Little known facts: Rome program’s origin

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Fougerousse poses with a UD Rome sign. Photo courtesy of the UD Archives.

The University of Dallas took on an international character at its founding, through the aims and curricula articulated in the first bulletin, as well as through the background of its founders. The School Sisters of Notre Dame came from Belgium and Bavaria, and the Cistercians from Hungary. They carried with them a centuries-old European intellectual tradition.

For three summers before the Rome program was founded, Professor Lyle Novinski took art majors abroad to experience great art and architecture “in situ,” according to “50 Years of Vision and Courage,” a publication put together by UD faculty to commemorate the anniversary of the university’s founding. Dr. James Fougerousse, a professor and administrator, also urged for a study abroad program.

The desire and the opportunity for a study abroad program coalesced when Sister Georgianne Segner, SSND, left Irving after her election to Mother General of the Worldwide Order. Upon her arrival in Rome, Segner found that the Generalate House was empty. Segner called Dr. Donald Cowan and asked whether the university could make use of the space; she received a resounding and enthusiastic “yes,” according to “50 Years of Vision and Courage.”  

Cowan immediately dispatched Fougerousse to Rome to negotiate arrangements. Before he returned, Fougerousse posted a UD sign on the Generalate House, according to “50 Years of Vision and Courage.”

The Rome program began that fall, 1970. Fifty-six sophomores attended the first semester. From the start, students pursued full-time study of the Core curriculum in the places where much of it happened, according to “50 Years of Vision and Courage.” Father Damian Fandal, O.P., served as director, chaplain, and philosophy and theology professor to that first group of students. Dr. John and Kathy Alvis taught English and history, Chris Ciembronowicz taught English and Robert Forlitti taught Italian.

After three semesters, the program outgrew the sisters’ residence, according to “50 years of Vision and Courage.” With the help of long-time travel agent, Francesco Stoppini, whom Fougerousse referred to as “the patron saint of the Rome semester,” the program continued in several locations over the years.

Associate Provost Dr. John Norris, spring Rome class of ’82 and director of the Rome program from 1993 – 1994, described UD’s several different Rome campuses.

After the initial location at the Generalate House, the Rome program moved to the Vitinia campus, a seminary which allowed the university to use the space during the school year.

“It was the closest location to Rome,” Norris said.

Next, Stoppini allowed UD to use his own property at Hotel LeVilla from 1973-1989. “The Villa,” as it was commonly called, was located east of Rome off of the Via del Pescaccio, said Norris. After 16 years, the Rome program was once again forced to find a new location. Next, the campus was moved to Manziana, north of Rome.

After the move from Hotel LeVilla, the university began to recognize the need to build a permanent home for the Rome program. President Robert Sasseen sent Brian Whalen and Fougerousse in search of a new location, according to Norris.

When an opportunity arose to acquire a twelve-acre villa, formerly owned by the prominent Piga family, at the base of the Alban Hills, near Marino, Italy, Sasseen pursued it, according to “50 Years of UD.” He convinced the Board of Trustees that it was the right thing to do to ensure the continuance of the program.

“It was an important step to safeguard the future of the university itself,” Norris said.

Architects Adriano Mariani and Erik Norberg-Schulz designed the new cafeteria, classrooms, dormitory and renovations to the existing structures, according to “50 Years of Vision and Courage.” In the meantime, Irving and Marino city officials began work to “twin” the two cities, and the university attained all of the necessary permits for the purchase of the land and construction, according to Norris. The Board of Trustees approved the purchase of the property and construction of the Constantin, or Due Santi, campus, which opened for the first time in the fall of 1994.

Norris also recounted a few Rome stories from when he was a student. The spring Rome class of ’82 began celebrating Groundhog Day at 8 a.m. in Dr. Jim Petzel’s Western Civilization I class. Petzel had a habit of beginning sentences with, “Essentially…” That morning the students made a quib of their professor’s habit by bringing beers to class, cheers-ing and taking a drink every time Petzel used the word “essentially.”  

Petzel, BA ’75, recently made a very generous contribution to the university by establishing a scholarship to help students go to Rome, according to Norris.

Norris’ Rome classmate Dr. Gregory Roper, chair of the English Department, recounted that later that day, the students “celebrated Groundhog at ‘the ruins’ on the hill next to ‘The Villa.’ ” Pat Thoresen ’83 searched Rome high and low to find a costume shop, said Roper. On Groundhog Day, Thoresen returned victoriously to campus with a bear costume, and in a rare appearance, the groundhog was present in Rome on Groundhog Day.

Norris also told stories of walking over a mile back to “The Villa” on the side of the highway after dark, reminding me of my own Rome semester. Norris affectionately joked that the fall Romers are always much more “destructive and violent.”

If these stories remind you of your own Rome experience, you are not alone. No matter the year that they attend, UD students all seem to return with a distinct post-Rome posture.

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