WHITE: A Seminarian's Perspective - Why attend seminary in Rome?

October 22, 2019

It seems obvious why a seminarian would want to study theology in Rome, right? At least that is what I thought when I accepted the invitation to continue my seminary formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

The Pope himself is the Bishop of Rome, and there is such great history to be seen throughout the city. While these are two significant reasons for wanting to study here, there are also many more. However, after moving to Rome, I began to seriously consider why I would have been sent to study theology here, particularly.

The truth is that I could learn the same theology that I am learning here in Rome at other seminaries in the United States just as easily, and I am sure that I would be able to visit Rome at some point in the future.

Would it not be easier if I was learning theology in my native language and in the very Archdiocese that I will be serving as a priest, God-willing?

Nevertheless, I had once heard that Pope Pius IX said, “Rome is herself the mentor and the finest teacher of future priests.”

Therefore, there is something Rome uniquely has to offer for a seminarian, and I have found that what it provides is best revealed in the story of St. Peter’s martyrdom.

During St. Peter’s ministry in Rome, the Catholic Church experienced great persecution and resistance from the Roman Empire.

Over time, Peter realized that if he remained in Rome any longer, he would be killed by the Roman Emperor, so he decided to leave the city in order to escape his impending death. However, as he was leaving, he saw Jesus walking towards him, heading back towards Rome!

It was then that St. Peter said these famous words, “Quo vadis, Domine?” (Lord, where are you going?). Jesus responded, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”

Peter understood this to mean that Jesus was calling him, the vicar of Christ on Earth, to return to Rome to be crucified for his faith in Christ. Peter then decided to turn back and return to the city, where he was imprisoned and crucified because of his belief in Jesus Christ.

I believe that this story, in a certain way, should reflect the story of each seminarian who comes to study in Rome, as each priest is called to be a martyr for his faith in Jesus Christ and for His Church.

Rome teaches her seminarians, and particularly me, how we can be martyrs through the example and intercession of the many martyrs here in the city. Living and studying in Rome gives each seminarian and I the opportunity to visit the graves and relics of many of the early Christian martyrs, most especially the relics of St. Peter himself.

The blood of the Roman Martyrs has sanctified this city in such a way that it has the ability to sanctify those who walk through its streets. The prayers and witness of these martyrs has formed me and prepared me, in a special way, to be a martyr for the Church of Jesus Christ.

At my Diaconate Ordination next year, God-willing, standing inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, so close to the bones of St. Peter himself, I will ask Jesus, “Quod vadis domine?” to which He will respond, “I am going to Galveston-Houston to be crucified again.”

I will follow Him as St. Peter did, by laying prostrate on the floor at my ordination as a symbol of my own death to self. I will live out my own martyrdom by dedicating my whole life to serve Christ and His people in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

I believe, then, that the reason I attend seminary in Rome is so that the Roman Martyrs can form me to be a martyr myself, by the way I give of myself to the people of Galveston-Houston when I become a priest.

Joseph White is a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College. His home parish is St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Lake Jackson.