Sharing the Experience of the Congregation
David Schultenover, S.J.
January 6, 2008

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Dave Schultenover, S.J. is a delegate to the Congregation from the Wisconsin Province, in the US Assistancy.

He is a Consultor to the Provincial of the Wisconsin Province and a professor of historical theology at Marquette University.

He is the editor in chief of THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, A Jesuit Sponsored Journal of Theology.


Rome, January 2, 2008, arrived not too badly for the crowded, cramped plane and 8 hr-20 min. flight. Tom Krettek, my provincial and traveling companion, and I waited with wearing patience for nearly an hour for our luggage—ever watched a conveyor belt for an hour, wondering how any one baggage handler, let alone several, could possibly be so slow? Several days earlier, I had reserved by Internet two places on the relatively new Airport Shuttle service from Rome Fiumicino, whose agent meets you outside baggage claim, carrying a sign with your name on it. Well, finally, the agent came inside the baggage claim to find us—something supposedly strictly forbidden, but in Italy rules are taken as suggestions, depending upon need, which is often a more humane way of regarding rules than our too literal way. At length our bags arrived—we were grateful they arrived!—we piled them on a cart, and made our way to the Airport Shuttle’s van. I noticed it had a sizeable dent along the right side, which did not make me feel secure in my right front seat. But I was told to take that seat because, as I quickly figured out, I would be the driver’s first drop (there were six passengers). At one point, as we almost literally flew along the expressway toward central Rome, I sensed the reason for the dent, as our driver (while on his cell phone) accelerated in the outside lane to beat a small sedan that was edging over (without signaling) into our lane. If I were to die in Rome, I’d rather it be nobly than ignominiously, so I shouted, Attenzione! (my Italian is coming back fast!). The driver leaned on the horn and floored the van, barely clearing the encroaching sedan. He then laughed and shrugged as if to say, that’s the way it’s done in Rome. We left the expressway and merged into the Via Aurelia, which follows the route of the ancient Roman road constructed around 240 BC and bearing that name. As we did so, I began to understand the driver’s method in his madness: he was taking us into La Città by the best route to give visitors the best possible glimpse of Rome—from a height overlooking St. Peter’s and Rome’s inner city across the Tiber (I myself years earlier had driven along this route several times). And a glorious view it is!. It also meant that the driver would indeed drop me first (I heroically resisted the urge to protest)

Having been dropped at the front door of the Jesuit curia (headquarters), in the shadow of the Vatican, I entered with my two bags and a carry-on, I introduced myself to the porter (the person in charge of the door). I would be staying at the Canisio (named after Jesuit St. Peter Canisius, a doctor of the church), formerly known as the House of Writers or the Historical Institute. I had stayed there on two other occasions when I was doing research in the Jesuit archives. The porter telephoned Father Minister of the Canisio, and I could tell from the one-sided conversation that something was amiss. The porter told me to wait a little while. Well, after a little while, I asked the porter if Father Minister was intending to come and get me. He said, “Oh no. You can go right up to the Canisio. Do you know the way?” “Si,” I replied (by now my Italian was positively fluent). So I grabbed my two rather large bags, both wheeled, with my carry-on riding astride one of them (I was toting half of my office), and pulled them up a rutted ramp running about a half a block along the exterior wall of the curia to the main entrance of the Canisio. As I entered my new home, I saw laborers and cleaners working vigorously (nothing moves in Rome until it moves; but when it moves, it moves!); obviously the workers were trying to get the place ready for the opening of General Congregation 35 on January 7. Not to have everything ready as promised by contract would be a brutta figura, a cultural faux pas. As I neared my room, I could see more activity—two women cleaning, two young men scurrying about with pieces of furniture, and Father Minister, a wonderfully generous man from Peru, making my bed. I told him that I could do that. He replied, “No, no! You are our guest.” He asked me to wait a bit for the women to finish cleaning, and explained that, in fact, he had forgotten that I was arriving that day (thus the other side of the one-sided telephone conversation became clear)—most participants in the congregation would be arriving January 4–6. He told me that they had been very busy in recent days. Just the day before (January 1) they had dedicated the house’s renovated chapel, and he had had to attend to so many arrangements for that and the feast day.

A little background: The Canisio was the summer home of the Barberini family, wealthy and powerful in both state and church during the 17th century. As you can imagine, after a few centuries, the building was in need of renovation. When it became clear, a few years ago, that the Jesuits would soon be calling a general congregation, superiors took that as an opportunity to try to renovate the building—not an easy thing to do with such historically significant edifices; certain Vatican and state permissions have to be obtained, and, as I said earlier: nothing moves in Rome until. . . . What had been envisioned as a one-year project turned into a two-year project (and counting). The essentials seem to be in place. More painting and exterior landscaping needs doing. And lots of little things need to be procured—like lamps for desks and bedside tables. I’m not sure that Father Minister totally appreciated my pointing out that lamps would be really helpful, but he did quickly move to order lamps for every room. Meanwhile, he scared up a desk lamp for me; the others will arrive next week, Monday, we hope.

Soon, the ladies finished their work, and I was left alone in the quiet of my room to unpack and get cleaned up. One of the principal features of the renovation is that every room has its own bath. Thank you, Jesus! This I had not expected—one of the unmixed blessings of bumping into the modern world. Jesuits are meant to be simple in life-style, but not ascetics. My goldenrod-painted room, with its soaring 12-foot ceilings, looks out onto the ruins of the villa of Agrippina, [see photos] the scheming mother of Nero who put her to death. (Recall the wonderful BBC series I, Claudius.)

Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome, said the early years of the Roman Empire after the death of Augustus witnessed an "extraordinary" succession of emperors - Tiberius (AD14-AD37), followed by Caligula (AD37-AD41), Claudius (AD41-AD54) and Nero (AD54-AD68). Agrippina, granddaughter of Augustus, was the mother of Caligula and wife of the popular soldier-hero Germanicus, whom she believed should have succeeded Augustus, but who was poisoned. Tiberius eventually exiled Agrippina to the island of Pandateria (modern Ventotene) near Naples, where she died of starvation. The villa would have passed to her notorious daughter, also named Agrippina, who successfully schemed to put her son Nero in power, only to be murdered by him later. "I think that what we are looking at here is a rustically decorated garden pavilion dating to the 1st century," Professor Wallace-Hadrill said. "The imperial ladies of Rome loved their gardens, which they used for sexual intrigue as well as political conspiracies." []

It is said that Nero watched Rome burn from his mother’s villa. If I walk out into the ruins of the villa and follow the ancient garden west as far as it goes (perhaps a half-block) I come to a promontory spectacularly overlooking Michaelangelo’s St. Peter’s Basilica with its magnificent Bernini colonnade embracing the faithful “in the motherly arms of the church” and the papal apartments rising to the right. In the center of the piazza is the 25.5-meter tall, 13th-century BC Egyptian obelisk, purloined by Nero to stand in his nearby “circus” (arena) where Christians were martyred in 65 and where, probably, Peter too was martyred in 67. The obelisk was moved to its present location in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V. There is strong archeological evidence to suggest that the original basilica, constructed in the 3rd century, was so situated that its altar rested directly above Peter’s tomb. The new St. Peter’s, constructed between 1505 and 1626, maintained the same configuration.

If I walk to the north end of the corridor outside my room, I come to a window that frames the massive Castel Sant’Angelo, constructed originally as Hadrian’s mausoleum, but converted in the 6th century into a papal fortress, linked to the Vatican palaces by a long, fortified passageway. Several popes, in times of threat, have felt the need to scurry through the passageway to safety in the Castel. At times, the Castel was used as an ecclesiastical prison—for example, when the Jesuits were suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, Father General Lorenzo Ricci was arrested and put in solitary confinement in the Castel. He died there two years later.

Today is the feast of the Epiphany. Tomorrow the congregation opens with the Mass of the Holy Spirit, led by our current general, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, and concelebrated by the 243 members of the congregation and joined by a multitude of other Jesuits and friends from the region. The Mass will be held at the grand baroque Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, first conceived by our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, begun in 1568, and consecrated in 1584 (

My sense of the living past is overwhelming. One cannot take it all in. One simply has to prayerfully contemplate it.

David G. Schultenover, S.J.

Feast of the Epiphany
January 6, 2008


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