May 15, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.

PILGRIMAGE WITH THE POPE

President Seifert shakes hands with Pope Francis beside Tom Baldwin Jr. '81 and Father Michael Perry. The meeting happened in the Paul VI Pavilion in Vatican City during the college's pilgrimage in April. (Provided photo)
President Seifert shakes hands with Pope Francis beside Tom Baldwin Jr. '81 and Father Michael Perry. The meeting happened in the Paul VI Pavilion in Vatican City during the college's pilgrimage in April. (Provided photo)

By Emily Benson | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

They say to know where you’re going, you need to look at where you’ve been. And Siena College’s leaders did just that — with a little help from Pope Francis. 

On a Franciscan pilgrimage to Italy in April, President Chuck Seifert joined fellow Siena Friars and members of the Siena Board of Trustees for a tour of sites familiar to Saint Bernardine of Siena, the college’s patron, St. Francis Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, and St. Clare of Assisi, one of the first followers of St. Francis.

Seifert, joined also by his wife, Deb, made their first visit to Italy on the pilgrimage. It was a journey the president described as “unbelievable.”

“Candidly, it had the greatest impact on me personally than any of the other trips I’ve taken,” Seifert told The Evangelist. “It was important to understand (this trip) was really based on furthering our understanding of Franciscan values and the Franciscan intellectual tradition, and for me, it reinforced the need to continue that and even expand that further at Siena College.” 

Father Mark Reamer ’83, OFM, D.Min., guardian of Siena’s friary and vice president for mission, has organized and led pilgrimages to these historical sites to help Siena members connect spiritually and historically with the college’s roots.

“The purpose of the pilgrimage is to understand the Franciscan mission and Catholic identity of Siena College,” Father Reamer said.

The group walked through history, taking in the sights and sounds of St. Bernadine’s home, including Mass at the Basilica dell’Osservanza, a visit to the tomb of St. Peter, and a “Christmas” service in the Sanctuary of Greccio surrounded by crèches from around the world.

In addition to the tour, Seifert and fellow Siena pilgrims were granted a private audience with Pope Francis to share the work being done at Siena’s new Laudato Si’ Center for Integral Ecology, named after Pope Francis’ encyclical about caring for our planet’s environment. 

Father Michael Perry, OFM, Franciscan Scholar in Residence and director of the center, arranged the meeting and presented Pope Francis with a letter highlighting their work since opening this past fall. The updates included plans for a two-day symposium on sustainability and integral ecology hosted by Siena in October, titled “An Unjust Crisis: Responding to the Cries of our Poor and Our Planet.”

“Having the opportunity to also have a private meeting with the pope just elevated (the trip) to another degree,” Seifert said. “It was incredibly impactful and meaningful. Just his grace and his presence and being able to have the opportunity to meet with him.”

The pope was told about the Board of Trustees’ resolution committing Siena to becoming a leader in sustainability, integral ecology and ecological conversion. He encouraged the group to continue their work in preserving the objectives highlighted in the Laudato Si’ encyclical, saying, “Go forward” and continue their good works.

“It was a thrill of a lifetime to have Pope Francis look in my eyes and shake his hand and have a couple of sentences with him,” Father Reamer said. “For me as a priest, every time I celebrate Mass I pray for Francis our pope, by name. To have that (moment) was not just shaking hands, it was about what Siena is about and what Siena is doing, and that was really encouraging for us.”


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