There are seven Pontifical Universities operating in Rome. All of them, except the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (PUHC), had their origins centuries ago. They were established in different times after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which took important measures to improve the education of priests in a systematic way.
In their youth, some Popes have studied in these universities. For instance, Pius XII and St. Paul VI studied at the Gregorian University and St John Paul II at the Angelicum.
From these Universities come many lecturers in diocesan seminaries around the world and many priests who support their Bishops everywhere.
In 1984, Blessed Bishop Alvaro del Portillo started the Academic Roman Centre with 41 students. It was canonically recognised the following year by the Congregation for Catholic Education. It is located in the centre of the old Rome, some 50 metres from Piazza Navona.
After having grown to around 1000 students, along with a large number of Professors and four Faculties, in 1998 Pope St John Paul II raised it to the rank of Pontifical University. It is a positive addition for the Church to have both old and new universities.
Currently, it has six Faculties, a Higher Institute of Religious Studies, 87 Full-time Academics (plus 128 Academics who are Delegates, Visiting or Assistants) and about 1,500 students. In the academic year 2019-20, it approved 49 Doctoral theses.
What are the novelties brought about by this new University? One is that the majority of its lecturing staff have PhD’s from civil universities as well as ecclesiastical ones, bringing a knowledge and experience from the secular world into the ecclesiastical one.
Another one is that the Rector of the University is the Prelate of Opus Dei, which means that the spirit that Our Lord instilled in St Josemaría Escrivá (Founder of Opus Dei) – which is old as the Gospel and new as the Gospel – permeates its operation. It is a spirit based on the consoling truths that we are all sons of God and called to holiness, and that we have to reach holiness through work well done and offered to God.
A third feature, which is not exclusive but emphasised by this University, was pointed out by Vittorio Messori in his book Leadership and Vision in Today’s Catholic Church: “What is taught there is in line with the strictest fidelity to the Magisterium.” He was also saying that at the Holy Cross “the pedagogical methods, the tools of learning and research are the most avant-garde.”
A fourth feature of the University is the great number of countries from which its students come from: 28 African, 7 Central American, 10 South American, 3 North American, 17 Asian, 27 European, and also from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Whereas in many of these countries the Church has been present for many centuries, in many others Catholicism is relatively new.
When graduates of this second group return home after three or more years of study at a Pontifical University in Rome, they can contribute greatly to the expansion of the Church with their new knowledge and formation. Often candidates from these countries need economic assistance to afford the costs of travelling to Rome and to study there.
That’s why in different developed countries, such as Australia, foundations have been established to fund scholarships for them.
Requests for assistance are granted by the University after a serious consideration of all the circumstances. When granted, the University asks the Foundations if they can fund them.
The Australian Foundation over the years has granted 40 scholarships to students from 14 countries, among them: Nigeria, India, South Africa, Indonesia, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Kenya.
Every year the beneficiaries of a scholarship write letters to the Foundation to thank their benefactors. Here are three samples of letters received in Australia:
From Fr Prasad Harsham Paranathantrige: “I am the first priest from my small Island, Sri Lanka, who has undertaken the course of Social Communications and Mass Media. This area of study was given to me by my Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who has a missionary dream of starting a Radio and TV channel for Catholics in Sri Lanka. I thank God for placing me in this blessed University, which has already started her mission of empowering me. The University is providing me with the best formation in order to be closer to God my Father and Mary my Mother.”
From Fr Anthonius Gregorius Lalu, of the Diocese of Manado, Indonesia: “It has been a great experience to study here in the Eternal City and to such a prestigious formation from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Permit me, in this short letter, to express to you my profound gratitude for all the help you have extended me throughout my stay in Rome. I fervently pray that I may be able to serve the Church with generosity and sacrifice.”
From Fr Aloysius Udoka Enemali, of the Diocese of Onitsha, Nigeria: “The professors at my faculty are wonderful. They teach Canon Law with a deep theological insight blended with the systematic method of Civil Law. I enjoyed every bit of my hours in the lecture room. The administrative team at the University are equally marvellous. I wish to express my gratitude for the wonderful work you are doing in my life and for the Archdiocese of Onitsha and for the entire Universal Church. I am very grateful for the scholarship you gave me. I will continue to pray for you and for your dear ones.”
The Church needs help for a multitude of good purposes, and its needs cannot ever be satisfied.
“The poor you will always have with you”, our Lord told the Apostles. There is always need for the works of mercy, which Pope Francis moves us to practice with his example and words.
To help the education of priests is a very effective way to help the Church. In the words of Pope Francis, “Priestly formation is decisive for the mission of the church: the renewal of the faith is possible only if we have well-formed priests.”
The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Foundation in Sydney exists to sponsor suitable candidates lacking the resources needed to study in Rome. After careful consideration, it grants them scholarships to study at the prestigious University of the Holy Cross, erected as a Pontifical University by St. John Paul II in 1998. Students at this University come from all the continents and from over 90 countries.
If you would like to contribute to the higher education of priests, your donation or bequest to this Foundation will be a good way to do it and it will be greatly appreciated. To make a contribution, visit www.pontifoundation.org.au, or contact Frank Casadesus, Trustee of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Foundation, on email@example.com
With thanks to the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Foundation.