things would go. Once the interior design major was in the Eternal City, however, all trepidation vanished. 

“It was very emotional – kind of like being in the closest spot to heaven you could be,” Villeda said. “It was impressive, a very spiritual trip. I cried the first two days. I really bonded with the others in the group, and it was also a wonderful closing experience for my time at Marymount.”

Villeda and 19 other students with a variety of academic and religious backgrounds were in Rome for a week last month, part of The Mystery of the Church, a semester-long course within Marymount’s Global Classroom Series. Taught by Dr. Brian Flanagan, it explored ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian church. The corresponding international field experience included visits to the Vatican; a meeting with Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See; the Catacombs, the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

“It can be a little overwhelming when they experience several amazing products of human history in the same day,” Flanagan said. “We try to plan it so they can have time to reflect and think about what they’ve seen.”

The group’s visit was particularly poignant because it coincided with Jubilee – the Holy Year of Mercy – a call by Pope Francis for the faithful to receive blessing and pardon from God and remission of sins.

“It was a very special time to be there,” Villeda added. “Rome was filled with pilgrims.”

This is the third time Flanagan has taught The Mystery of the Church course, which he said focuses on the history of the theologies of the church – how people have thought about the church – and how ideas of the community changed over time. 

Although Marymount is a Catholic university, the course was open to all members of the student body, regardless of their religious affiliation.  Michelle Mitchell, a senior from Annandale majoring in interior design, grew up a Southern Baptist and is currently part of the United Church of Christ.

“My husband’s family is Catholic and this course gave me insight into my in-laws’ faith,” Mitchell said. “My mother- and father-in-law were important to me and both have passed away. The trip to Rome was one they would have wanted to make, but never did. I felt closer to them there and now appreciate their Catholic traditions much more.”

During the trip, each day’s events were intentionally planned to end away from the hotel so that the  student group had to plan its own way back, said Carin Usrey, assistant director of Marymount’s Center for Global Education. Even if they didn’t speak Italian, they knew important words and phrases such as “hello,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian. Do you speak English?” This enabled them to explore parts of Rome on their own.

Janie Paw, a senior communications major from New York City, welcomed the opportunity. She studied abroad for a semester during her junior year at Marymount and had traveled to Rome while in high school. This time she saw the city in a different light.

“I have become more outgoing and independent,” she said. “I explored a non-touristy area with my friends and that thought may not have even come to mind the first time around. Seeing that area, San Lorenzo, and the food we had there was definitely my favorite part of the trip.”

“It’s exciting to see the city through students’ eyes and see them connect the dots to what they’re studying and to try out their Italian, get a gelato at the end of the day, to bond and have that experience with their friends,” Flanagan said. “They took good care of each other.

The Mystery of the Church was one of seven spring offerings in Marymount’s Global Classroom Series. Other classes and destinations included:

  • Historic Preservation, Amalfi Coast and Rome, Italy
  • Introduction to Art History, Rome, Italy
  • The Economics of Poverty, Panama City and Penonomé, Panama
  • The American Dream, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • The Criminal Justice System, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • The Global Village, San Miguel, El Salvador

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Photo captions

Photo 1
The group from Marymount University in front of the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome. They spent a week over spring break in the city as part of The Mystery of the Church, a semester-long course that’s part of the university’s Global Classroom Series. Taught by Dr. Brian Flanagan, it explored ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian church.

Photo 2
A student capturing the moment in the Colosseum.

Photo 3
The group in front of Palazzo Venezia in Central Rome.