Rome’s pontifical universities prepare to resume in-person classes

CNA 5584529e2574a 64371 Ss Sixtus and Dominic, the church of the Angelicum, pictured June 13, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Rome's pontifical universities will again hold in-person classes for the upcoming academic year, as they make adjustments to operations during the continuing coronavirus emergency.

After temporarily shutting down in early March -- and then switching to online classes for the remainder of the academic year -- the Vatican-accredited schools have been directed to make every effort to teach in person for the 2020-2021 academic year.

The Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education directed in June that ecclesiastical universities should "ensure that the teaching be delivered primarily and preferentially in the ordinary way ... with the system of lectures, exercises and seminars held in the presence of students and teachers." 

The pontifical universities, which offer degrees in theology, philosophy, and related disciplines, will also be required to follow all health and safety measures indicated by local authorities.

The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum, has responded to new difficulties by increasing financial aid opportunities for returning and incoming students.

"During the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and after hearing from our students, the Angelicum recognizes that a number of students will have significant challenges, not only logistically to return to Rome, but also to simply continue their program of studies," Fr. Benedict Croell, O.P. told CNA via email.

Croell, the director of development at the Angelicum, said the school had heard already that some students would be unable to return for the new academic year due to the pandemic, but there was hope that the additional financial assistance would make it possible for most to return to in-person classes in the fall.

"For those religious orders and dioceses from developing countries that are having financial problems due to the pandemic, and lay students struggling to make ends meet, we hope that the financial aid that we will be offering this next academic year will encourage all of them to return," he said.

For potential new students, the university has scholarships available to reduce the academic fee by 25-50%.

The Angelicum has also set up a COVID-19 emergency fund and is seeking donations to match a pledge of $100,000 to fund need-based scholarships for current students.

Croell noted that the Angelicum's student body "represents over 90 countries, coming from vastly diverse socio-economic circumstances."

At the start of Italy's lockdown, "many students had to scramble to find a good computer and strong wifi connection to be able to access their online courses and so remain in class," he said.

For lay students, there can be challenges associated with studying in Rome while also supporting themselves and, in some cases, a family and children.

"They make the sacrifice because they value the systematic approach and quality of our education at the Angelicum," Croell said.

Addressing the challenges of suddenly switching online in the last months of the 2019-2020 academic year, the priest said: "I think that, by and large, our students and professors learned that when you have to do something, it is possible with God's help."

"Online classrooms actually brought out the Angelicum's sense of strong Christian community," he added.

About the academic year to come, Croell said, "even though our classrooms will be enhancing our in-person instruction with online engagement and livestreaming for those who have obtained permission to continue their studies remotely, via new 'smart classroom' technology, we hope and expect all our students will continue the work of serious study of Sacred Truth for the salvation of souls."

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