Standing atop the Spanish Steps overlooking the ancient city of Rome, a co-ed group of 17 Convent & Stuart Hall high school students and two chaperones stopped to catch their breath and take in the view. The steep climb from the magnificent Piazza di Spagna below is dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top, the site of Rome's first Sacred Heart school, opened in 1828.
Best known for its commanding position above the Spanish Steps, few visitors reach the chapel of Mater Admirabilis on the second floor of the monastery next door. It contains the original fresco of Our Lady, a copy of which, almost two centuries later, can be found in every Sacred Heart school around the world.
"The students were amazed and really enjoyed seeing Mater Admirabilis," says Scott Roos, Stuart Hall High School modern and classical languages faculty and a cappella director.
Scott, who teaches Latin and organized the Latin-themed trip during winter break to give students a brief but intense exploration of ancient societies, history, art and architecture, says the experience was inspired by previous school trips to Italy, the last of which took place in 2010.
Starting in Pompeii and then driving north to Rome, the group saw the ruins of Herculaneum, the first city to be hit by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, examined floor mosaics and sculptures recovered from Pompeii at the Naples National Archaeological Museum, wandered between St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums in the walled enclave of Vatican City, and admired the Renaissance art of Galleria Borghese.
"We used a binder of Latin texts that in some way related to the sites that we were visiting," Scott says. "We read Latin at some of those sites and English translations of Latin at other sites."
As Convent & Stuart Hall moves through the strategic planning process, the importance of engaging students with the broader world around them emerged as a key theme. It was in this context that Scott says, "Students engaged in a culture in which they could not read or speak the language, yet they had to learn how to communicate, especially if they wanted to eat lunch."
"Seeing how aspects of Italian culture differed from our own and adapting to those cultural differences equipped our students with important skills," he adds.