American College Bag Short Story

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Joseph "Joe” Mattern Stories, stories, stories....My story as a North American College "Bag" begins with my arrival on Janiculum hill in extra-territorial Vatican City State. (In case this has not already been defined, we American seminarians, dressed in our cassocks with the long streamers extending from our shoulders to the ground, were referred to by a hostile segment of the local Italians as bagarozzi, which is the Italian word for cockroaches. With a healthy sense of humor, we appropriated that distinction and shortened it to "Bags.") We were told that we were the "chosen," that this was the West Point of seminaries, and that N.A.C. was a prep school for cardinals. I looked around at my seventy-some classmates and wondered what I was…show more content…
It was our custom upon leaving our summer villa at Castel Gondolfo to go a short distance to the papal villa, also located in those hills outside of Rome, to sing for the Pope. I shall never forget singing that Latin anthem, as the great Pope Pius XII gazed down at us from the villa balcony just several feet away. Nine days later, he was dead, passing away quite unexpectedly. He was laid in state at the papal villa for a day and a half before the official funeral could take place in the Vatican, and since our college was accessible, we had the privilege of standing honor guard as the mourners made their visitation throughout the night. I took my turn, decked out in our N.A.C. cassock, standing next to His Holiness for that sacred…show more content…
I was so upset that I went back to my room and scribbled off a letter to my family expressing my disapproval of what had happened. The aftermath? This rolly-polly Italian took the name of John XXIII, and turned the world upside down. He said, "The Church needs to get up to date. We have to open the windows and let in some fresh air. Aggiornamento! I will never forget that Monday morning after the Sunday night feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, as I sat on the school bus taking us to the Gregorian U. for classes. Tony Padovano, sitting next to me said; "Hey Joe, did you hear what John did last night at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls ? In his homily he announced that there was going to be an ecumenical council and that they were going to update the code of canon law." My remark was, "Tony you're full of shit !" The rest is history. The Catholic Church is still wrestling with and resisting the Holy Spirit who unleashed this explosive call for reform and renewal. Certainly, one of the highlights of my Roman experience was to have a private audience with this Pope John XXIII. It was on the occasion of our Green Bay Bishop Bona's ad limina visit with the pope. The Pope and I spoke together in Italian, and I treasure the official Vatican photo of our G.B group of five along with the future St. Pope John

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