Studiare Days 20 & 21

I’ve been home for over 24 hours now, so I guess I’m finally rested enough to write this blog post!

Friday was my last day in Rome, and as is typical for me, I tried to cram a lot in. It’s as if I just can’t drink in enough Rome to last me until my next trip.

My final classes in the morning went well. People ask me if I’m fluent in Italian yet. Oh brother, not at all! I’m pretty good at “restaurant Italian,” and I can buy stamps and groceries in Italian. In fact, the day before, I was buying a super cheap lunch at the local Pam grocery story (yes, that’s the actual name of the store), and the girl in front of me was buying a sandwich and a dessert. The clerk behind the counter asked if she wanted the “menu.” (That’s what we would call a “value meal.”) The girl had no idea that the clerk was trying to tell her she could get a free drink with her sandwich and fruit. I had figured it out based on the Italian sign hanging in the store.

“Parli italiano?” asked the clerk.

The girl just looked at her. So I tried English. “You get a free drink,” I said to the girl and held up my beverage.

The girl looked at me.

“It’s free,” I repeated. “You get a free drink when you buy the sandwich and the dessert. Do you want the free drink?”

Finally, the girl seemed to understand what we were saying, but she just shook her head and said, “No, I have aqua.”

Oh well. The clerk behind the counter thanked me, and then when it came time for my transaction, she talked to me in Italian. Hooray! My words in English didn’t trick her into thinking I didn’t understand Italian!

Still . . . despite my little victories, I still struggle a lot with spoken Italian. It’s like my brain is on slow translation speed. I need a moment to separate the sounds into syllables and then figure out which syllables go together into words, and then finally translate the words into English ones!

When class ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed over to St. Peter’s Square. I had some postcards to mail to fans who follow me on Instagram (What?!? You’re not follow me on Instagram yet? For heaven’s sake, why not?).

Then I hopped on the Metro line A and went to visit Santa Maria Maggiore. I hadn’t been to this basilica in two years, and there’s another holy door there. There are four holy doors open in Rome this year for the Year of Mercy. I’d already been through the St. Peter’s holy door, and I wanted to get at least one more in.


Holy Door at Santa Maria Maggiore

The church was very crowded. With World Youth Day coming up in Poland, a lot of youth groups were stopping in Rome first, so I saw two youth groups holding Mass in the side chapels at Santa Maria Maggiore.

A youth group at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.

A youth group at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.

Then I walked over to Santa Maria in Via because I promised an Italian classmate that I’d do so. Along the way, God sent me this little surprise . . . a church dedicated to guardian angels! Pretty cool for this author of a guardian angel story.

"Angelo Custode" means "Guardian Angel" in Italian. :)

“Angelo Custode” means “Guardian Angel” in Italian. :)

Then I booked it down to Trastevere. I hadn’t yet visited the Basilica of St. Cecilia, and I couldn’t image a trip to Rome without stopping in to see one of my all time favorite saints. St. Cecilia was actually my mom’s favorite saint, and my very first published article was on St. Cecilia. Plus, on the previous Saturday, I’d just seen the actual spot she had originally been buried in in the catacombs, so now everything had come full circle to me.

My only slight problem with stopping by St. Cecilia is that I was also on my way to another church in Rome. You may remember that my Loyola classmates and I had been introduced to a man named Paolo from the Community di Sant’Egidio. They pray together every night at Santa Maria in Trastevere at 8:30 p.m., and I had even gone back there on Wednesday to pray with them a second time.

Well, on Friday night, I was invited to pray with their seniors group at 5:30 in a small church just around the corner from Santa Maria.

I was running short on time to visit St. Cecilia before that, so I’m sure I must have made a little bit of a scene in the church. I dashed through the courtyard that leads to the church, in my head I heard the words, “Sono qui, Santa Cecilia! Sono qui!” (“I am here, St. Cecilia. I am here!”) as if for some reason she needed me to announce my arrival. But it was a happy announcement, a joyful proclamation of thanksgiving that I had indeed made it back to her on this trip to Rome.

I composed myself–a.k.a. slowed down–as I entered the church, but I knew I couldn’t stay long, so I walked straight down the center aisle, threw myself onto a kneeler in front of the altar, said a quick prayer, and dashed right back down the aisle. I can only imagine what the other people praying the church must have thought. Man, that girl must have had an urgent request! Or She looked pretty happy. Maybe she was just offering a quick thank you?!

Back on the cobbled streets of Trastevere, I dashed through narrow streets to get to St. Calisto where I was supposed to meet Paolo. I arrived at 5:32 and heard music already playing in the church.

I stepped inside and was immediately greeted by a friendly Italian woman about my height. “Are you Paolo’s friend?”


She lead me toward the front of the church and headed me a prayer book and a song sheet. There were maybe 20 people in the pews and about eight members of Community at the altar leading the prayers, my friend Paolo among them.

The prayer service was very similar to the other two I had attended. There was lots of singing, a litany of saints, a Scripture reading, and a reflection by one of the Community members. The main difference between this prayer service and the previous two was that most of the people in the pews were seniors (anziani in italiano).

San Calisto

San Calisto

Afterward, I was invited to join them for fellowship (and ice cream sandwiches) at a local community center. We sat in folding chairs (or wheelchairs) in a circle and talked. I found out that the woman who greeted me at the door of the church was Paolo’s wife. I also got to meet his parents and several of the senior members of the community.

Paolo kept introducing me as his “amica americana” because he said I looked too Italian, and everyone would just think I was his Italian friend instead of his American friend. Ha! I consider this a high compliment to be mistaken as a real Italian woman!

It was wonderful to talk with them and learn more about the Community and what they do. There is already a Community di Sant’Egidio at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and there may be one in Chicago before too long! I will keep in touch with Paolo to find out more.

After that, I had plans to meet up with a classmate from Scuola Leonardo for dinner, but I had a little time first, and I had some prayer intentions left to pray, so I decided to find this church Paolo had pointed out to me. On the way there, I passed another church. I didn’t see a name outside, so I headed it to see what church it was. Turns out it is the church of Santa Dorotea (St. Dorothy). This struck me as the perfect place to say my remaining prayer intentions. You see, my Aunt Dorothy past away last year while I was in Rome. My mom and she were close, and my mom passed away just a few months later.

Santa Dorotea

Santa Dorotea

I felt a great sense of comfort in this church, like my mom and Aunt Dorothy were praying with me, so later, I let everyone know that if they sent me a special prayer intention that I’m sure they can count on my mom and Aunt Dorothy praying for them, too.

I did eventually make it to that other church (San Pietro in Montorio), which was way up on a hill, but there was a Mass going on, and I had little time to admire it before heading back to the historic center to meet my Scuola Leonardo classmate for dinner. She’s a middle school teacher from New York who has spent time living in Italy. Like me, she sees Italy as a second home, so we were rather kindred spirits. I had also received a text message from one of my Loyola classmates who had just returned back to Rome after visiting other Italian cities with her husband and mom.  So all five of us (three of us teachers!) had a wonderful dinner at one of my new favorite restaurants in Rome, Monte Vecchio.

After dinner, I took a brief last stroll past St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, they’ve taken to kind of blocking it off at night, so I couldn’t sit around the obelisk. I just said a quick prayer of thanks for another wonderful trip to Rome and headed back to the apartment to pack.

The next morning turned out to be a bit of an adventure. I was scheduled for an 11:20 a.m. flight, but when I woke up in the morning, I found out my flight was delayed  . . . 10 hours!

My Italian landlady couldn’t believe it. She turned on the Italian news. There had been talks of strikes at the airports, buses, and trains, and sure enough, they talked about it on the news that morning, but they said the flights were all “regolare.” So why was my plane so late?

I had already missed the 8:00 a.m. shuttle bus I was supposed to take to the airport, but my ticket was good all day, so I headed out on the 9:25 bus. By 10:15, I was at the airport and standing in line at the counter.

To make a long story slightly shorter, I found out the pilot had called in sick. They were flying in a new one, but by regulation, they had to let him rest before flying us back for 9 hours.

The airline compensated us by sending us to the very nice Hilton airport at the hotel. We got free lunch, free rooms, and free dinner. I got to take a two-hour nap and a shower. It was heavenly!

The flight left at 9:05 p.m, which meant I didn’t land in Chicago until after midnight, but at least I wasn’t like many of the other passengers who had missed connecting flights or trains and were going to have to spend a night in a hotel in Chicago.

Well, I’m home and fairly well rested, which is good because tomorrow the Catholic Writers Guild Conference starts, and I’m a presenter.

On to the next adventure!

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Studiare Day 19

This will probably be my last blog post until after I get home. Friday night I’ll be busy packing for my Saturday flight, so I don’t think I’ll have time to blog.

After today’s classes, I decided to head to the Keats-Shelley Museum near the Spanish Steps. If you followed my blog two years ago, you may remember me visiting the graces of Keats and Shelley here in Rome.


The bedroom Keats died in


Keats moved to Rome after getting tuberculosis. He knew another British winter would kill him, so he came to Rome with a friend and they found an apartment above the Spanish Steps. Keats lived only a few more months and then was buried in the only non-Catholic cemetery in town. He had visited the cemetery ahead of time and said he liked it because daisies, his favorite flowers, grew abundantly there.

Keats spent a good amount of his last days looking at the Spanish Steps from this window in his bedroom.

Keats spent a good amount of his last days looking at the Spanish Steps from this window in his bedroom.

In the early evening, I headed back to school for an extra lesson on pronunciation. Then I ate some gelato, walked some more, ate some pizza, did a little bit more grocery shopping (yogurt and fruit) for my last two mornings, and headed home to do my homework.

Can’t believe the time here always goes so fast! There are definitely things I miss about home, but I’m also trying to soak up as much Rome as I can before heading home.

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Studiare Day 18

Class continues to go well. My two morning sessions are with one teacher who focuses on grammar and the writing and conversation. The afternoon session is with another teacher and that is just a conversation class. I do a lot more listening than talking, but that’s okay. It’s still good practice for me.

In the afternoon, I set off in another mission. This one by one of my Italian classmates back home, who emailed me about a church that is supposed to have healing water kind of like in Lourdes. So off I went!

Santa Maria in Via wasn’t too far from school. Inside, there is a side chapel, and in that chapel there is a passage to an old wellhat supposedly sprung up and overflowed miraculously one night in 1256. You can now drink a little paper cup filled with the water.

Do you see the Dixie cups?

Do you see the Dixie cups?


On the way back from the church, I heard some organ music and discovered another beautiful church. This one was Santa Maria in Aquiro.


In the evening, I did a guide tour of Campo de Fiori with one of the teachers from school. Then another student (who is also an American middle school teacher) and I went out for burgers. Don’t laugh! They were recommended to me by a friend who lives here in Rome. They were Kosher burgers as the restaurant was in the Jewish ghetto.


I rarely eat burgers or drink Coke at home, but it felt right in Rome!

I rarely eat burgers or drink Coke at home, but it felt right in Rome!

Then I headed to Trastevere to pray with the Community di Sant’Egidio. This is the group my Loyola class met with two weeks ago.

Time to go. I still have homework to finish tonight!

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Studiare Day 17

My second day of Italian classes went well. There is so much to learn about pronouns in Italian! Mamma mia!

After class, I decided to finish my mission to visit all seven official pilgrimage churches of Rome, so I crossed off the last one on my list, San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence Outside the Walls). As the name implies, it’s just outside the old walls of the city. It was built originally in the fourth century over the tomb of St. Lawrence, patron saint of cooks and comedians. How did he get that distinction? When he was condemned for being a Christian, he was roasted over a fire. Legend has it that he said at one point, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”


Early Christians put me to shame. I mean, seriously, death by roasting?!?

Tomb of St. Lawrence

Tomb of St. Lawrence

Also inside the church is the body of Pope Pius IX, who died over 100 years ago, but is still in pretty good shape.


In the evening,  I went back to school for an Italian language film with Sophia Loren: “Ieri, Oggi, e Domani.” The Italian subtitles were on, so I could read and listen.

Afterward, I ate a late, simple dinner of salad with chicken and an iced tea that I picked up at the market. Enjoyed it back at the apartment, where my Italian landlady decided to take out her own pre-cooked meal and eat with me.


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Studiare Day 16

So much to tell, so little time!

Italian class went well this morning. After my test, I was placed in the class with the fifth little workbook, which is good because last summer I was in the fourth workbook. I still sound like a little kid when I speak Italian, but I’m slowly getting better.

This year, I am taking the super-intensive class, which means I get an extre 90 minutes in the afternoon and don’t get out until 2:00.

However, I still had time to take the two buses and the Metro train that take you out to Il Santuario della Madonna del Divine Amore. It’s one of the seven official pilgrimage churches of Rome.


The ride out there took about 89 minutes, but I really felt like I got out of the city for a bit, and the whole complex was beautiful.

There’s a new church . . .



And an old church.



Plus a Lourdes grotto.


In the evening, my school hosted a “tandem night,” where we head to a local place for drinks and appetizers and talk in Italian with students from other classes.

A full but very good day!

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Studiare Days 14 and 15

And you thought this trip was over?!? 🙂

Saturday morning I took a cab ride from Loyola to the small bed and breakfast I was going to stay in for one night. And when I say small, I mean three rooms and one tiny kitchen.

Finding the location was a bit hard. I had the address right, and there was a sign outside, but inside it just looked like a condo building. The sign outside said it was on the second floor. So I took the elevator up, but on the second floor, I could only find condos that looked like people’s homes, not a B&B. So I went back downstairs and found a man sweeping the floor who showed me how to find the call button for the B&B. The woman ran down and took me across the street. Apparently, the one building is just where the owners live. Their tiny B&B is in another building.

I left my luggage there and then headed out quickly as I had a tour group to meet. I had booked a catacombs and Appian Way tour that left at 10:00 in the morning. Our tour guidewas a woman who was originally from Orlando but had moved to Italy in her early 20s.

imageWe could not take pictures inside the catacombs, but I got to see where they had found St. Cecilia’s incorruptible body before moving itto the basilica that was built over her family home. Interestingly, they had a copy of the statue of St. Cecilia that is in the basilica. It shows the position St. Cecilia was in when they found her body. She had three fingers held up in one hand and one finger in the other to show her belief in the Trinity.

After visiting the catacombs, we got to walk part of the Appian Way, which is the same street Spartacus and St. Peter walked. You might remember the story that St. Peter was walking on this street when Christ appeared to him and said he was going to Rome to be crucified a second time, indicating how St. Peter would die.


We also saw some remains of the ancient Roman aqueducts.


Saturday night, I met up with one of my Loyola classmates who was still in town waiting for her family to join her on Sunday. The two of us enjoyed a really yummy dinner not too far from Piazza Navona.

Sunday morning, I slept in a little and then went to 11:00 Mass at St. Ann’s church in the Vatican. Did you know St. Peter’s isn’t the only church in Vatican City? St. Ann’s (Sant’Anna) is just north of St. Peter’s Square. It’s a small but very beautiful church and makes me feel more like I’m in a home parish than when I go to Mass at St. Peter’s.


Right after Mass, I saw Pope Francis give his Sunday Angelus. After the talk and prayers, he mentioned the attack in Nice, France, and said something about being close to the people in their tragedy and praying for them. Of course, he ended as always by asking us to pray for him and wishing us a good lunch.

Then I took the bus out to one of the seven official pilgrim churches of Rome, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. It was a rather long bus ride, and my map directions for finding the church weren’t quite right. I saw what looked like a church, but the map had me walking up this hill, so I followed the directions and ended up in a large cemetery!


Finally, I found a way out and discovers that what I had suspected was the church really was the church. Lesson learned: follow your gut instinct, not the GPS system. Unfortunately, the church was closed when I got there. Second lesson learned: my attempts to be spontaneous don’t seem to end well.

A long bus and Metro ride brought me back to the B&B, where I picked up my luggage. Another bus ride brought me to my usual apartment in Rome. Those of you who have followed along for a while know that this apartment is up on the sixth floor, which is really seven floors up. My Roman landlady had texted me earlier that the elevator wasn’t working, so when I arrived, we took the two ends of my giant suitcase and lugged that puppy up floor by floor!

On the way up, she said something about it being good for us and no cholesterol in our blood!

Once inside, we chatted for a bit about my classes at Loyola. She only speaks Italian, so I’m really forced to practice here.

It’s getting to be about dinner time now, so I’ll probably head out in a bit. I’ll write again on Monday night. We’ll see what level Italian they put me in tomorrow.

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Studiare Day 13

Friday morning, we gave our final presentations and did a few wrap up activities, including writing haiku poems about our experiences. One girl mentioned including some Italian words, so of course, I took that as a challenge to write two haiku, one in English and one in Italian. If I have more time, maybe I’ll share them with you later.

In the afternoon, I did laundry and wrote to the Italian man we met at the Community di Sant’Egidio last week. I am hoping I can pray with the community next week or even volunteer in the soup kitchen one night.

At night, we took a charted bus out to the Appian Way for a special good-bye dinner at Cecilia Metella, a restaurant I visited on my pilgrimage two years ago. It was a fabulous meal with some great farewell speeches, poems, and “skits.”


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Studiare Day 12

Thursday morning, we took a class trip to the Roman Forum and the Colisseum. We didn’t have a private guide, so we had to wait an hour to get tickets, wait another half hour while some group members took a bathroom break (only two stalls!), and then we used a couple guide books to walk around. Then our professor gave us an activity to do at each site, making connections back to our lessons.


After the Roman Forum, we visited the Colisseum. Standing there in the Colisseum for the third time was still a thrill. Moreover, I realize how incredibly blessed I am. Most people would be happy to make it there once. And here I am in Rome for the fifth time and in the Coliseeum for the third time!

imageIn the afternoon, we returned to campus for a late lunch and then worked on our final projects, which will be presented in class on Friday.

For dinner, we headed back to the neighborhood of the Colisseum to a restaurant recommended to some classmates by a cab driver. It was a beautiful night in Rome. After nearly two weeks in the 90s, the temp has finally dropped, and the evening weather was perfect for a stroll to a gelato stand.


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Studiare Day 11

This morning we had two more group presentations. The first group took us to the New Equiline Market (Nuovo Mercato Esquilino). It’s a very international market that reminded me of the one my friend and I went to in Florence last year.


Our task at this place was to buy a particular food using only English and no hand gestures. The purpose was to give us a sense of how hard it is for someone new to a country to buy food when they don’t have any skills in the dominant language. We were divided into groups of four. Only two people in the group could talk at all. The other two were supposed to be only observers. You can probably guess that my group made me an observer so that I wouldn’t be tempted to speak in Italian. 🙂


You might think it very easy to do this task in English since English is such a prevalent language, but it actually wasn’t. My group was told to buy dried apricots. I watched as the two speakers in my group asked for dried apricots at multiple stands. The conversation went something like this: (remember no pointing was allowed):

Student: Do you have any dried apricots?

Vendor: What?

Student: Dried apricots?

Vendor says something in Italian that is unintelligible to my classmate, but he points to something orange.

Student: Are those dried apricots?

Vendor says something again and shakes his head no, even though they certainly look like dried apricots.

We progress to a second vendor.

Student: Do you have dried apricots?

Vendor looks confused.

Student: What are those orange things next to you? (Remember she can’t point)

The vendor says something in Italian.

Student: (to us) That sounded like the Italian word for apricots but I’m not sure. (to vendor) Are they dried?

Vendor: No.

At this point, I’m dying because I know they are dried apricots but I can’t say anything. Then we go to a vendor that has a sign that says “Frutta secca.” I know this means “dried fruit,” but again I’m not allowed to talk. I’m only taking notes.

On this third try, my classmate finally gets a guy who speaks enough English to understand what she means, and she buys one Euro worth. When we debriefed afterwards, we talked about the fact that it was really the word “dried” that was confusing the vendors. They knew the English world “apricot,” and my classmates had some familiarity with the Italian word for apricots from their previous visits to fruit markets in Italy, but no one could get the “dried” part across.

Other groups had to find things like peanut butter (not common in Italy) and ketchup. The ketchup group could only find banana ketchup, which I guess is a thing here.

Afterwards, we talked about how hard it can be to find what you’re looking for when you don’t have the right words and you may not have anything to point to. Also, other countries don’t have exactly the same thing you are looking for. You are used to certain foods. They may have something with a similar name, but it’s not exactly the same.

The second group of the day took us to the Jewish ghetto. This is where the Catholic Church for a few hundred years forced the Jews in Rome to live. It was the swampiest part of the city near the Tiber River. During World War II, it’s also where the Nazis rounded up the Jews, most of whom died in concentration camps. After the war, the remaining Jews were allowed to move out of the ghetto. However, only the wealthiest could do so. Interestingly, the neighborhood is now very trendy, and the poorer Jews who remained after WWII have actually seen their property values skyrocket.

Markers for the Jews who were taking from the ghetto and killed during WWII.

Markers for the Jews who were taking from the ghetto and killed during WWII.

The Jewish ghetto still has many Kosher shops. My Muslim classmate told me she had a taste for falafel, and that it’s debated as to whether it’s more of an Arabic or a Jewish food. (I had always thought of it as simply Middle Eastern, but what do I know? 🙂 ). Having never tried falafel, I decided to go with her to a restaurant that had falafel advertised on its signs. It turned out to be very tasty and was served with some excellent humus.

Just goes to show how international of a city Rome is. Last night I had Chinese, and today I had falafel!


Later in the afternoon, I made a gelato stop and did a little bit of shopping. After several trips to Rome without buying any clothing, I actually bought a dress today!

Back on campus, I worked on my final project, which is due on Friday, and had a light dinner. I can’t believe there are only two more days of school at Loyola. Then it’s on to studying Italian again!


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Studiare Day 10

Today my classmates and I started our group facilitations. Each group was assigned a book to read and then create a group field trip and activity to go with it.

My group read A Thousand Splendid Suns about women in education in Afghanistan. I hadn’t known prior to reading this book that during the Communist control of Afghanistan women were allowed education, but that right was taken away by the Taliban.

For our location, we choose the first Montessori school, which was started by Maria Montessori here in Rome in 1907. I didn’t know earlier that she was also one of the first woman doctors in Italy. Her story is really interesting,and if I weren’t so tired right now, I’d tell you more.


Another group presented today, and they led us through a fun activity at Termini, the main train station.

In the afternoon, some classmates and my professor enjoyed a nice pizza lunch. Then we had the obligatory gelato snack. If my Italian classmate Bonita is reading this, she’ll be happy to know I went to Il Gelatone, and my banana and chocolate gelato was delicious.


Later, we were taken on a private tour of the rooms were St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, lived and died here in Rome.

One of St. Ignatius's old rooms

One of St. Ignatius’s old rooms

We also visited two key Jesuit churches. See my Facebook page for a video.

In the evening, I went with some other students at the Rome center for a Chinese dinner. How funny to see Chinese dishes written in Italian! Wish I had taken a pic of the menu, but the food was delicious!


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