ROME — The Vatican Secretary of State today blessed a new annex for pastoral and spiritual classes at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome, describing the gleaming 10-floor facility as a “sign of great hope.”

Speaking to the Register after celebrating Mass in the college chapel on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Cardinal Pietro Parolin marveled at the increase in vocations across areas of the United States that prompted the construction of the new facility. 

“I believe it is a good sign — a sign of great hope,” he said. “The monsignor [Msgr. James Checchio, the NAC’s rector] was telling me that this increase isn’t coming from all the regions, but the fact that so many young men are preparing for the priesthood is truly a cause of great joy.”

The college, a house of formation for seminarians preparing for priesthood ordination in the dioceses of the United States, has been full-to-capacity for the past four years in a row and currently has 252 seminarians.

The new building — the first substantial addition to the NAC since Pope Pius XII blessed it in 1953 — encompasses 36,000 square feet and will provide the seminary with more accessible offices, meeting spaces and spacious, bright classrooms for pastoral and spiritual instruction.

It also houses a chapel for private prayer, sound-proof rooms for homily and Mass practicums and a reading room offering a sweeping 360-degree view of the city from atop the Janiculum Hill, close to the Vatican.

“It’s good for the men of the college,” Msgr. Checchio told the Register, “providing better facilities and resources to prepare them for the priesthood.”

The new St. John Paul Chapel has stained-glass windows of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, plus St. John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta — both of whom visited the college. It also has windows of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and Venrerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, plus a relic of St. John Paul’s cassock from the day he was shot in St. Peter’s Square.

The new building was a three-year project that took 18 months to build. The original plan was to make it seven stories high, but a reading area and terrace were added, increasing the height by three stories. The result: NAC, situated on part of the Gianiculum hill, has arguably the best view over Rome.

 

The Mulvas’ Generous Gift

Msgr. Checchio said the project is part of a larger major gifts initiative to continue needed structural improvements to the seminary campus, as well as at the Casa Santa Maria, a house in Rome for American priests pursuing post-graduate degrees.

The construction project, an idea of Msgr. Checchio and Msgr. Daniel Mueggenborg, a former vice rector of admissions at the college, was largely funded by benefactors James and Miriam Mulva of Austin, Texas.

“We talked about this over many years, decided we feel very strongly about the NAC and what’s being done here; and so we decided to support it, build it and make it happen,” James Mulva told the Register.

Asked how their faith motivated them to be so generous with the project, he said, “We feel very strongly about the Catholic faith and the Church. We feel it’s important that we support the young priests.” He added, “We believe in supporting the Catholic Church and supporting education and youth, so it was natural for us.”

Added Miriam Mulva, “We’ve also been very blessed in our lives, with our love for each other and with our family, so it’s important to give back.”

“It’s an obligation to give back,” James Mulva agreed. “And it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Cardinal Parolin dedicated each of the 10 floors, accompanied by cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians, who sang carols.

Among those present were Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat on the Economy, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., chairman of NAC’s board of governors.

 

The Pope’s U.S. Travel Plans

In comments to CNA at the dedication, Cardinal Parolin also discussed reports that Pope Francis will most likely visit Washington and New York during his September visit to the United States.

Pope Francis announced his trip to the United States on Nov. 17 in an address to members of the Humanum conference. During his visit, the Holy Father will participate in the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Citing informed Vatican sources, the Register reported last month that Francis would address the United Nations and discuss many of the themes he is expected to raise in his forthcoming encyclical on “human ecology.”

Cardinal Parolin told reporters that, “of course,” a papal visit to the nation’s capital city of Washington may be on the agenda, but he stressed that “no official confirmation has been made.”

Said Cardinal Parolin, “I think the Pope will go to United Nations; everybody is speaking about that … but no official announcement has been delivered.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.