Rome, Italy — Some 130 members of the University of St. Thomas community, including students and faculty, trustees and benefactors, and friends from the United States and Italy attended the dedication of the university’s new campus in Rome on Oct. 6.
Presiding over ceremonies in the new campus’ chapel was Cardinal Pio Laghi, who until last year was prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education; the Most Rev. Harry Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis; the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas since 1991; and Monsignor Terrence Murphy, chancellor and former president of the university.
Laghi pointed out that Pope John Paul II himself had spent his first days in Rome as a student in 1946:
"Our hope and prayer today is that this new campus … will provide the same opportunities for its students as those experienced by the Holy Father so many years ago.
"Rome itself is a wonderful professor. It teaches about the history of our faith and culture. It nourishes the soul as the See of Peter and the city of Saints Peter and Paul. It challenges the intellect with opportunities for learning, among which the University of St. Thomas now takes its place," Laghi said.
Special guests at the dedication included the first 10 students to reside at the new campus and two others studying in Rome: Nicole Bettini, Beth Bergaas, John Gallas, Emily Jovanovich, Catherine Maas, Amy Morrison, Jason Pagsisihan, Ben Sember, Jona Serie, Jordan Watts, Matthew Willkom and Nicholas Zinos. Most are participants in UST’s Catholic Studies Rome Program.
The new campus is now named "The Bernardi Campus of the University of St. Thomas in Rome" to honor the family of an Italian immigrant whose gift enabled the university to establish the campus. Real estate entrepreneur Antonio Bernardi was born in Treviso, Italy, in 1921, and immigrated to the United States in 1962. He and his wife, Maria Cecilia, live in Edina, Minn.
The university purchased the 20,000-square-foot, residential estate on the banks of the Tiber River in November 1999.
Throughout the winter and spring, more than $1 million in renovations converted the early 20th-century residence into a home base for students and faculty in the Catholic Studies Rome Program and other academic programs in Italy.
Rome campus director Marlene Levine and her family have lived in Rome since the summer, directing the renovations, planning for students and guests and adapting to Italian customs, language and culture.
"There are so many advantages for students living here, in the Prati neighborhood on the perimeter of the center of the city," Levine said. "A walk to the Vatican takes 20 minutes. The world-famous Borghese Gallery and gardens are 10 minutes away. We’re near the Olympic Stadium, too."
Young Italian architects Cinzia Abbate and Carlo Vigevano preserved the residence’s uniquely Italian sensibility; its 20-foot ceilings with carved moldings, shuttered windows, granite and marble floors, and wrought-iron fence and gates remain intact, as does its charming, 50-seat chapel.
The chapel walls were repainted in their original color, but the architects hid major improvements: upgraded electrical service and an air-conditioning system. New liturgical furnishings also were purchased.
Now called the Luisa e Dante Seghieri Cappella (the Luisa and Dante Seghieri Chapel), the chapel’s new name honors the parents of Joanne Reiling, who is married to university trustee William Reiling. The Reilings and their family made possible the chapel’s preservation and renovation.
Electrical upgrades and the installation of voice and data transmission cable at the residence made possible exterior security cameras and a card-entry system; a new telephone and intercom system; and Internet access in the building’s new lower-level computer lab.
Also housed in the residence’s lower level are a new kitchen and an airy, colorful dining room for students and staff. The dining room also functions as a kind of art gallery, featuring two original diptychs by Milan artist Carmengloria Morales.
Morales’ work also is displayed with works by other artists on the residence’s main level, which features an impressive but welcoming foyer, a large meeting room, the campus office, a formal lounge and the director’s office in addition to the chapel.
The first and second floors, where students reside, feature new beds, desks and chairs, bookshelves and custom cabinetry, and phones with voice mail. Two additional large rooms on first and second floors and guest apartments on third and fourth floors are designed to house special guests. A third-floor apartment provides living space for Rome campus director and her family.
Gardens surround the estate and cap it, too: A rooftop garden overlooks the city and provides a 360-degree view of the Rome skyline, from the mountains to the northeast to St. Peter’s Basilica the southwest, and the ground-level garden is in full bloom, with lemons and limes nearly ready for harvest.