Charlevoix students visit Rome

“All roads lead to Rome,” was the phrase once said during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Several St. Mary School middle school students, along with their parents, their pastor and staff members recently followed that road for a trip of a lifetime.

The recent pilgrimage to Rome was planned early in the school year to create a new model for the school’s expanded program designed for grades 6-8. The idea was to incorporate a three-fold plan of learning for the middle school students, school officials said.

Included would be three goals of Christian education: to know, to love and to serve, according to the Rev. Peter Wigton, pastor at St. Mary Church.

“I was thinking one day of how to go about helping the children embrace this model,” Wigton said. “The idea came to me that it should be a travel experience for each part, on a three-year rotating basis. For the ‘to know’ I wanted it to be a knowledge trip, like maybe to Washington, D.C.; the ‘to love’ would be a pilgrimage experience in which students would learn to love God though visiting a holy place, and then the third one, ‘to serve’ would be learning how to give in service to others because of our love for God, so that might be a mission trip. I said ‘why don’t we just do Rome as our first pilgrimage experience, so our present middle schoolers won’t miss out on that?'”

The plan evolved, with student-led fundraisers and parish contributions. By January, teachers incorporated learning about Rome as part of their curriculum in history and art.

“We had studied pre-Renaissance and post-Renaissance architecture and art as part of our preparation,” said Lori Bolt, art instructor at St. Mary. “As an art teacher, just seeing, along with my students, the beautiful frescoes, Roman architecture and art masterpieces we had studied made it an amazing trip. I’m so glad that I went.”

Catherine Hayes, a sixth grade student, traveled with her father and grandmother along with the group. She recently presented a slide show of the trip and shared some of her impressions.

“Dad and I were able to climb the more than 320 stairs to the cupola on top of St. Peter’s basilica where we had an amazing view of St. Peter’s Square,” she said.

“I couldn’t say ‘no’ to my daughter,” said Joe Hayes of the experience. “But I can tell you it was kind of scary, a very claustrophobic climb.”

River Pease, an eighth grade student wrote about her experience in the parish bulletin.

“The ancient city (Rome, population circa 3 million)is alive and breathing with history, from the Roman Empire to the heart of Christianity. As soon as I stepped off the airplane from Detroit to Rome, I felt as if I had entered a different world … one that had been built thousands of years before my time … The middle school trip to Rome was a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow closer to God and to one another … Roaming in Rome was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back,” Pease wrote in the bulletin.

The highlight of the eight days in Rome was being able to participate in a papal procession during which Pope Francis has an audience with his people each Wednesday from his motorized vehicle, teachers said.

“To watch Pope Francis drive by is an experience we will never forget,” said Mary Plude, catechetical leader for the parish. “He’s really a rock star to the people. He stops and kisses every baby along the way. Next time, we’re bringing a baby.”

Wigton added the trip was a powerful experience for him, too. He had lived and studied there while preparing for the priesthood. Wigton said he had been back many times, but had never done some of the tours and experiences that this trip afforded.

“Our guide, who was actually an art historian, was able to make the experience come alive for us all. It was powerful to learn new things myself and to watch the children and the parents experience their faith and Rome, the center of the Christian church,” Wigton said.