Letter From Rome

Dear Glenstal Parents,

I hope all is well with each and everyone of you and that your sons are getting on fine. Hard to believe it is November already and the winter is just upon us. I was back in Glenstal for Abbot Brendan’s Blessing and the Autumn colours in Glenstal were spectacular. We are all very lucky to be associated with such a beautiful place.



The Vatican from San Anslemo at night

A number of you have been inquiring about my life here in Rome. I am not sure how to answer that fully because Rome is somewhat of a mixed bag. Some things are magnificent and others are not so great. I decided to post the odd account on the school website just to keep everyone up-to-date on various happenings here. 


Firstly, I am staying in San Anselmo, a Benedictine House on the Aventine Hill. There are about 80 monks here from all around the world and it is a very interesting place indeed with such a large mix of monks. The Aventine is quite centrally located and only a couple of kilometers from the Colosseum, the Forum and many of the ancient parts of Rome. I am taking various courses in Theology at a Dominican University called the Angelicum right in the centre of Rome. All the courses are through English thankfully as my Italiano is not great. Pope John Paul II studied Theology here in the Angelicum. I would not put myself in anything like the same category as him but it is interesting to sit in the same classrooms that he studied in while a student there.

 I walk or cycle to the Angelicum depending on my mood and the weather. The walk takes me past the Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill, the Colloseum and the Forum Romanum. As a graduate of Classical Studies I never get tired of gazing at the various ancient buildings, sites and ruins. To think that you can look at the very same buildings that were built by Caesar and Augustus and those famous names in ancient and later Roman history. Walking on the same cobblestones that Sts. Peter and Paul walked on forges a real link with the past. You could live a lifetime here and you still not get to see all that there is to see. I have done quite a few the major sites in central Rome and some of the not so major ones as well.



The bar in Ostia

I took a trip out to Ostia Antica which is an amazing place and on a par with Pompeii and Herculaneum. Ostia was the sea port of Rome where goods were delivered and then sent on the 20 kilometer journey to Rome via canals and roads. Eventually, Ostia was silted over and abandoned. However, the composition of the silt kept the watered-over town very well preserved despite being submerged for centuries. In the 1930’s it was reclaimed from the sea. It is in great condition and easy to walk around. There are so many buildings still intact with houses, baths, the theatre, tombs, shops, bars etc. One of the bars fascinated me because it was so well preserved with the bar counter and seats together with large and small amphorae on shelves. You can almost smell the stale wine; it’s not hard to imagine it teeming with customers. There is at least a day’s wandering around Ostia Antica.


bridge-at-dusk-2Both walking and cycling are demanding on the hips and knees – not to mention tyres – as the paths and roads of Rome are not well maintained: some of them are downright dangerous. About a month ago, one of the monks in San Anselmo hit a pothole cycling down the Aventine Hill, flew over the crossbars and ended up with some awful injuries. He had no helmet on and is very lucky he didn’t suffer serious head injuries. He is still in hospital. So, when I cycle I keep my concentration going at all times and my hands on both brakes when cycling downhill. Nobody seems to obey the Rules of the Road and a red light can mean anything. From a cyclist’s perspective, the cars are not too bad as long as you know what you are doing. You must indicate with hand signals and if you can make eye contact all the better. Once you give the car drivers adequate signals they are fine. However, the scooters are another story and you have to keep your eyes and ears open for them; some of them are a total law unto themselves.


The Romans generally are nice and helpful. However, you have to be careful in restaurants, shops, cafe’s etc. For instance, I have learned the hard way to ask about the price of things before I order. I have been caught out and charged 12 euro for a glass of beer, 17 euros for a haircut and God knows there isn’t that much barbering on my head! I have been looked after very well in Rome by a Glenstal Old Boy, David Lind, who knows places to eat which have wonderful authentic Roman food at reasonable prices. Some of the cafes go back many generations and are a real experience. The Roman waiters don’t make a fuss; they take their time but they look after you when they are ready. That’s the way it’s done here and you just go with the flow; you can’t rush them. Some tourists, especially American find this difficult to take.




Italians facing the Hakka

The All Blacks are here at the moment and are quite shaken by their loss to Ireland. Munster’s win against the Maori All Blacks has added salt to the wounds. I saw some of the players taking in the sights of Rome and have spoken to a few of their supporters who have all warned of a backlash in the Aviva on Saturday. It will be a great occasion. I went to their game against Italy and it was a bit of a joke with the score 35-3 at halftime. The Italians are great and they keep the atmosphere buzzing in the stadium which is an experience in itself. 

I am looking forward to meeting up with Fr. Columba and the School Choir here at the end of the month. They have quite a reputation here and will get a very warm welcome. They will be singing in the Irish College and in San Clemente Church. San Clemente church is quite interesting as the site was originally a Roman temple. It has been modified several times over the centuries with newer structures superimposed on the original site. It is now run by the Dominicans and is a musweb-pope-wavest-see if ever you are in Rome. Very easy to access as it is just up the road from the Colosseum.

I recently went to a Papal Audience in St. Peter’s. It was an amazing experience and when the Pope passed by it was as if an invisible force of joy and warmth swept the area. It was as if Christ himself had appeared and in a way He did. The Pope has a real effect for good on people and I found it all very moving. 

So, that’s about it for the moment. When the mood takes me I will write to you again. In the meantime do take care and say hello to your sons and families for me.



Denis, OSB.