My name is Matthew Fontan. I’m a senior from Los Angeles, CA. I am majoring in History and minoring in Religious Studies and Theology. I am really excited to undertake this Jan Term trip with the hope of exploring the origins of the Christian religion, and the foundational principles that make up my faith. This would be my first time exploring another country other than the U.S.

My own personal epiphany and what I learned from this pilgrimage is that a “sacrament” isn’t limited to material form. A sacrament can take the form of a relationship, a friendship and a community. It was a blessing to be able to grow communally on a spiritual level with my classmates. 3/1/2011

My name is Bella Campbell and I am from Mount Shasta. I’m a junior at Saint Mary’s majoring in Kinesiology with a minor in Math. While in Rome I hope to experience the traditions of the city, the beautiful art, and the devotion to the Church.

I always thought it would be remarkable to see the pope, but not on TV or on the Internet, but in real life. Did I ever think it would happen? Absolutely not! If it were not for the Saint Mary’s Jan Term and the Ford Family Foundation, I would never have had the opportunity to travel outside the United States. On our trip, we saw the pope twice! It was breathtaking! 3/1/2010

My name is Camille Guido and I am originally from Alhambra, California. I am a senior at St. Mary’s College of California with a major in Liberal and Civic Studies and a minor in Psychology. During my pilgrimage in Rome I hope to grow in my faith and learn more about the history of the Catholic Church.

On our day trip to Subiaco, a small town 38 miles outside of Rome, I learned that Saint Benedict lived the epitome of the monastic life. There at the Monastary of  Sacro Speco I was awe-struck with the frescos that covered every inch of the ceiling. It was breathtaking! 3/1/2010 

My name is Hector Rodriguez and I am from Hercules, California. I am a senior here at Saint Mary’s College and am majoring in kinesiology: health and human performance major (HHP). From our pilgrimage to Rome, I am expecting to gain a deeper appreciation of the catholic faith as well as unforgettable memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.

As I looked out at Saint Peter’s Basilica and the columns that stretch out as arms reaching out to the world, I was blown away by the immensity of the building, the details, and the art work that went into its unique design. It was a magical and almost surreal experience. I would never have thought in a million years, that I would be able to experience such a sight. And for this alone, I’m extremely thankful. 3/1/2011

I am Brianna Ortiz. I am from San Diego, CA and is currently a sophomore studying for my Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Ethnic Studies. I hope by going on this pilgrimage, I will become closer in my faith by getting a deeper understanding of where Catholicism started and the culture it has created.

As a Catholic, while I would attend Mass and go through the motions, I was not wholly involved. This pilgrimage has allowed me to reconnect with my faith and spirituality. This Jan Term class allowed me to be a better Catholic and helped me find who I am and who God wants me to become. 3/1/2011

My name is Camila Castaneda. I’m from Berkeley CA., and a senior at SMC, soon to be the first in my family to graduate from college! My parents are a huge influence in my life, I am so happy that I was blessed with such hard working and humble parents. I choose to go on this trip to visit bella Italia and learn about my faith.

What tied me to Rome was my religion, my faith and belief. Here I grew mentally, and spiritually — I had the chance of a lifetime to see my faith before me. While it’s one thing to read about such a place, by actually experiencing the “Eternal City,” one deepens faith, and understands more closely what it means to be a Catholic woman of faith. 3/1/2011

My name is Paula Gutierrez and I am a junior here at Saint Mary’s. I grew up here in the Bay Area, and my reason for going on trip is because I have always been interested in learning about the early Catholic Church and want to grow in faith.

From this pilgrimage of ours, I now understand the importance of prayer, the parts of the Mass, and the centrality of the Eucharist — how they are all intertwined and deeply rooted in our religious practice and centuries of tradition. Thoughout this journey, I have connected with my Christian roots and found the joy in Catholicism — something I have been searching for. I am a stranger to my religion no longer. 3/1/2011

My name is Kristy Abel. I am a sophomore at St. Mary’s College. I am in the nursing program. I am going on this trip to see things I have never seen and do things I have never done as well as further my spirituality and knowledge of the Catholic faith.

I’m overjoyed that I got the chance to learn about John Baptist DeLaSalle and how the Motherhouse in Rome contributes to the Christian Brother institutions world-wide. Here, they unify all the efforts of  Christian Brothers, lay women and men, faculty and staff, and students. 3/1/2011

My name is Claire Agnes Freeman and I am a junior from Saint Mary’s College of California. I am from Bakersfield, CA. I am an Accounting major and a Psychology minor. I have been going to a private Catholic school all of my life and I feel like this pilgrimage is going to give me the chance to actually witness all that I learned throughout my schooling years.

Since returning from Rome, I have continued deepening my faith by going to Mass more often. I am able to commit myself to community service and by helping others, the very ways of living as a LaSallian. 3/1/2011

My name is Jenae Gaskin and I am currently a sophomore at Saint Mary’s College of Ca. Originally from San Diego, CA, I came to Moraga to further my education. Currently I am pursuing a degree in Business Administration with an international concentration as well a minor in theology and religious studies.  With this course, I hope to strengthen my faith through Christ with a newfound respect for Catholicism by following the footsteps of early Christians.

One idea this trip gave to me was the appreciation, the joy and the excitement of going to Mass — something I had lost. Being one of those fortunate enough to experience Mass in some of the world’s most sacred places is something I will treasure forever. 3/1/2011

My name is Christopher Alex Louie, I am from San Francisco, CA, and I am a current Junior majoring in Biology. Traveling to Rome will be the furthest I have traveled and look forward to experiencing and being immersed in the new culture in January. My main reasons for wanting to partake in this pilgrimage to Rome are to get away from the science courses and reconnect with my faith while learning more about its history and origins.

Inspiring, amazing and enriching are words short of what this experience has been. Visiting Peter Stemp’s Solidarity in Sudan, Carlo Betti of the Sant’Eglio Community, and Monsignor Tony Fontiero of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice — all of whom work in the service of the poor.  So we were presented with committed people who live the word of God. 3/1/2011

My name is Matthew Soares, and I am from Pacific Grove, CA. Currently, I am a junior majoring in economics with an accounting minor. I am looking forward to the pilgrimage because I have never traveled to Europe, and I have always wanted to see the foundations of the Church.

The Motherhouse of the Christian Brothers is truly unique. I am very grateful to Brother Alberto’s tour of the administration building because it gave me a whole new perspective of the greater LaSallian community. While at school in Moraga, it’s very easy to live within a small bubble and be blind to the work and mission of St. John Baptist de La Salle with over 900,000 students and close to 90,000 teachers in LaSallian institutions around the world.  Brother Alberto showed us the large conference room where Christian Brothers and their associates meet to discuss and vote on important issues pertaining to the mission and ministry of the De La Salle community.  3/1/2011

My name is Santiago Orona.  I am from nearby Antioch, California. I am currently a junior at SMC with a double major in Anthropology and Accounting. I thoroughly enjoy music of all genres in both English and Spanish. I am going on this pilgrimage to garner a better understanding of my faith. I expect to learn and have a great experience.

I cannot put in words what this trip meant to me. I will remember the gelato, four course meals, the “Shiny Jacket’s,” and those early 5AM bus rides. Most important, I will remember the friendship and camaraderie of our group. We became a family and shared an unforgetable experience. There is one-word tht comes to mind that perfectly describes this experience…LOVE. John Lennon said it best: “Love is all you need!” 3/1/2011

My name is Joseph Ramirez and I am from Los Angeles. I am a chemistry major here at Saint Mary’s. I decided to take this class and go in this pilgrimage primarily to further my experience as a Catholic to a foreign place where the early teachings of Catholicism started.

Our group clicked automatically and we built relationships that will last a lifetime! We would not have bonded so tightly without Prof. David Gentry-Akin and Father Mike Russo, who through their love and compassion, showed us how Rome and the Catholic Church can be all so wonderful and shining. Frankly, the whole trip would not have had as great an impact if Father Sal Ragusa had not come. He celebrated Mass with us in so many ancient churches. All three changed my outlook on Catholicism and they revitalized my faith journey. Truly, this was an amazing experience. 3/1/2011 

My name is Zak Levesque.  I am a senior transfer student from Martinez, California.  I went to De La Salle High School; then attended San Diego State University for two years before transferring to SMC.  I am a communication major and will graduate in the spring with a BA.  In traveling to Rome I expect to learn about the Italian culture, as well as further my knowledge in the culture of the Catholic Church.

Even though the members of our Jan Term Travel class came from different home-towns, or live in different dorms on the Saint Mary’s campus, and often are involved in particular academic majors with different sports and activities — in Rome we shared something. We shared the experience of a life-time. The strangers who sat with me at SFO on January 11th have become my close friends. We were all each other had in Rome, but it was enough. If I learned anything on this trip, it would be enough to know that I came away with twenty close friends. And I truly believe our daily prayer and Masses brought us together and played a big role in forming this community of friends. 3/1/2011

My name is Brooke Conlon and I am a Junior Business major, Accounting minor at St. Mary’s. Going to Rome for the second time, gives me a chance to explore historical and religious sites that I have previously only had the opportunity to study about in books. Also, I have the opportunity to fulfill personal ambitions that I have about traveling to Rome.

One thing that I will take away most from our trip is finding my calling or vocation. Maybe “find” is not the best use of words but rather to be aware or recognize that each of us has a calling to a particular life. Pilgrimage is a way in which we are able to re-focus our lives and purposes in this one precious life. Taking time to re-discover my faith and educate myself about the Church’s history and teaching is an excellent path of discovery.  3/1/2011

My name is Lisa Doherty.  I am from San Francisco, California and I am an Accounting major. I am very excited to be traveling to Rome, Italy a place I have never been before. Going to Catholic Schools all my life, I feel this is a great opportunity to experience and see all the places and things I have learned throughout my education.

At the North American College,  I was able to see first-hand the realilty of the priesthood and those called to serve others through the word of Lord and through grace. Young men give their lives to the Lord and to preaching the word of God. Many serve the poor as Jesus taught us. The seminarians who spoke to us — and welcomed us continue this tradition of the priesthood and very much personalize the image of Jesus to all Christians. 3/1/2011

My name is Elizabeth Bella, 22 years old and a business major in St. Mary’s College of California. I have a great appreciation for good food, wine and company. Travelling is one of my strongest passions.  I see every travel as an adventure. It is a chance to discover great new things about myself and other people from different cultures and Rome would be the perfect place because of its rich culture and history.

One of the most memorable experiences in Rome was going to the scavi — the catecombs underneath St. Peter’s. It was the first time that I set foot in the Vatican and that alone took my breath away. What came next at the scavi was totally unexpected. Going through the glass doors, and walking down below, I had no idea what made these ruins so important, namely the probability that Saint Peter was buried somewhere down here? I said to myself: “Wait, no one told me anything about Saint Peter’s tomb!” To say that this experience was a powerful and poignant encounter is an understatement. 3/1/2011



My name is Joanna Angerame.  Possibly the oldest pilgrim in the group, I know I possess a young and joyful heart. A Catholic education, strong faith and practice have brought purpose to my life experiences. My natural curiosity prompted me to take classes at SMC and as a full time staff member in the Mission and Ministry Center, wife, mother and grandmother, one course a semester is just right. I attended Armstrong University for two years, enjoyed many, many classes at Holy Names College and have taken various courses here and there. This is my first JanTerm experience and I’m thrilled to be going to Rome, walking in the footsteps of the early Christians – perhaps one step closer to my degree.

This was one of the most significant experience of my life. Many people have asked me about what stands out about the three weeks of pilgrimage. It is so difficult to pinpoint one or two things. Sharing faith with my fellow pilgrims, expert guides, feeling the vibrancy of Rome, celebrating liturgy and Eucharist almost everyday. Most of all, growing in our small worship community has renewed my faith. 3/1/2011 

My name is Father Sal Ragusa.  Although I am a ‘native New Yorker’, my family moved to Texas when I was 5, and I consider Houston my home. My father came from San Ciperello, Sicily at age 10, my mother was born in NY, but her parents came to the US from San Giuseppe Jatto, Sicily. I have a very strong Catholic background, as I attended Catholic grade school, high school and college. After 6 years of seminary, I entered St. Pius X Abbey and professed vows as a Benedictine Monk on Dec . 11, 1976 and was ordained to the priesthood May 14, 1988. In 1990, after the closure of St. Pius X Abbey, I transferred to the Society of the Divine Savior, the Salvatorians and began ministry as a campus minister at Saint Mary’s College in the Fall 1992. Since being at the college I have been part of campus ministry and for 9 years have been part of the Resident Life Staff, living in the residence hall. My current focus on ‘liturgy and prayer’ I believe is due to the strong elements of family, community, meal and prayer that I draw from both my Sicilian and monastic and Salvatorian background. On January 23, I will celebrate my 6oth birthday in Rome!

For me the pilgrimage to Rome was twofold: a time to walk the in the footsteps of the early Christians 
and a time to take an inward journey. Both of these paths were deeply spiritual and renewing. 
It was a special joy to be with other ‘seekers and searchers’ who intellectually, spiritually and culturally 
walked this pilgrimage. 3/1/2011

Ciao, tutti! I’m Father Mike Russo, pictured here in Subiaco; and I’m “freezin for a reason!” And the reason is our pilgrimage trip to the sacred sites of Italy & Rome. I’ve taught at Saint Mary’s for over twenty-five year, and this Jan Term course is a chance to learn more about my own faith; and most especially witness  the vibriant reponse of our students day-by-day. My first trip to Italy was in 1963 — and since then, I have been here for many, many opportunites to see and work in this culture of my grandparents who came from Avellino, nearby Naples.

Luckily, I have covered the news of religion for CBS News and was so privilaged to be in Rome for the death and burial of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. In the Spring of 2011, I will teach “Religion, Media & Culture,” and “20th Century Thought” at Saint Mary’s Moraga.

“Going to Rome with 19 college undergraduates…what?” Too many friends of mine — simply wished me well. To be perfectly frank — it was a joy! I will be celebrating forty years as a priest in May of this year. This pilgrimage marks a turn in my life — and most of all of I will remember the energy and enthusiasm of the seminarians at the North American College. Once I was their age. They represent the very best of our tradition — a different age and perhaps a unique period for the Church but very winning and authentic. One other image remains with me — that of seeing the eyes and expression of Tony Angerame as he walked into Saint Peter’s Basilica for the very first time. Old or young — we stand in awe, just wondering how to take all of it into our gaze. 3/1/2011        

Professor David Gentry-Akin aka DGA (Our Fearless Leader)

I’m Dave Gentry-Akin, professor of theology at Saint Mary’s College and, along with Father Mike Russo, one of the instructors for this course, Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians: A Pilgrimage to Rome, which we are offering for the fourth time this January.  I earned my Masters in Divinity at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) and my pontifical licentiate and doctorate from the Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven, Belgium) and have taught at Saint Mary’s for seventeen years.  I have been a teacher most of my adult life, and have also worked as a hospital chaplain and a parish minister.

I frequently teach in our Great Books core program, and most recently taught the Renaissance and 17th and 18th Century course.  In the Theology and Religious Studies Department, I teach our foundational course in Biblical Theology on a regular basis, as well as a course called The Catholic Imagination. This spring I will launch a new course that will explore the connections between the biblical notion of creation and the scientific theory of evolution.  My passion is to help students to explore the rich depths of all that the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition has to offer them, and so I really look forward to leading this wonderful pilgrimage each year.

The memory that I will carry with me from our wonderful pilgrimage this year is the incredibly beautiful young men and women who chose to participate, who chose to give themselves so completely to the process and to one another, who came in search of the True, the Good, the Beautiful, and who allowed themselves to be touched by the people, the places, and the experiences we shared together on this journey.  The Founder of the Christian Brothers wanted the Brothers to help the young people with whom they ministered to learn to read, to write, to do math, so that they could have a better life in this life, but his ultimate concern was that the Brothers help the students under their care to find God.
My prayer is that this pilgrimage has helped each of these extraordinary young men and women to come closer to God, to come closer to the “pearl of great price” that is of such incomparable value that it is worth everything one has.  To find God is truly to find oneself, and, thus,  to find the deepest happiness, even in the midst of the doubt, the fear, the struggle, and the sorrow that is an inevitable part of the human condition.  If we can help our young people to come closer to God, we will have done what the Founder wanted of us. 3/1/2011

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