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from issue no. 01/02 - 2009


“No fear. Jesus looks after us”

Currently hosting 81 students from 45 dioceses in Europe. Founded in Rome by St Ignatius of Loyola in 1552, the German-Hungarian College was founded to train clergy faithful to the Pope to be sent to regions that had gone over to Protestantism. Its life and its role in the present in the words of the rector and students

by Pina Baglioni

<I>Pope Julius III ratifying the foundation of the German College with the Bull Dum sollicita of 31 August 1552</I>, unknown artist, German College, Rome

Pope Julius III ratifying the foundation of the German College with the Bull Dum sollicita of 31 August 1552, unknown artist, German College, Rome

It stands at number 13 in Via San Nicola da Tolentino, in the Trevi district of Rome. In the middle of the triangle made by Via Barberini, Via di San Basilio, and Via Bissolati. In an austere building, in perfect Rationalist style. What makes it identifiable, in that concentration of Fascist architecture, is the solemn inscription on the facade: Pontificium Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum de Urbe, an ecclesiastical institution among the oldest and most prestigious of the Holy Roman Church. Founded in Rome by the express will of St Ignatius of Loyola in 1552.
Among the many closures, re-openings, and changes of address undergone in more than four and a half centuries of life, the College took up residence in this street in 1886. “The building that housed us, the old hotel Costanzi, was destroyed in 1939. Mussolini wanted to open up a new main road, Via Bissolati, to link Termini station to the US embassy. It happened that the German-Hungarian was in the middle and had to strike its tents. The building where we now are was handed over to us in 1944, and is one of the very few built in Rome during the Second World War”. Our informant is Father Franz Meures, the cordial and affable rector of the German-Hungarian. He has been head of the German Province of the Society of Jesus for six years and worked for nine in the youth pastoral in Münster and West Berlin before the reunification of Germany. He has been at the helm of the College for four. Four other Jesuit Fathers and one brother work with him.
Before opening the doors of the German College he pauses for a moment in front of the large painting hanging on a wall of the vestibule. By an unknown artist, it depicts Pope Julius III in the center of the scene. On his right is Cardinal Giovanni Morone, the most knowledgeable expert on things German in the years of the growth of Protestantism and a staunch supporter of the College. On the left is St Ignatius of Loyola. Kneeling at the feet of the Pope are the first students from the German regions of the Holy Roman Empire, wearing cardinal-red cassocks. The famous “red shrimps”, or, worse again, “boiled shrimps”, according to the impertinent nicknames put on them by the Romans of the time.
The painting depicts the event of 31 August 1552, when the pontiff, with the Bull Dum sollicita, ratified the founding of the German College – worked for with all his might by Ignatius of Loyola – for the training of pro-papal clergy to be sent to the lands that had by then joined the ranks of Lutheranism.
The German College expanded in 1580 with the amalgamation of the Collegium Hungaricum, founded a year earlier on the initiative of Pope Gregory XIII in reponse to the pitiful condition of the Hungarian Church.

The original text of the Constitution of the German College written by St Ignatius of Loyola in 1552. It contains the “rules of life”, or first “order 
of the College” for the newly established institution of the German College. The text is kept in the College archive

The original text of the Constitution of the German College written by St Ignatius of Loyola in 1552. It contains the “rules of life”, or first “order of the College” for the newly established institution of the German College. The text is kept in the College archive

Western and Eastern Europe under one roof
The German-Hungarian hosts 81 students aged between 21 and 36 coming from 45 dioceses – 22 in Western Europe, 23 in Eastern Europe – after they have attended two years of philosophy at their diocesan seminaries. They study at the Pontifical Gregorian University (for bachelors’ degrees) and at various pontifical universities in Rome for the second and third cycle (licentiate and doctorate). Those who decide whether they are to attend the German-Hungarian are their bishops. They send to Rome mature young men with an above average ability to study. There are Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Dutch, Bosnians, Croatians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Romanians, Serbians, Slovaks, Slovenians, Hungarians, Luxembourgians. And a Swede is due to arrive. The “official” language of the College is German and all of them study Italian, not only for examinations, but to be able to follow the course conducted in Italian. Currently 68 students live at the German-Hungarian. The other 13, after receiving their bachelor’s degree, have returned temporarily to their diocese to pass a pastoral year. “A practice in force only here: spending six, seven years secluded in a college carries the danger that one may lose all sense of reality. In the course of the pastoral year, our students go to work in a junior seminary or in a parish to gain experience, and in the meantime are ordained deacons”, Father Meures again explains. At the end of that year they return to the college to continue their studies for the licentiate after the bishop of their diocese and rector of the College have exchanged views and opinions on the type of study most appropriate for their future. “With the continuous and systematic decrease in the number of priests over the past forty years, especially in Germany,” says Father Meures, “the dioceses mainly want parish priests. And for that, the licentiate is enough. Although some of the priests who have studied at the German-Hungarian quickly become collaborators of the bishops because of their familiarity with Rome and the Vatican and because of their knowledge of languages. Then, if a diocese is in want of an expert in canon law or a liturgist, an effort is made to direct a student towards the doctorate. This year we have only three doctoral students. And that says a lot”.
Of the 68 students currently in college, 41 are students, 8 are deacons and 19 priests. A rare thing in Rome. Many colleges, in fact, either have only seminarians or priests, while there are few that have a combination of seminarians and priests. For centuries, the seminarians have been ordained in Rome. For about the last 55 years the date of ordination has always fallen on 10 October, and takes place in the church of St Ignatius of Loyola: “On that day there is a wonderful celebration with all the relatives and friends. In Sant’Ignazio square, at the exit from church, there is a medley of folk songs from half Europe, a great joy for everyone”.

The church of the College, consecrated in 1949, with a large mosaic depicting Christ the King, Our Lady and the Apostles

The church of the College, consecrated in 1949, with a large mosaic depicting Christ the King, Our Lady and the Apostles

Study, music, theater: the German-Hungarian educates for life
At the College one can’t hear a mouse stir: it’s exam time. The large courtyard, from where one enters the chapel, is deserted. On a pedestal above the architrave of the church stands a statue of St Peter Canisius. It was he who headed the province of Upper Germany from 1556 to 1569, after St Ignatius founded it shortly before his death on 31 July 1556. Also in the courtyard, hidden among the palm trees, there is the bust of Gregory XIII. “He averted the closure of the German College for lack of funds”, says Father Meures. “If we are still alive it’s due to the fact that in 1573 he handed over to the College large tracts of land and real estate. He is considered the second founder of the College”. And before telling us of his students, the rector opens the doors of the beautiful, newly redecorated refectory. Large windows light up the room. In the far wall there is a balcony: during Advent all students of the College sang there in a choir. And some of them performed in smaller groups. “I’m keen on this place because lunch and dinner are the times when all students can meet together and get to know each other better, given that they come from such diverse countries. The tables seat five. One of the diners is always a priest, a point of reference especially for newcomers. These small groups correspond to what are called the spiritual groups. They meet every Monday evening, celebrate the Eucharist, find each other at table to eat together and to foster a spiritual discussion that lasts over time”. Food at the German College is strictly Italian. “And the olive oil comes from our estate in Villa San Pastore, between Palestrina and Gallicano, a few kilometers from Rome. Students go there for the weekend. Perhaps to walk the surrounding mountains or climb up to the shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella on 26 September, at the beginning of each academic year”.
The tour continues in the College hall-theater. The scenery from the recent play is still up, Romulus the Great, by the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt, put on for the German community in Rome. Cabaret and light comedy are also put on for “in-house consumption”, “especially to make fun of the rector”, Father Meures jokes. “Many people wonder how they manage to study so much, and then find the time to organize theatrical performances and concerts. Our goal is for our students to leave the College as many-sided persons, from the spiritual, pastoral, human point of view. In short, the teaching is done by the university, the rest we do ourselves. As Jesuit educators, we want the students to acquire a mental strength that will enable them to live in the world today and to make a contribution to the Church, society and culture. Without forcing them, however, without exerting suffocating control over what they do: they’re adults, and we treat them as such. They must be able to organize their time according to their responsibilities and we educators expect them to inform us honestly about what they’re doing. And in fact they can go to the cinema, theater, study – if they want even during the night. If they can’t manage or if they realize they’re wasting their time, they can talk to one of the staff – and I must say they do. We try – where possible – to help them”. The rector’s Teutonic determination gives way at a certain point to strong feeling: “Those guys are a cause of wonder and marvel to me. There is so much life here. Looking at their faces, I see them happy, impassioned by what they are doing”. Father Meures then tells me of one of the most popular practices of the learned students of the German-Hungarian: the annual pilgrimage to the Seven Churches, when on one Sunday in Lent the whole community sets out together.

The sanctuary of Mentorella in the Prenestini hills

The sanctuary of Mentorella in the Prenestini hills

The church where Schlier became Catholic
The students are very fond of the ancient churches of Rome. “As opposed to ours, which they don’t like at all.” Going in, as I “chase after” the energetic Father Meures, I find it hard to believe. Tufo, tufo and still more tufo. The only spots of color are those of the apse mosaic, with the images of Christ the King, Our Lady and the Apostles. “I’ve been trying to understand something for a couple of years now. The impression the church gives is similar to that of a catacomb, as if it, too, were underground. It was inaugurated in 1949 and I’m convinced that the person who designed it was thinking of the German cities reduced to smoking rubble by the bombing during the Second World War”. Every now and then the students try to convince the rector to lighten the atmosphere, perhaps by hanging pictures or putting in a statue. But for the time being it’s unfeasible. It was within the walls of this precise church on 24 October 1953 that Heinrich Schlier was received into the Catholic Church, a Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism and is considered one of the greatest exegetes of the twentieth century. And within these same walls, again in the ’fifties, a student of the College prayed who later became very famous, but for different reasons: the theologian Hans Küng.
In the church, the rector illustrates a characteristic of the German college by explaining the Gotteslob, the book of hymns and prayers in use not only at the German-Hungarian but in all the dioceses in Germany and Austria. “It’s given to children on their first communion and all good Catholics take it with them when they go to church”, he explains. “While in Italy singing and praying was done in Latin up to the Council, since Luther’s reforms we have been composing hymns in German. We can count on four centuries of tradition. You, in Italy, are a bit weak in terms of that”. Only that the Hungarian, Slovenian, Slovak students, and so on, got a bit tired of being left out. “At that point we asked them to bring us the ten most important hymns in their liturgical tradition, and so we printed the Kollegsanhang, the supplement which gathers songs of the countries of origin. When I sing with them, I don’t understand a word. But it’s beautiful all the same”.

A view of the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio, with the central altar
and the octagonal walls on which episodes from the life of St Stephen are depicted, the work of Niccolò Circignani known as Il Pomarancio (1517-1596). When the German united with the Hungarian College in 1580, 
the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo became the property of the College

A view of the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio, with the central altar and the octagonal walls on which episodes from the life of St Stephen are depicted, the work of Niccolò Circignani known as Il Pomarancio (1517-1596). When the German united with the Hungarian College in 1580, the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo became the property of the College

“No fear. Jesus looks after us”
Meanwhile, the inexhaustible rector shows me other wonders of the College. Here is the impressive library: 100,000 books, 200 periodicals. It’s insufficient. There’s also the library of Philosophy. And then the archive. “The Fratres maiores give us many books, our thousand former alumni around the world, among whom there are people who attended the College only for one year. They left their hearts in Rome and show us so in a thousand ways. Some of them, the Freunde von Santo Stefano Rotondo, based in Munich, have contributed substantial sums of money to the restoration of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio, one of the most beautiful basilicas in the world, belonging to the German-Hungarian.” But that’s not all. Because now we go up to the terrace with its breathtaking views. A panorama of Palazzo del Quirinale, the dome of the Pantheon, the Palazzo di Montecitorio, Palazzo Madama and the palace of the Knights of Malta. However, Father Meures brought me up to point out a simple and sober bell tower, certainly not eye-catching. “That’s the Christuskirche, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome. There’s great cordiality and cooperation between us. During the Week for Christian Unity we recited Vespers together. Our students meet frequently with their Lutheran colleagues who are studying at the Gregorian and in all the other pontifical universities. In agreement with the pastor, we invited them to Villa San Pastore for a meeting at the beginning of Lent”.
And speaking of students, here are three of them allowing themselves a short break from their books: Moritz Schönauer, from Vienna, 23 years old, in the second year of a bachelor’s degree in theology. With him is Andrija Milicevic, from Zagreb, 23 years old also, but in his third year. And then Don Marco Schrage, 34 years old, father German and mother from Lake Garda. He comes from the diocese of Osnabrück, a city in Lower Saxony, and is on the verge of a licentiate in moral theology at the Accademia Alfonsiana. I ask whether they already imagine their future and how the Church is getting on in their part of the world. “The number one problem is the lack of priests. It’s difficult to pass on the truths of our faith”, says the one from Vienna. It’s going a bit better in Croatia, Andrija tells me: “Twenty years ago, after the communist regime and during the war of independence, there was great national identification with the Church. In recent years, the identification is less strong”. It’s quite different for Father Schrage. He comes from a diocese in northern Germany. In the two biggest cities in that area Catholics make up 12% and just over half the population belongs to a Christian community. With great subtlety he explains how a Catholic priest has to behave in those parts.
“It’s a tough business, but very interesting. It takes humility and patience”.
They will go off to be parish priests. All three. Moritz has worked in the parish of the Natività in Rome. Don Schrage in one in Zagarolo, a town near the capital. Andrija has worked with the parish of Santa Maria in Trastevere. When speaking of their experiences, their eyes light up with gratitude: “How much humanity we have come across in these parishes. How much life: it’s beautiful”. I ask one more thing: whether they feel a bit scared and worried about their future. This time it’s Andrija, the Croatian, who answers: “No fear. Jesus looks after us”.

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