Throughout the month of January, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in Siena, Italy while taking lessons in Italian. I am now on my way down to Rome where I will spend the semester taking classes at the Angelicum (the Dominican University in Rome) and living at the Pontifical Irish College with a group of other American seminarians.
While in Siena, I stayed with a small community of Dominican Friars stationed at the Basilica of San Domenico on the edge of the city. San Domenico is famous not only because it is old and beautiful, but primarily because it houses the head of Saint Catherine of Siena (her body is in Rome at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) and was her home parish growing up in Siena. Her childhood home is just down the road and has now been converted into a chapel.
While in Siena, I had many great opportunities to immerse myself not only in the Italian language, but also in the life of the local church of Siena. I was able to be present at many of the parish gatherings of San Domenico, from meetings of the Dominican Third Order group (with dinner and wine, of course!), to the annual blessing of animals on the feast of St. Anthony (the large crypt of the Church was filled with dogs, cats, and other animals to be blessed), to serving Confirmation Mass for the Archbishop of Siena, and simply assisting with the liturgies of the parish here by serving at the altar and helping distribute Holy Communion. I came to find out that San Domenico is one of the most active and faithful parish communities here in Siena.
There was truly no better way to begin my study of the Italian language—as well as my semester stay in Italy—than by living with a religious community at a very active parish; I was able to put my daily Italian classes into practice through ministry at the parish, community life at the priory, and the day-to-day experiences of walking around the city of Siena, sight-seeing and eating lots of gelato.
As great as the experience was in Siena, there nevertheless was also the frustration of trying to learn and speak in a new language while being immersed in Italian culture. I quickly learned that, as is with most things in life—especially the spiritual life—the virtues of humility, patience, and perseverance are especially important. When learning a new language, it is important to realize that you aren’t going to be perfect at it, but you must nevertheless still work at it amidst the imperfection; I was constantly encouraged by my tutor and even the friars to just speak Italian, even if it was not perfect. For, it was only by attempting to communicate in the language that I would learn it. This requires a tremendous amount of humility (I was essentially speaking like a child, with broken sentences and faulty grammar), and I wasn’t quite ready for it at first. But, with lots of patience and perseverance, my grasp of the language has slowly gotten better. I am far from fluent, but through the help of my tutor and lots of practice, I can manage simple conversations now.
The process of learning a language is similar to the spiritual life. While we must strive for perfection, God knows that we are sinners, and is waiting for us with mercy when we fall; then, by His help, we must get back up and keep going. As long as we keep persevering patiently and with humility in trying to live a virtuous Christian life, following Christ and obeying the Church, then God is pleased. And, little by little, by the help of God’s grace, we’ll find that we will become more and more fluent in doing so!
Please keep myself and my brother seminarians in your prayers as we begin the semester here in Rome!
Sam Rosko is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a member of the class of 2020.