Advertise Here


Posts tagged: Florence

For Tom Royce, SJ

When I heard the news that Tom Royce, SJ, had left his Earthly journey, now welcomed into heaven, I grabbed my GU-in-Florence sweatshirt and put it on. The logo rests over my heart. Seems perfect.

Tom Royce, SJ, taught philosophy at GU my freshman year. “Now, remember, you cannot go from a particular to a universal, but you can go from a universal to a particular. Here’s an example…” The man could get so excited about logic. His students could not help but feel inspired by his academic enthusiasm.

But the real fun came in 1975-1976 when Tom Royce shared the year with our GU-in-Florence class. He soon became known as Padre Pastry – not sure if he coined the moniker or we did.  We shared pastry and travel and Italian adventures and woes (ours). Sometimes we went to class. With 92 college students dumped into Europe for a school year, he had lots of entertainment! I later wondered if he laughed or winced each night as he reviewed our daily antics.

On opening tour, we walked the red-light district of Amsterdam with our mouths and eyes wide open. Tom must have enjoyed watching our innocent reactions as we saw prostitutes “advertising” themselves in windows, as naturally as Santa in Macy’s Christmas window. But it was through the routine days of the school year that we met the kind man, Tom Royce. He listened to our drama, our dreams and our challenges. He loved spending time with us, but never tried to be one of us. We shared gelato at Vivoli’s and rode trains to Cervina. He celebrated Mass in the Soviet Union in quiet secret. He taught Documents of Vatican II with lessons I recall: No matter the doctrine, a well-informed conscience wins out – and pastoral compassion.  He lived his message. Tom witnessed some wild behavior among our crowd, but I never heard him express shock or judgment. He simply stood by, available to listen, empathize, laugh, guide or comfort. We didn’t know how wonderful he was – so self-absorbed we were that year.

In later years, I heard stories of his compassion as a parish priest: traveling over the Cascade Mountains to Seattle Children’s Hospital where a critically ill child struggled to live. He rode the buses around Portland to his destinations – his eyesight limited long ago. He was unstoppable in his ministry to be the presence of Christ in a hurting world. He lived the joy he preached and therefore, was deeply loved.

May God welcome Tom into the loving light of joy and celebration – a feast of eternal friendship.  Our hearts carry memories of a selfless man who shared his gentle humor, deep faith, kindness and passion for life. We send him forth with grateful hearts: arrivederci per ora; grazie di tutto

(S-R archive photo)

Really? basta!

Didn’t the tourist’s mom teach him: “Look, don’t touch!” The lovely piece – the Virgin Mary by Giovanni d’Ambrogio at Florence, Italy’s  Museo dell'Opera del Duomo- now has one less finger because the American tourist was compelled to mess with a piece of ancient art. (See story)

Italians cherish their romantic city with all its Renaissance treasures; and when they speak about the paintings, writings, architecture and sculptures, you wonder if they knew Michelangelo, Dante and Petrarch personally. Italians live as though they did.

While the Uffizi in Florence displays Botticelli’s magnificent works and rooms and rooms of other treasures, it is the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo where some equally inspiring pieces live: Donatello’s Mary Magdalene, a craggy wooden sculpture my son termed “Mary Hagdalene” when he saw – and loved - it. He was ten years old when we traveled to Florence. And I am certain that Mary “Hagdalene” still has all her fingers. I taught my son while in the presence of these magnificent works we are profoundly privileged and above all else: “Look, don’t touch!”  

(S-R archives photo: A couple kiss each other during a snowfall in Florence, Italy)

Vasari’s code? DaVinci’s masterpiece?

As a person who once lived a fairy-tale year in Florence, Italy, I love to hear news from that city. It feels like news from home.

So when the Associated Press reported that perhaps the hunt has ended for DaVinci’s unfinished mural titled “Battle of Anghiari,” my heart raced. The beauty I experienced in Florence was a lovely mix of art, passion, culture and youth. An intoxicating mix I shared with 90 other Gonzaga students. We fell in love with Dante, Petrarch, Michelangelo, DaVinci and each other.

DaVinci started the mural in 1505 to commemorate the 15th-century victory by Florence over Milan at the medieval Tuscan town of Anghiari. He left Florence in 1506, leaving the work unfinished.

The Renaissance holds many secrets. Was it the artist Vasari who wrote “cerca, trova” (seek, find) on his own work to suggest that DaVinci’s work rested underneath? The National Geographic Society and the University of California in partnership with the city of Florence may uncover DaVinci’s creative masterpiece in Florence.  

 As for our Gonzaga-in-Florence Renaissance secrets? They belong to the artists alone.

(S-R archives photo: A couple kiss each other during a snowfall in Florence, Italy)

Figuring out what matters

Cathy and I talked by phone today. She's in California at a reunion of our GU in Florence class. I couldn't go this year because of a family commitment that's important to me.

Our GU class reunites every five years and I call the experience a “community across time.” The 1975-1976 year in Florence was so intense. For many of us, it was the first time out of the country. We were “half-formed human beings” as my buddy Dan Webster says of 20something young people.

So when we meet up again, we have great talks, great laughs and it's nourishing at a cellular, soul level.

Cathy and I both had hectic work weeks leading up to this weekend. But we decided it's worth it to make time in your life for things like this — reunions and family events. Because in the end, that's what matters most.

Va bene.

Simple kindness

Thirty-five years ago Rebecca and I spent our junior year of college in Florence, Italy, with 90 other students. We explored, we pondered, we traveled, and we studied. Friendships grew deep.

Last week we received an e-mail telling of the death of a classmate's mother. We receive these announcements frequently now.

And no matter who we defined as pals decades ago, our common-life passages link all 92 of us, our “community across time.”  In these moments, we respond to each other with empathy and condolences. And that kindness does ease the grief, acknowledge our loss.  

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
Advertise Here