Rome, Italy, Sep 5, 2014 / 02:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Each year, the Pontifical North American College in Rome celebrates Labor Day by pitting its second-year seminarians against the newly-arrived first years in a game of softball.
The new seminarians lost this year's game 9-4, but that doesn't seem to have dampened their enthusiasm as they embark on this new phase in their seminary training.
“One of the amazing things I've noticed from being here just a month and a week,” said first year seminarian Billy Burdier, “is the real fraternity” and willingness to “help one another to really become like Christ.”
Burdier, 22, is studying for the Diocese of Providence, and will begin his theology training this fall. He is one of 51 new seminarians who arrived this past summer.
Upon coming to Rome, he told CNA he was also moved by the “great witness of the love” and “service” from his fellow seminarians.
“I feel really privileged, and I thank God and my bishop and my diocese for giving me the opportunity to be here,” he said.
Fellow first-year, John LoCoco, also noted the sense of welcome upon his arrival. Despite its size – with the new class, the seminary is nearly at capacity with 256 men in house – he said it “still has had its moments where it felt very close.”
Like all seminarians who come to the NAC, LoCoco, who hails from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, will begin studying theology in the fall, having already completed his philosophy training in the United States.
He told CNA he was looking forward to “the opportunity to study theology finally,” adding: “to have the chance to take some classes that are directly translated into ministry in the future is an exciting prospect.”
Monsignor James Checchio, rector of the NAC, was one of the spectators at Monday's Labor Day game, which he said “always brings new life to the College.”
Remarking on the arrival of the seminarians, he noted how “every year it’s a new group, and they’re always different. They always come with their own gifts and bring a different character to the house by their personalities, but also graces.”
This year, the NAC will have something else to look forward to: the inauguration of a new 10-story tower complete with state-of-the-art classrooms, offices, and a terrace overlooking Rome.
Construction of the new building, which has been funded by the Mulva family, is expected to be completed this fall.
The “tower” will also include additional guest rooms, meeting spaces for faculty, and a new reading room for students.
The rector added that the construction project, which was funded by donations, is “a good sign of hope and support… The people of God are very generous to us, and supply what we need to offer the best quality program we can, and this will certainly help.”
Taking into account the NAC's proximity to the Vatican – St. Peter's Basilica being visible from the rooftop of the seminary – Msgr. Checchio went on to say that Pope Francis provides an important example for the men in training for the priesthood.
“He’s a great blessing for us, and a great example of priestly ministry for us,” the rector said, not only through “his generosity of spirit,” in “reaching out to all kinds of people,” but also by being “firmly rooted in the spiritual life.”
“He’s a good example of a man who knows who Jesus Christ is, has developed this friendship with him, and then shares that with others.”
Martin Mleziva, second-year seminarian from the Diocese of Green Bay, also acknowledged the significance of studying so close to the Vatican, under the guidance of Pope Francis.
“It’s just such a blessing to be so close to our Holy Father,” he said.
For seminarians in particular, he added, Pope Francis is “a great example…in helping us to become better Christians, challenging us in our faith,” and, with his closeness to the Blessed Mother, “showing us how to be good sons of hers.”