A Spiritual Summer in Rome

by Napa Institute
Published In June 06, 2022

Friends, we thought you might like to read this. Below is a reflection from friends of the Napa Institute, Celeste and Flip Howard, on their recent family trip to Italy and the importance of faith as the center of family life.

By Celeste and Flip Howard

Growing up, our families only travelled a handful of days per year, and yet it feels like half of childhood memories are from these trips.  While many of our friends travel with other families or bring classmates to entertain their children on vacation, for our family the sibling bonds formed on family trips have been the most valuable fruit.  Listening to our kids laugh with each other over tales from family vacation is one of life’s greatest joys.  But as beneficial as all our short family trips have been, nothing can provide the impact of actually living overseas together for a month or more.

Six years ago, our family of nine lived in Rome for the summer.  Our youngest was only four years old, we didn’t speak a word of Italian, we could barely fit into two taxis, remote work and cell phone roaming weren’t nearly as developed as now, and yet it was the most magical summer of all our lives.  After that experience, our older children that attended Franciscan University all immediately signed up for the study abroad semester.  The pandemic prevented us from reprising the summer overseas the last two years, but this summer we will be doing it again.  One might think that we would want to experience a different country in Europe this time, or perhaps another part of the world altogether.  But for us, if we do this ten times, all ten will be to Rome.  There are many places in the world where if you look around, it is not immediately obvious in what country you are standing.  But in Italy, it is impossible not to know you are in Italy.  And as a Catholic, every day in Rome can and should be a pilgrimage.  The majesty of the basilicas and the relics of their favorite saints impacted all our children spiritually.  And serendipitous conversations with priests and nuns from all over the world solidifies the universality of the Church in a way that only Rome can.  Flip likes to use Rome’s position in the middle of Italy as a launch point for exciting day trips to other Italian cities.  Celeste prefers blending into the culture with mornings reading in a piazza, visits to the local butcher and afternoons spent preparing a fresh Italian feast.  The kids love the freedom of wondering the streets to get gelato with a younger sibling, catching up over a cappuccino, or enjoying street musicians and impromptu soccer games.

One of the most pleasant surprises from that summer was the appreciation of wine that almost all our children developed while in Italy.  They were first taken aback, but immediately relished how waiters at restaurants would bring wine glasses to all the teenagers, and even asked if the pre-teens wanted a small amount.  We stayed at an Agriturismo in Barolo.  We visited tasting rooms in Montalcino and drank Brunello to celebrate their horse’s victory in the Palio in nearby Siena.  We saw how the amazing Amarones are made in Valpolicella.  They even learned to enjoy sipping Amaro or Vin Santo after dinner.  This summer, the kids are most excited about the week we will spend in a villa just outside of Bolghieri getting to know more about Super Tuscans – and each other.

In addition to the sacrifices at home (professional and otherwise) that must be made to live somewhere else for an extended period of time, there are, of course, drawbacks while there, too.  Our first week or two we were so struck by the charm of the place that most of conversations were variations of the phrase: “Why doesn’t everyone live here?”  Then, after a few weeks, there was a nice balance of the appreciation of the beautiful quirks of Italian life, and the hassle factor associated with them.  Near the end of our time there, the inconveniences had worn on us all, and the pendulum had swung to: “Why doesn’t everyone live in America?”  But even that education was part of a broader cultural understanding that can’t be replicated on short trips staying in hotels.

We can’t wait to return to Rome again this summer!  Our minds are full of beautiful churches, priests and nuns walking down the street, dinners in outdoor cafes flowing with good food and wine, bonding time with family members and walks around the quaint city streets.  Towards the end of our last summer in Italy, we made a long list entitled “Great Things about Living in America.”  However, none of the things on that list prevented any of our seven children from jumping with joy at the opportunity to temporarily go without them again this summer.

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