September 12, 2016
Catholic University students in St. Peter's Square

Flagship study-abroad program gives students the chance to participate in historic event

Early on the morning of Sept. 4, Luke Cocchi was sleeping on the warm cobblestone streets of Rome. The sophomore politics major and three friends had arrived at the gates of St. Peter’s Square at 1:30 a.m. to witness the historic canonization Mass of Mother Teresa. They were trying to squeeze in a couple of extra hours of sleep before all the excitement.

“We awoke to a glorious sunrise as the guards were just about to let us in,” he recalls. “To see one of God's most beautiful gifts of nature the day of such a momentous occasion was certainly magnificent.”

Cocchi was among a group of Catholic University students in attendance at the Mass. Those students are spending the semester living and studying in the Eternal City at the University’s Rome Center, which it shares with Australian Catholic University about one mile from Vatican City.

“I think the most inspiring part of the Mass for me was being with all the different kinds of people who attended,” says Katie Yarnall, a sophomore social work major. “The crowd was quite diverse. Just waiting in line, my friend and I met two women from Hong Kong and an older gentleman from Tanzania who worked with one of Mother Teresa's original Missionaries of Charity groups. We met another man from Brazil who had traveled to Rome just for the canonization.”

Karina Bursch, a sophomore biochemistry major, said she was excited to attend the Mass of “one of the most beloved, holy people” in recent times.

“The Mass was full with an electric energy because of the excitement of all the people there, who were so happy to be witness to the canonization,” she says. “Entering St. Peter's Square for the canonization and staring up at the majestic basilica in front of me honestly felt like coming home, home to my ‘mother church.’”

For these students, Catholic University has provided the unique opportunity to be a part of two canonization Masses within a year. On Sept. 23, 2015, these same students were in attendance when Pope Francis declared Junípero Serra a saint during a Mass on campus. It was the first canonization Mass on U.S. soil.

“It seems slightly unreal that I have now witnessed two historic canonizations in less than one calendar year, but it makes me feel incredibly blessed to have been granted these opportunities by God,” says Bursch.

Catholic University has a special connection to Mother Teresa. The University was the first to award her an honorary degree in 1971. The University also houses more than 60 boxes of archival material related to the new saint. Her ties to the University and her enduring message of love and mercy have made her a guiding figure for many students.

“The Mass was definitely an inspiration to me to strive to imitate St. Mother Teresa in her love for the suffering,” says Bursch. “As a biochemistry major with the goal of going to medical school to become a pediatric oncologist, the canonization Mass, as a profound act of honoring the works of charity that St. Mother Teresa practiced throughout her life, felt like an affirmation that I am headed in the right direction towards my own vocation.”