“Firmum est cor meum” - By Peter Avvento
It was a typical NYC summer day - hot and humid. But it would be for me a day like no other - Monday, August 23, 1971. It was a day when a frightened yound man from Brooklyn boarded the SS Leondardo daVinci, the pride of the Italian line, and met forty other frightened young men who would come to be the Class of 1975 of the Pontifical North AmericanCollege, the so-called West Point of the Catholic Church. We were the hope of the American Church, a church that was reeling with dissent and rebellion. It was the post Vatican II era, the aftermath of Humane Vitae, the encyclical that shook the Church and rocked the papacy of Paul VI. It was a time when the war in Vietnam was still raging, the drug culture was having a blast and the silent majority was not so silent any more. The Church in America needed hope and we were a big part of that dream. We hailed from Brooklyn, Boston, Buffalo and Baltimore; from Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans and Sioux City; from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Providence and places in between. We went by names like Jack, Jay, Billy and Danny. We were tall and short, stocky and slender, wealthy, middle class or somewhere in between.
The unknown lie before us. We would not see the American shore for two years and would be away for a total of four years. We would not hear The Star Spangled Banner or hear the words “Play Ball!” but rather would be serenaded by the lilting anthem of our adopted country, “Italia” and doze off on Sunday afternoons watching soccer matches.
It seems like only yesterday that we arrived in Rome and saw the Basilica of St. Peter for the first time just as the sun was setting. Rome - that eternal city of God, grace and beauty. That city of sin, corruption and infamy. Rome - that eternal city of our culture and our faith. I will never forget the crest of the College on the cool marble floor of the foyer of the North American College - “Firmum est cor meum” (“Steadfast is my heart”).
We were being sent to learn from the giants of theology - Lonergan, Rahner, Latourelle, Fuchs, Haring, Alfaro and Galot. These were the men who shaped the theology of the Church and we would be their pupils and possibly their heirs. But first we had to learn Italian since all of the lectures were being converted from Latin to Italian although some professors would still insist on the “mother tongue”.
Now forty years have passed since that August day and as I reflect I note how this group, the hope of the Church can be looked at as the pride of the American church producing a cardinal (RaymondBurke); eight bishops (Blair, Cote, Cupich, Hoeppner, Harvey,Mulvey,Provost, Zurek; numerous pastors, teachers, chaplains and missionaries. In addition, some of us became lawyers, teachers, businessmen, husbands and parents.
So I would like to toast those pilgrims, those frightened men of the Class of 1975 who matured into great lions of God. You were the brothers of my youth and you are the “fratelli” of my faith. I lift a glass of Spumante and wish you in ministry of whatever sort, “Ad multos annos” (“T o many years”). Because of you I can still say with the Psalmist, “Firmum est cor meum”.