Plenty of lifestyle changes are to be expected when moving from Albany, N.Y., to Rome, Italy, but Matthew Duclos didn’t expect toilets to be one of them.

“Simply trying to live in a new environment is challenging in ways you wouldn’t anticipate,” the local seminarian explained. “The toilets flush differently....The light switches are backwards....All the plugs need adaptors....There’s so much food for lunch...There’s no air conditioning....Coins are actually worth a lot.”

Mr. Duclos and fellow seminarian Stephen Yusko did everything they could to prepare for their studies at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome. Nine months ago, the two future priests were in the pre-theology program at Cathedral Seminary downstate in Douglaston, N.Y., when Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger tapped them to study instead at the NAC, a school renowned as the “West Point of the Catholic Church in America.”

Why us?

“Never in a million years would I have expected to be living here for five years, but that itself is a realization of God’s providence and guidance at each moment in our lives,” said Mr. Duclos.

Mr. Duclos and Mr. Yusko are the first men in 19 years to be sent from the Albany Diocese to study at the NAC. Almost a year into their studies, in an interview with The Evangelist via email, they expressed how grateful they are for the opportunity.

“When I learned I was being sent to Rome, there were feelings of nervousness, simply because I didn’t know anything about the NAC,” said Mr. Duclos.

“As time went on and I learned more about the seminary and about Rome and wondered why I was chosen to go, the only conclusion that makes sense is that this is God’s choice.”

“Every day that I am here, my deficiencies and weaknesses become more clear,” said a very humble Mr. Yusko. “I sense that it is much more likely that the Holy Spirit willed to send me to Rome — not because I am superior in any way, but rather, so that I may recognize my inability to do anything by myself, and thus to trust completely in God.”

Immersed in Italy

In July 2017, Mr. Yusko and Mr. Duclos began their time in Rome with an Italian immersion program in Assisi sponsored by the NAC. They stayed in a local hotel and took courses to adjust to the language, culture and lifestyle of Italy.

“Our day consisted of a four-hour group class in the morning with about eight people; then we would go back to the hotel for lunch, then [take] a smaller, two-hour class in the afternoon with four people,” Mr. Duclos explained. “The rest of the afternoon and evening was free to do some homework for the next day or take a look around the city.”

Both men said the program helped with their Italian. They worked on their skills with an Italian man named Giuseppe who teaches in Assisi during the summers with his wife.

Mr. Yusko said that “Assisi provided myself, and some of the other guys, with a solid foundation in Italian,” but added that he is “still far from fluent.” The two continued Italian classes at the NAC for another month after the immersion program, since all of their seminary classes are in Italian. Other non-Italian students are also learning Italian for the first time, they said.

“The process of learning a language simply takes a long time,” Mr. Duclos said. “You have to be patient with yourself and know your weaknesses.”

Typical day

Now living on the NAC campus, the men are taking courses such as moral theology, trinity and patrology (the study of the Church fathers). Mr. Yusko said their day begins with Mass at 6:15 a.m., classes from 8:30 a.m. until lunch and then more coursework, or time for homework or reading. The day ends with evening prayer at 6:45 p.m., followed by dinner.

Saturdays are a day off. Mr. Duclos said there is “plenty to do” in Rome: “We’ve visited monuments, historical villas, art museums and history museums. And after our visit we always go out to lunch.”

Both Mr. Duclos and Mr. Yusko have begun their “first cycle,” a three-year program of theology classes. The “second cycle” is a two-year program in a specialized subject. If all goes according to plan, both men are on track to be ordained to the priesthood for the Albany Diocese in June 2021.

University policy states that students are to remain in Rome for the first two years of their study, meaning they can’t return home this summer. However, Mr. Duclos and Mr. Yusko said they have adjusted to living abroad.

Getting comfortable

“Without a doubt, I feel more comfortable in Rome,” Mr. Yusko told The Evangelist. “It certainly took some time, but the language, culture, people and places have started to become familiar and comfortable to me.”

“In terms of living at the seminary, it’s difficult to be thrown into a place with 230[-plus] people you don’t know,” said Mr. Duclos. “After nine months of living here, I’ve become more comfortable.”

On the other hand, both men will be excited to return home next summer. 

“I miss my family; the seminarians from last year’s seminary, after living with them for a year; the other Albany seminarians; friends from school,” said Mr. Duclos. He plans to make a Chipotle run for takeout Mexican food once he’s back in the United States.

 “Hands down, I miss my family and friends the most,” Mr. Yusko said. “What I have found is that it is the presence of the person that is most important. I may be able to speak to my family and friends via technology, but there will never be a substitute for their immediate presence.”

Mr. Yusko looks forward to giving “my Mom a big hug and a kiss” when he finally gets to come home. Afterward, he said, he’ll be heading to a restaurant for “a true American burger and a proper beer.”