“JOAN’S ROME” GOES TO WISCONSIN

Yesterday in my column about my recent visit to Wisconsin I listed the various family activities that occupied my six days in Fox Point and Whitefish Bay near Milwaukee but failed completely to mention the delightful time I spent in Milwaukee with Discalced Carmelite Fr. Reggie Foster! I interviewed him for my EWTN weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider” and you’ll hear Part I of our conversation this coming weekend.

Fr. Reggie is a living legend! He worked for 40 years at the Vatican in the Secretariat of State office for Latin translations – from 1969 to 2009 – and for 30 plus years taught Latin at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome. A prodigious producer and translator of documents for popes, Father Reggie was known as the Papal Latinist. Now semi-retired, he lives in his native Milwaukee but still teaches Latin several days a week, and students come from around the world for his summer courses! He converses as easily in Latin as you and I do in our native tongue. This is an interview you won’t want to miss – more about that on Friday!

“JOAN’S ROME” GOES TO WISCONSIN

Each time I’ve gone to Wisconsin for a First Communion celebration of one of the four children of my niece Christie, I have visited their school, St. Monica’s, in Whitefish Bay. I’ve spent some time in classrooms, starting at the kindergarten level, speaking briefly to the students and answering their questions about Rome, the Vatican, the Holy Father, my work, etc.

Each time has been a joy and left me with indelible memories, but perhaps no visit more than this one because what happened in one classroom was so unexpected!

I arrived Milwaukee on Thursday, May 3, going directly to the school from the airport as it was the annual, and very popular, Sports Night, an evening when sports luminaries (including Gold medal Olympians) from Wisconsin spend several hours with St. Monica students and their families.

Christie had beautifully managed to keep my arrival a secret and it was enormous fun to see the faces of Brogan, Cole, Emory and especially Cece, the First Communicant, when they saw me standing in the hall with their Mom. The love, the hugs, the delighted cries of “Aunt Joan!” made any tiring moments of a long journey disappear into thin air!

Christie and I had also been communicating with Mike Bradford who teaches a Fourth Grade class about my addressing the students the day after my arrival. My nephew Emory is in that class and, as I was to learn, his passion for this column, “Joan’s Rome,” had spilled over into the classroom and the result was a fascinating assignment!

St. Monica’s fourth graders were to study “Joan’s Rome,” find a favorite column and do a PowerPoint presentation on that topic!

I mean, I’m talking fourth graders – ten-year olds! Such an amazing generation today!

Needless to say, Power Point did not exist when I was 10. In fact, I searched online and found this: Microsoft PowerPoint is a presentation program, created by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin at a software company named Forethought, Inc. It was released on April 20, 1987, initially for Macintosh computers only.

I briefly spoke to Emory’s class and then answered all sorts of questions about my work, the Pope and Vatican, and so on. The students were so interesting – and interested – that I think we could have gone overtime. I also left them with an assignment, and that will be another topic, another day!

One of the questions was: what is my favorite column? It was a hard question to answer as I’ve covered so many topics in the 12 years I’ve been writing this column. I mentioned only a few: covering the death and funeral of Pope John Paul, covering two conclaves and other historical moments for the Church, various trips I’ve taken for EWTN, etc.

I did mention that one of my favorites was the story I tell every year on Palm Sunday about the raising of the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square. That was Connor’s question and he did a PowerPoint on that story. Mike Bradford sent me three of the PowerPoint presentations and my niece Christie transformed them into individual pictures for this blog. My only regret was not having the time to see the beautiful work of each one of the students. Some of the print may be small, hopefully not too fine to read!

Olivia did a great presentation on Ash Wednesday:

And I can’t ignore Emory’s topic – the bet made between the archbishops of the two cities whose teams were in the World Series!

I was awestruck by the ability of the fourth graders to execute the PowerPoint presentations and struck in general by their questions, by their interest in my work, in the Vatican, etc. Several also told me that their grandparents had come from Italy and asked me if I knew the towns they named. The entire experience was so memorable for me and, I later learned from Emory, it was memorable for the class as well. I think, however, that I was the biggest beneficiary of that morning!

Here are some photos Christie took during my class visit:

After visiting the Fourth Grade, how could I not go to Cece’s Second Grade class – after all, they were about to celebrate a very big day in their personal and spiritual lives – their First Communion!

Michelle Kryszak, their teacher, asked me to speak briefly and then I answered questions from the class, questions that were similar in some ways to those of the fourth grade: what is Pope Francis like? How often do I get to see a Pope? How many Popes have I met? What is Vatican City like? What is it like to live in Italy? Do I speak Italian? I answered that question, of course, by speaking Italian!

By the way, the Friday I visited St. Monica’s, it was a ‘no uniform’ day – thus the casual dress.

I told Cece at home that night how much I enjoyed being in her class and answering questions. In her own words, she said: “I was delighted that my friends asked such good questions. It was fun having you visit us!” (Did I use the word “delighted” when I was 8?!)

PS. Tuesday after the First Communion Sunday, St. Monica’s held its annual May Crowning ceremony in the church. Afterwards, as I walked over to greet Mike Bradford, several of the fourth graders greeted me: “Hello, Miss Joan! How are you? Are you coming back to our class?”

My answer is, Yes, I surely want to someday!

And a second grader approached me, wearing her First Communion dress, to tell me her Dad was in Rome once and had received a beautiful rosary from Pope John Paul. Did I know John Paul? Yes, indeed, I replied, I was blessed to meet and speak to him many times.

And that is how I felt with all the St. Monica students whom I met – blessed!

When you have fine people, a strong faith and a wonderful family in your life, then you too are blessed!

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