The Rector’s Dinner is one of the events of the year at the Pontifical North American College. It’s a fund-raiser, but it’s much more — for an evening, the college is a crossroads for seminarians and alumni, benefactors and Roman Curia officials, diplomats and Italian nobility.
Msgr. James F. Checchio, the current rector, was able to report that this year’s dinner was the most successful ever. It was a record crowd, which was fitting, because the college itself is enjoying a renaissance.
Enrollment is at a 40-year high, with 225 students at the seminary on the Janiculum Hill and 72 priests at the Casa Santa Maria in downtown Rome. A sabbatical program is about to move into a newly refurbished Casa O’Toole on the grounds of the seminary, which can accommodate 35 priests each semester.
And in these days of seminarian soccer tournaments, one should not overlook installation of the new and safer artificial turf on NAC’s impressive practice field.
The dinner featured the presentation of the 2010 Rector’s Award, which is given for dedication and devotion to the faith and support of priestly and religious vocations. There were three recipients this year:
— Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was rector at NAC from 1994-2001.
— Francis and Kathleen Rooney, strong supporters of the college and other religious organizations. Francis Rooney was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2005-2008.
As usual, the seminarian students did usher and waiter duty. Then, at the end of the evening, they wowed the crowd with a singing performance of classic American popular music. The rendition of “Duke of Earl” by the seminarians’ Doo-Wop Octet was a real slice of Americana.