Rome has always been the very heart of the Church – the center of Christendom – and so many of the Catholic faithful visit the Eternal City during their lives in order to feel the universality of the Church and to walk in the footsteps of so many great saints who have gone before us.
Alumnus Joseph Long ’12 was one of those who spent time in Rome, soaking in the beauty of the architecture, imbibing in the wonderful food and drink of the region, and exploring all of the many churches and landscapes in the area. He did all of this as a junior at Christendom College, when he participated in the semester abroad experience in Rome.
Six years later, Long finds himself crossing the Atlantic dozens of times a year, leading tours and summer programs to Italy and beyond – and Christendom College had everything to do with it.
In 2008, Long arrived at Christendom College ready to soak it all up – philosophy, history, rugby, swing dancing, hiking, the Shenandoah, music by firelight, and so much more. But what he did not realize was that his experience in Rome would have the biggest effect on him. When first thinking about colleges to attend, whether they had a semester in Rome program or not did not play a major part in the decision program. But after taking part in the semester-long adventure, he found that this experience was the best part of his four years at Christendom, and totally transformed his worldview.
“Prior to the Christendom semester in Rome in 2010, I had already been to Rome a number of times,” says Long. “My mother – an art historian and lover of all things Italian – had introduced me and my two brothers to the Eternal City five times. Then, in 2009 and 2010 I was lucky enough to work in Switzerland during the summers. Whenever I had a weekend off you could find me on the first south-bound Frecciarossa out of Milan. Suffice it to say, Rome occupied the greater part of my imagination by the time my junior year at Christendom came around. It was the Christendom Rome program however, that introduced me to the eternal truth and beauty of La Citta` Eterna.”
According to Long, the difference between his prior experiences in Rome and then with the college was the fact that during his semester in Rome with Christendom he really explored the Eternal City, not simply as tourists, but as near-locals.
“I have siblings and friends who have attended every other collegiate Rome program out there: the University of Dallas, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, you name it,” relates Long. “Without a doubt Christendom’s program is the most engaging, by far. As a student I practically lived in the churches, forums, and piazzas of the Eternal City. The saints and martyrs of Roma became my friends. I cannot explain it otherwise. It was a real experience in Catholic faith, history, and culture. I teared up as our jet departed Fiumicino (Airport). I had to go back. I was in love with Rome.”
After graduating in 2012, Long chased his dream and went back to Europe. Armed with his new Italian passport, he set off for Rome with a goal of becoming fluent in Italian, completing an MA in Church History, and starting a business. His business idea was to share his love of Rome with others. More accurately, he says it was his love for the Catholic Church that he truly wanted to share. Tourism seemed the natural solution, so he began building his business.
“In 2014, I launched ProRome, LLC, a full-service tour operator,” says Long. “The next year, I began leading tours and pilgrimages to Europe. From Christendom College to the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, I was taught that the Truth exists and that our lives should be dedicated to the pursuit of it. The idea of the medieval man trudging thousands of miles to Rome or Jerusalem inspired me. Suffice it to say, I decided to start a travel company in order to bring people to the wellsprings of Catholic culture. ProRome facilitates the opportunity for Catholics to grow in their Faith in the form of high school summer programs, school trips, and parish pilgrimages.”
One of the highlights of Long’s venture is his summer programs for teens. He has tried to encapsulate what he experienced during Christendom’s semester long stay in Rome into the course of two weeks during the summer. He offers one for high school aged boys and one for girls.
“Our summer programs are my pride and joy. It’s a challenge, but well worth it. Christendom gave me a lot, and I hope to pass it along in my own little way,” he says. “The standout features of the summer programs are daily Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, a comprehensive itinerary of tours and excursions throughout Rome – we don’t leave a stone unturned – sports and other extracurricular activities such as swimming in the Mediterranean and hiking in the Apennines. The students also enjoy Italian language and cooking classes, lots of fine Italian meals and day trips to Florence, Assisi and Siena. These programs are jam-packed with the greatest things that Italy has to offer.”
According to past participant Isabella Bernardel, from Kansas, “Everything I saw and learned, and the friends I met, made it so amazing and gave me immense joy. History and the Faith just came alive, while I gained a love of art and Italian culture. It opened up a world of ideas and possibilities to me. I learned so much about the beauty contained in the Western world, and the wealth of knowledge and art passed down to us through the ages.”
Andrew Lyons, from South Carolina, thoroughly enjoyed the program for young men.
“Over the course of the program, I learned Roman history from the fall of Troy in 1200 B.C. to the present day. I saw the foundations of the house of Romulus, the tombs of Peter and Paul, and innumerable churches. I learned to distinguish between the architectural styles of the different periods of European history and even between different Roman architects like Bernini and Carlo Maderno. Most importantly, I grew closer to Our Lord by coming face to face with the blood of the martyrs, the seed of the Church. This experience was even better than I had hoped, and every young Catholic man would benefit from an opportunity like this.”
In 2019, ProRome will offer two programs, Catholica Summer Program for boys and Bella Vita Summer Program for girls. To learn more about these exciting opportunities, and to get a deeper insight into what Christendom offers during its junior semester in Rome, go to: www.prorome.com.