Two priests study, reflect in Rome

Father David Hitch, third from left; and Father Robert McAleer, second from right; pose with fellow students during a visit to the catacombs outside Rome last month. The two Diocese of Davenport priests took courses on Vatican II while in Rome last month.

By Anne Marie Amacher

A trip to Rome for classes on Vatican II also provided a time of renewal for two Davenport Diocese priests.

Father David Hitch, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Tipton, and Father Robert McAleer, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, participated in a 10-day program of study and reflection last month in Rome.

The two saw an advertisement about classes on Vatican II and Scripture studies in Rome. The intense graduate courses offered by the University of Dallas, a Jesuit university, intrigued both. Fr. Hitch is a fan of the instructor, Bill Huebsch, who is a catechist, theologian and author of “Vatican II in Plain English.”

Fr. McAleer was interested in reviewing his theology as a priest for the past 40 years. “We audited the class,” he said. “We didn’t want to write the (graduate) papers,” he laughed.

They stayed at the campus of Due Sancte, a branch campus of the University of Dallas. Both said the classes and field trips were long and exhausting, but well worth it. For five days the priests attended class about six hours a day. “It was very interactive,” Fr. McAleer said. “We had to respond. It wasn’t just listening to lectures.”

Huebsch “had slide presentations and added human life stories,” Fr. Hitch added. “I found him exciting and informative.”

The priests also took guided tours in and around Rome with a well qualified guide. They visited St. Peter’s Basilica and viewed the body of Pope John XXIII, who had called for and led the Second Vatican Council until his death.

Frs. McAleer and Hitch also went to the catacombs, visited various churches and were able to enter an area four levels down from the main floor in St. Peter’s Basilica — an area most people do not have access to, they said. They also met the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, who described his work. And they visited the offices of laity to learn what they do.

Fr. Hitch discovered that many Catholics have little knowledge of the Catholic Church, its history and Vatican II. To help educate parishioners at his Tipton parish, he has already offered two presentations on those topics and plans to offer a Lenten series to address the topics more thoroughly.

“When you start reading up on Vatican II you realize that it says we ARE the people of God. We have a bishop and pope who help guide us.”

Fr. Hitch hopes to further address the spirituality of the Second Vatican Council.

Fr. McAleer believes opportunities for spiritual renewal will help his parishioners more fully understand the changes in the upcoming new Roman Missal. “We need to empower the people and help them make sense of the changes,” he said.

Since returning from Rome, he has provided all parish groups with a prayer to start their meetings: “Abide, O Spirit of Life,” which was written by St. Isidore of Seville. “It was used at the Council in 619 and 663 and at every session of Vatican II.”

Fr. McAleer also wants parishioners to engage in personal sharing of the previous Sunday’s Gospel, at home and in the parish. A question is posed each week that he encourages people to discuss. “It’s not their interpretation, but how (the Gospel) talks to them.”

In the future he may offer a retreat to encourage people to slow down and reflect. “There are all kinds of things we can do.”

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