50 Years from Vatican II by Canon Jim Foley

50 Years from Vatican II by Canon Jim Foley

 Logo of the Scots College

The Gregorian University

Class of 1955

Students and Professors

50 years after Vatican II

450 years after the Council of Trent

1962 years after the Council of Jerusalem

By Canon Jim Foley

The Gregorian University was founded under the title of the Roman College in 1551 by St Ignatius of Loyola in the wake of the Council of Trent.   The original name was later changed to the Gregorian University as a result of the preferential endowment by Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) and entrusted to the Society of Jesus with the academic training of candidates for ordination to the priesthood as its principal purpose.   Those interested in learning more of the history and aspirations of this university will find all the information they need and a lot more that they don’t need on the University’s web site (www.unigre.it).   I have a more modest purpose in mind.

I spent seven years there as an undergraduate, three in the philosophy faculty and four in theology, and a further three in her sister establishment, the Biblical Institute. At a distance of over sixty years I still cherish fond memories of some 300 students with whom I shared the same lectures during those years in Rome and equally fond memories of the dedicated professors who put their erudition unreservedly at our disposal.   I would like to think that one day our names will be written in heaven. Meantime our pictures are published below!


The picture gallery that follows may prove of little interest to those who are not on familiar ground but I don’t doubt that there will be survivors like myself who chance upon this site and recapture something of the promise of those heady days. Now that our future is behind us, it is less painful for us to face up to our past.  I would not guarantee that we are still recognisable from the photographs which follow nor that they do us justice.   But then, many of us would be happy to settle for mercy rather than justice!

Included are the portraits of our professors. Each portrait tells its own story. Space and discretion preclude an extended treatment of their idiosyncrasies and even less of their theological stance in those twilight days before Vatican II.  A thesis is waiting to be written on the subject.  The 71 professors whose portraits follow represent 15 different nationalities, mostly from the continent of Europe. Each brought his own distinctive national pronunciation of Latin to his lectures. At one extreme was Giovanni Lo Grasso, a Sicilian, who in the ways of the Sicilian dialect, was given to pronouncing only the first half of each word and would leave the student to guess the other half.   Since his subject was Canon Law not many of us were too bothered. At the other extreme was an Englishman, Frederick Copleston.  In his case the words were in the best tradition of classical Latin but the syntax was eminently English.

Concerning their theological stance it is reasonable to presume their orthodoxy in a church that had shown little change since Trent. Anyway, in the background was one of their ex-alumni, Pope Pius XII, so they had to watch their ‘p’s and ‘q’s. It has, however, to be said that Pius had begun to demonstrate a need to come to terms with the issues of the day.   If I say he was a superlative Pope it is because of his preference for superlatives, fine orator that he was.   One of his most memorable documents begins with the very pretentious title ‘Munificentissumus Deus’ on the definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Perhaps a remark made by one of the most popular of our professors, Maurice Flick, will give something of the flavour of these days.   Reflecting on the cautious initiatives of Pius XII which he evidently found at times too cautious:  You young men of the Western Church may live to see the day when you will be allowed to become engaged but not married!  The ultimate compromise!

Student of the Scots College in choir-dress (18th Century print, brought in the Via del Babuino)

It took us fifteen minutes to walk from the Scots College in the Via delle Quattro Fontane to the Gregorian University.   Our route took us into the Via Rasella, past the Traforo, into Via del Lavatore, past the Trevi Fountain and along the Via San Vincenzo and the Via dei Lucchesi, into the Piazza della Pilotta where loomed before us the Gregorian University and four hours of Latin lectures a day. A similar route was followed by students from the Germanicum (the German and Hungarian College) in their distinctive scarlet soutanes and  by the students of the Armenian College.  The Beda College was nearby but they preferred to study ‘in house’.  Our paths and those of a hundred national colleges and religious institutes converged at the Trevi Fountain which was a stone’s throw from the university entrance.It was at that point that a ritual was enacted which appears to have had a long history behind it.   On arrival at the Trevi Fountain the students of the Germanicum raised their hats and saluted one another, and any others who chanced by, with the words ‘Grüß Gott’.   With these words their Grand Silence came to an end.  Now the Grand Silence was a discipline in all seminaries which imposed complete silence on the entire community from night prayer at 9.30 pm till the following morning.   For lesser mortals the morning deadline was breakfast, if I can be allowed to use that euphemism.   For our confreres in the Germanicum, the silence lasted till they reached the Trevi Fountain.   That got us all off to a flying start for the first of four morning lectures which began at 8.30 AM and were delivered, if you will excuse the expression, in the lingua franca of the university which was Latin.

After seven years of traditional scholastic training within the confines of a Tridentine seminary in Rome and after only five years of pastoral experience as priests we were launched into the world of Vatican II and its aftermath.   The Class of 1955 must now look back on the fifty years that have passed since those heady days.   For better or for worse we were among the first to enter into the brave new world of the post-conciliar church.

Any discussion of the impact of the other Councils of the church mentioned in the title of this essay will have to wait.   The world deserves to see the faces of the young men who would soon be launched into the cauldron of post Vatican II. I will be forgiven if I single out the seven Scotsmen who were my companions within this larger group and lived under the same roof on the Via delle Quattro Fontane and eventually found our way back to the Scottish mission with our pre-Vatican II sleeves rolled up.

(*To view this article in PDF format, please click here)

Front Row (left to right): Frank Kelly; Danny McEwan; Jock Dalrymple; Paddy Gilbride.
Back Row: Bob Grant; Jim Foley; John Priestley; Jim Ryan.


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