It was announced this morning in Maryland that the Bethlehem University Foundation has a new Executive Director, John Schlageter. I am delighted for many reasons, the first being that he is a good friend, the second that we share a great love for Bethlehem University and the third that we are both members of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher which means our hearts, prayers and many good works by the Order, are in the Holy Land year around.

John, a lawyer, is a friend to countless people in the U.S, Rome and around the world, especially all whom he came across in his nine years of work as General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, thus legal assistant to Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Military Ordinariate, a position he lived with great passion.

John Schlageter

Sister Irene O’Neill, CSJ, chair of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem University Foundation, made the announcement this morning of the unanimous choice, saying, “I am thrilled to announce the appointment of John L. Schlageter as Bethlehem University Foundation’s new Executive Director.  Bethlehem University is a jewel held in the heart of the Holy Land. Peace and excellence are ubiquitous there.  Our Foundation Board members reached for the stars to get the best person to help spread the message and we got him!  Don’t miss any opportunity to meet John.”

I’ve been in touch with John, of course, and asked for his reaction:

We spoke on the phone and in an email exchange. John said, “Joan, as a friend of Bethlehem University, you know what a tremendous difference BU makes in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. Bethlehem University offers one of the few remaining hopes for a future built on peace and respect.  When Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor of the University, addressed Pope Francis in November of 2015, he called the University ‘an oasis of peace’.  As the new Executive Director of the Bethlehem University Foundation, I look forward to sharing the story of peace, hope, love, and Christian witness that is Bethlehem University with Catholics and people of good will across the United States.

John also reminded me that, “As members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, we know the many challenges that our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East face each and every day.  Bethlehem University offers an opportunity for maintaining and supporting the Christian communities that have lived in the Holy Land since the time of Christ.  Bethlehem University is the only Catholic University in the Holy Land.  As we enter Holy Week, we must all remember that our faith started in a manger, under a star, in a little town called Bethlehem.”

Heartfelt congratulations to John and to all of us, especially Bethlehem University, as we will all benefit from his experience and leadership!

I think my readers know of my great love for the Holy Land, a place I’d visit at least once a month if that were possible. I’ve been to Bethlehem University on several occasions, the last being the night before Pope Francis said Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square during his May 2014 three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The University is run by the Christian Brothers, and I was delighted to join them for dinner the night before the papal Mass and to stay the night in a guest apartment. The morning of the papal visit, one of the Fathers walked me to the edge of Manger Square where my media credentials were my entrance to the papal venue.

Tours to the Holy Land rarely bring pilgrims to Bethlehem University and that is a shame in many ways, although I fully realize that classes and campus life would be continually interrupted.

Here is a link to BU:

A link to the Bethlehem University Foundation:

Here are a few photos I took on my first visit to BU


It’s the first day of spring and most of us are happy – although New Yorkers and others on the East Coast might be less so because of snowfall! Flowering trees are sprouting their beautiful pink and white buds here and winter coats are generally giving way to spring jackets (except for early morning and late night). The crowds in Rome for Holy Week are immense and, as a result, everything takes longer – longer lines to get in churches, museums, etc., longer waits in coffee bars and restaurants, more time in traffic as hundreds of tourists busses crowd the major thoroughfares. But that’s all OK. It is that time of year: We know it and await it and now it is here. As the Italians say, pazienza – patience!

And I am using the first day of spring to toot a horn, my own – as you will read!

Stay tuned for another post – breaking news about a friend of mine!


(Vatican Radio) So, you’ve packed your bags and you’ve booked your flight and hotel: you are coming to Rome on pilgrimage for the Jubilee Year of Mercy!  If you haven’t done so yet, you might want to consider bringing along a companion who knows Rome and the Vatican like the back of her hand: Joan Lewis.

A 3 decade-long Rome resident and veteran Vatican watcher, she’s the Joan in ‘Joan Knows,’ Vatican Radio’s weekly program looking at the Pope’s activities and Vatican events.  Joan is also the Rome bureau chief for  EWTN, the prominent, U.S.-based Catholic Radio and Television.

Her new book, “A Holy Year in Rome: the Complete Pilgrim’s Guide for the Jubilee of Mercy” (Sophia Institute Press) promises a lot, and it delivers.

Click here for the rest of the story!



FRANCIS EXPRESSES SADNESS AT STUDENT DEATHS IN SPAIN.  Pope Francis has expressed his sadness for the tragic deaths of 13 international university students in a bus accident in northeastern Spain this past weekend and has assured the families of his “heartfelt” prayers. All of the victims were young women students on the Erasmus university exchange program.  They included seven from Italy, two Germans, an Austrian, a French woman, a Romanian and an Uzbekistani and ranged between 19 and 25 years old. The bus carrying 57 university students crashed Sunday near Freginals, halfway between the eastern coastal cities of Barcelona and Valencia. They were returning from a firework festival in Valencia. In a telegram to Bishop Benavent Enrique Vidal of Tortosa on behalf of the Holy Father, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Pope hopes that the injured will recover swiftly. Pope Francis, the message reads, wishes to express his closeness to the families who have suffered “irreparable loss” and invokes the Lord’s blessing for their spiritual serenity and Christian hope in this time of grief. (photo


PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF ATTACK IN ISTANBUL. Pope Francis has expressed his “prayerful solidarity” with victims of Saturday’s bomb attack in Istanbul. In a telegram addressed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said Pope Francis “[grieved] to learn of the casualties caused by the bombing in Istanbul yesterday morning, and he expresses his prayerful solidarity with all touched by this tragedy.  His Holiness asks you to convey his spiritual closeness to them, as well as to the personnel assisting the injured.  Commending the souls of those who have died to the mercy of the Almighty, Pope Francis invokes divine strength and peace upon those who mourn, and upon the entire nation.”