Only Student on Trip Shares Experience

Rudy Altergott ’13 – When I talked to Dr. Cook about the possibility of coming on this alumni trip to Italy, I wasn’t sure what he’d say. Firstly, I’m the only current Wabash student in the group. Secondly, while I look up to Dr. Cook a great deal, having taken his freshmen tutorial on Alexis de Tocqueville, I never ended up taking any of his mainstream Christianity classes during his time as a visiting professor at Wabash, and I’ve never felt like one of his star pupils. But, not surprisingly, Dr. Cook responded to my query with open arms, and I am very thankful for that. I have met some wonderful alums, faculty or friends of the college. These people especially have made this an unforgettable trip.

On the way to the Church of San Damiano

In many ways, I’ve come along for this ride because I’ve never been to Italy previously. But in many other ways, I’m here because of the irresistible opportunity to see Dr. Cook in his element. And that is so true when being with him in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. For those who may not know, Dr. Cook is arguably one of the world’s foremost Franciscan authorities. While I loved being in Siena, being in Assisi helped me become reacquainted with things I learned in Catholic grammar school. I could never imagine then that I would end up in Assisi where St. Francis lived and preached . The same is true when thinking about St. Clare, a contemporary of Francis’.

We have visited churches upon churches on this trip, and have analyzed the iconography of medieval frescos therein. On our last day in Assisi, we visited some very special churches connected to Franciscan history. When a young St. Francis received a vision from God telling him to help “rebuild the Church”, he took it to quite literally mean the physical repairing of churches. One of the many he rehabilitated was San Damiano, which later included the very cloister in which St. Clare lived out most of her religious life. We then made our way to the church and museum of Santa Maria degli Angeli. What I enjoyed to discover was that, in actuality, this church is the namesake of the city of Los Angeles, California (where my sister is enrolled at USC). And the stories related to these places are nothing short of fascinating.

If you ask me, though, the best part of Assisi stay was our last night there. We started in a usually deserted (but that night crowded) museum in the mountain town of Montefalco. I somewhat enjoyed the museum’s rare frescos, but was more interested the exotic sports cars being auctioned off in the town square. Classic models of some of my favorite cars were well-represented, including a few Porsche 911s, Ferraris and Rolls Royces, among others.

We then made our way to Le Casaline a family-owned restaurant in the nearby countryside. I have to confess that I am picky eater, but I made a conscious effort to eat everything that was offered there, and I absolutely did not regret it. We had delicious hors d’ouveres while watching a beautiful sunset, and then made our way inside for more delicious food. When we left for the bus outside, we saw an incredible moon, and got back to the hotel in time for a good night’s sleep to end a wonderful section of the trip.

It has been great to be able to be here and to get to know the members of our group. I have discovered a lot, both about history, Christianity, and myself, among other things. But the trip is not yet over, and there is still much to be said and done. God (and Dr. Cook) only knows what will happen next. Ciao!

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