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By Rosalie Tomeny

Rosalie Tomeny and Fr. J. Patrick Hough, SJ, near St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

From my first glimpse of Italy when flying into Florence and seeing the lush and verdant Italian countryside, I knew our trip – the Growing in Holiness in Italy Pilgrimage – was going to be special.

As soon as our group had gathered, we were off. Andiamo – “Let’s go!” – became our theme. Father J. Patrick Hough, SJ, our tour chaplain, celebrated Mass each day. He also created opportunities and guidance for individual and communal prayer, helping us all grow closer to God.

Our days in Florence were filled with art, history and spirituality. We had several guided tours that included viewing Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, at the Academy of Fine Arts, and visiting the Uffizi Gallery to see works by Da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli and Raphael. Walking to Mass each evening from our hotel through the cobblestone streets gave us even more opportunities to experience the beauty and culture of the city.

The group poses for a photo in a vineyard.

One of the more memorable evenings in Firenze was a sunset visit to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers a magnificent panoramic view of the ancient city. Our view of the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno River and the Duomo was spectacular. Afterward, we enjoyed a delizioso dinner in the countryside where we were welcomed with blue champagne and much laughter, music and pasta.

After departing Florence, we had a one-day visit to the medieval town of Assisi, where we toured the Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare, learning the history of both saints.

Mass in St. Ignatius’ private chapel – an unforgettable experience!

One of the more transformative experiences of our trip was our participation in the Wednesday general audience with Pope Francis. We arrived in Rome early in the morning, and while sitting under a cloudless sky, we received the papal blessing. After touring St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile, Pope Francis was seated on the dais and offered a reflection and greeting for pilgrims. When the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province was announced as one of the groups visiting from the United States, we cheered in unison. It was a very special moment.

Since this was a Jesuit pilgrimage, we had the opportunity to visit several sites of importance to the history of the Society of Jesus in Rome. We visited the Rooms of St. Ignatius, where he lived and died, and Fr. Hough celebrated Mass in the private chapel of St. Ignatius.

Michael Mohr, SJ, who was studying in Rome and was ordained a priest just two months after our visit, guided us through the Church of the Gesù, the Mother Church for the Society of Jesus. He shared his extensive knowledge of the history of the church, as well as about the artwork there and in other Roman venues.

Also in Rome, we visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where St. Ignatius celebrated his first Mass in the Chapel of the Manger, and the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, where we had our final Mass in Rome. We also visited the Pontifical Gregorian University, where Fr. Mark Lewis, SJ, as member of the USA Central and Southern Province, serves as rector.

The group of province friends and benefactors in front of the Church of the Gesù in Rome.

We experienced so much while in Italy that it is impossible to capture all the emotions we shared while journeying together. As our Growing in Holiness in Italy Pilgrimage ended in the Eternal City of Rome, several pilgrims threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, hoping for that magical return.

Rosalie Tomeny is Major Gifts Officer for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province.

This story appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of Jesuits magazine.