Local Priest Writes Book on His Alma Mater

A trip to Rome isn’t something to be turned down. That’s what Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni, of Stamford’s Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, said inspired him to write his latest book: “Aggiornamento on the Hill of Janus.”

The historical vignette of his alma mater, the Pontifical North American College in Rome, picks up where another graduate left off. Father Robert McNamara published a 100-year anthology of the college—“The American College in Rome, 1855-1955”—in 1956. Nearly six decades later, DiGiovanni was asked by the Archbishop of New York to spend a year in Rome and continue McNamara’s work.

DiGiovanni explored the school’s cultural transformation during the Vatican II transition, the Vietnam War and the social revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. “Aggiornamento on the Hill of Janus” is a history of the American seminary from 1955 through 1979, he said. “The school and the church were both going through some very turbulent changes at the time,” DiGiovanni said. “Some of the book is very wacky and weird. It’s a very interesting cultural and religious balance.”

DiGiovanni, who received his doctoral degree from NAC in 1983, spent two semesters in Rome between 2014 and 2015, gathering research and interviews for the book. It was written to supplement McNamara’s academic work, but it reads more like a narrative. “The book is academic in that there are a lot of sources and archives and footnotes, but it’s not difficult to read,” he said. “Anyone familiar with the culture of this era — this stuff is there. We have Vietnam, sex, drugs and rock and roll, civil rights—it’s all there.”

This is DiGiovanni’s second book. His first, published in in 2013, also focuses on NAC. “The Second Founder: Bishop Martin J. O’Connor and the Pontifical North American College,” chronicles the re-opening of the American seminary in Rome after World War II. For this book, DiGiovanni said he was fascinated by the ways in which the events and changes in practice at NAC reverberated into the rest of the world. “If you’ve ever wondered how today’s American church came to be what we know now—well, here’s part of it,” he said. “What happened (at NAC) was imitated and replicated around the world.”

“Aggiornamento on the Hill of Janus” was published by Midwest Theological Forum earlier this year. Its first run includes 1,500 copies. It is available on Amazon or for a discounted price at the Basilica in downtown Stamford.