SBU Establishes Study Center in Perugia

HNP Communications Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. – In 2002, St. Bonaventure considered developing an academic presence in the region of Assisi, Italy: not just a pilgrimage, but a study abroad program for the university.

Michael Chiariello, working with Patrick Panzarella, did a search of academic centers in the area and discovered a site in Perugia, Italy, which seemed to be a good fit. Perugia is 20 minutes from Assisi, in the Umbria region. Panzarella soon established a successful summer program there at the Umbra Institute.

In exchange for a cooperative agreement with the Umbra Institute, St. Bonaventure was invited to establish a Bonaventure presence in Perugia – a full semester program beginning in spring 2007. Panzarella and Chiariello were instrumental in formalizing the agreement with the Umbra Institute.

To prepare, Chiariello traveled to Perugia with his wife, Judy, and enrolled in the Università per Stranieri (University for Foreigners). He and his wife took a one-month intensive Italian course, 20 hours a week.

“It was very intense, but a great experience,” he said. He spent a lot of time at the Umbria Institute observing its operation and a little time thinking about the courses the full-year program should have.
”The choice of Perugia vs. Assisi was made because Assisi is a very contemplative place,” Chiariello said. “It is a place that deserves quiet and respectful observance. In other words, not a good college town.”

While Perugia has the proximity to Assisi, it also is a great cultural center of its own. “Perugia is where Raphael studied with Perugino,” he said. “It’s got incredible character with thousands of college students from all over the world who come and study Italian, including individuals from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Australia and America.”

Perugia, in addition to its Italian, Franciscan cultural presence, has Etruscan, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance cultures all historically preserved. It is off the beaten path. Not a tourist destination. “It is the perfect location for our program,” said Chiariello.

Samples of courses to be offered include “The Franciscan Heritage Program.” It will consist of a series of courses that are designed to take advantage of the Umbria region, in proximity to all the sites where Francis and Clare lived.

“We wanted a program that would take advantage of the location. It would be a general study abroad program, where students learn something about the culture of the region, and one that would satisfy St. Bonaventure University requirements, Clare College requirements specifically, and would also be appealing to other Franciscan and Catholic schools who are interested in the Franciscan legacy,” he said.

Franciscan Heritage courses cover material that would be essential to the Franciscan Tradition, the lives of Francis and Clare and some of the philosophers such as St. Bonaventure who have written and thought about that legacy, including some of the art and literature that has grown out of that.

” ‘The Life of Francis and Clare’ is an ethics course to be understood as exemplars of a certain kind of good life – the Franciscan life,” said Chiariello. “They are the models. The course will look at their lives, study their biographies a bit and we’ll travel to places where they lived and prayed. But we will also be talking about contemporary ethical concerns such as environmental problems – Francis as patron of the environment.”

“The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition” is a course looking at the influence Francis and Clare and other Franciscans had on the universities of the Middle Ages. “One of the things that happened very early on is a move from the early development of the Franciscan brotherhood as an order of preachers to an established order of philosophers and thinkers,” said Chiariello.

“Within a generation, Franciscans had a house in Bologna and at the University of Paris. St. Bonaventure was born toward the end of St. Francis’s life, beginning a new generation. He was a world-class philosopher at the University of Paris before he became a friar. The Franciscans had a huge impact on European intellectual history.”

This will also be a history course of Western civilization.

Chiariello said, “We’ll go back to the ancient world because the Franciscan and medieval philosophers were really studying Plato and Aristotle, so this will give us a window on the ancient world. We’ll bring it up into the medieval European world where we will focus most of our attention, and then we will move into some contemporary discussion on what Franciscan thinking is today.”