November 2, 2007

Reflection / Dan Conway

American priests in Rome live together in service to the universal Church

Most American Catholics would be surprised to learn that more than two dozen priests from dioceses throughout the United States live in Rome and work at the Vatican as officials of the Roman Curia.

These priests live a life in common, sharing meals and praying together whenever possible in a setting that provides mutual support and encouragement as they carry out their work for the Holy Father far away from their home dioceses, families and friends.

To support this special ministry, which priests from the U.S. perform on behalf of their local bishops in solidarity with the bishop of Rome, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides a residence not far from the Vatican called the Villa Stritch, named in honor of the late Cardinal Samuel A. Stritch of Chicago, who died in Rome in the late 1950s.

Villa Stritch is two adjacent apartment buildings purchased by the bishops’ conference in the late 1960s and adapted for American priests working in Rome.

The accommodations are reminiscent of living quarters in most parish rectories, and the peace and quiet of the local neighborhood, the presence of a chapel, and common facilities for meals and occasional social gatherings makes it a home away from home for the diverse group of American priests who live there.

Pope Paul VI dedicated the Villa Stritch on June 29, 1968. He described the purpose of the facility as “the service of hospitality,” offering comfort and community life to “Catholic clergy from America” whose virtues, the Holy Father said, are “simplicity, brotherliness and piety.”

The pope went on to note that the presence of the Villa Stritch in the eternal city “creates a new bond, sympathetic and worthy of praise, between the Church in the United States and the Church of Rome.”

Currently, the 25 American priests who live together there work in 19 different offices, ranging from the Secretariat of State to various congregations, tribunals, pontifical councils and other ministries of the Holy See.

Residents of the Stritch come from 16 dioceses representing diverse regions of the United States—from east to west (New York to Los Angeles) and from north to south (Sioux Falls, S.D., to New Orleans).

Their ministry to the universal Church contributes to the internationalization of the Roman Curia, a major objective of the Second Vatican Council, and it helps to ensure that the Church in the United States is not turned in on itself, but reaches out to meet the needs of the global community served by the Catholic Church, especially through the ministries of the Holy See.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his reflections on the nature of the Church, has often made the point that the bishop of each Catholic diocese has a responsibility not only to the people of his local Church, but also to the college of bishops and to the universal Church.

This extra-diocesan perspective is important, the pope believes, because it helps to prevent individual dioceses from becoming “self-enclosed.” Instead, it opens each individual diocesan community to the needs and responsibilities of the whole Church.

The participation of American priests in the work of the Holy See is one way that the bishops of the United States fulfill their obligation to reach beyond the pressing needs and challenges of their respective dioceses to serve the broader Church.

On Oct. 17, the day that Pope Benedict announced the selection of 23 new members of the College of Cardinals, there was a special reason to celebrate at the Villa Stritch.

Archbishop John Patrick Foley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a longtime resident of the Stritch, was one of two Americans identified by the Holy Father as a cardinal designate. Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, a former director of the Villa Stritch, was also named a cardinal.

Cardinal-designate Foley accepted the congratulations of his brother priests at the Villa Stritch with his customary Irish wit.

“I was standing in the crowd in St. Peter’s Square when the Holy Father made the announcement,” he said.

An American tourist standing next to Archbishop Foley asked if he knew any of the new cardinals. “I know several of them,” he replied. “And I am one of them!”

Simplicity, brotherliness and piety are the virtues that Pope Paul VI attributed to the American priests who work in the Vatican and live at the Villa Stritch.

As Paul VI said nearly 40 years ago, the Villa Stritch “offers an occasion for the Roman clergy, for the Roman Curia and for Catholics, who reside here or who pass through this city, to know better and appreciate more the spirit, the life and the work of American Catholicism.”

As the residents toasted their new cardinal designate, they also looked forward to next year’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“Ad multos annos,” they exclaimed—to the Stritch and to the tradition of ecclesial service it represents!

(Dan Conway is president of RSI Catholic Services Group.) †

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