In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” Gandalf famously says in a letter, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I’ve had the benefit of traveling a great deal in my life, and now, as I embarked on the yearly President’s Trip with our UST friends and benefactors, I like to think of my travel as intentional wandering to some of the remarkable holy sites in the world. Rome, Lithuania and Poland were on the itinerary, so here are some highlights from this summer.
First, Melynda and I made an important stop in Rome to begin to create new partnerships for University of St. Thomas-Houston. We visited the studio of Rome Reports, the international TV news agency based in Rome that specializes in covering the Pope and the Vatican. We met Antonio Olivié, CEO of Rome Reports, who is enthusiastic about working on a project with us. We also visited the beautiful campus of Pontificia Università San Tommaso d’Aquino – ANGELICUM. This Dominican university in Rome (The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas – Angelicum in English) is a historic bedrock of faith and reason for students and professors.
It was wonderful to visit a fellow university animated by St. Thomas Aquinas! We were led around the campus by Fr. Benedict Croell O.P., Director of Development and Mission Advancement, Alessandro Borghese, Manager of Special Projects, and Evelyn Blacklock, also working in Special Projects for the Angelicum. This team was quite captivating with their knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas and their enthusiasm for collaboration. Both groups are interested in what MAX Studios has to offer and how we can work together to create impactful Catholic video content to share the Good News.
While in Italy, we visited Florence and the Vatican Museum and Gardens. The art, the food and the history is so vibrant in Florence. The gardens were vast and serene, so I took the time to just wander – turning over in my mind how to inspire others to embody our Basilian charisms of goodness, discipline and knowledge (at UST we add community as well). Melynda and I enjoyed the tranquility of the area, along with the impressive grotto (which might be good inspiration for a grotto on campus!).
Another impressive site was Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer home. We saw where St. John Paul II gave talks and his desk. What an incredible place!
Then, it was on to Lithuania for the official UST President’s Trip. Andrius Kontrimas, a University of St. Thomas-Houston former board member and Lithuanian, was our guide to Vilnius University and the Lithuanian Presidential Palace. We were thrilled to see the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where we celebrated a special Mass with Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, and the convent where St. Faustina had her visions and wrote her diary. Our group of pilgrims prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in the very room where Faustina talked with Jesus. It was one of the most significant moments of my prayer life.
Then, on to Poland, where I’ve been before, so I took the time to allow myself (and my thoughts) to wander as we saw the holy sites, celebrated intimate Holy Masses and enjoyed private tours. Someone who made this trip especially memorable was Fr. Witold Kania, our shepherd and spiritual guide throughout the trip. He lives in Poland, but frequents St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church in Houston. He celebrated daily Mass with us and taught us so much about Poland and our Polish saints.
We saw several St. John Paul II museums and holy sites (where he was baptized, where he discerned the priesthood, etc.). Then we immersed ourselves in the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe. We went to the Franciscan Monastery founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, Niepokalanów (City of the Immaculata) Monastery. St. Max built a small wooden chapel when he first arrived and lived in a little room, where he later was arrested by the Nazis. The monastery also has a radio station on the grounds.
Most people don’t know that St. Max once had the largest media apostolate in the church with more 800 friars working with him to spread the Gospel. He was a real advocate for Catholic media. This is where the name MAX Studios at UST came from, along with our innovative enterprises like the USTMAX Center and The Kolbe School of Innovation.
At the station, we wrote prayer intentions for them to pray for the USTMAX Center, MAX Studios and the spirit of innovative at UST. We also visited Auschwitz, the most challenging day of the trip. Hearing the disturbing stories and seeing the cell of St. Max was difficult but really brought everything full circle for me. He sacrificed in great love for the other and his heroic act will never be forgotten. We saw so many more incredible churches and holy sites; you can visit my Instagram for details about the whole trip and all of its sites.
As the summer winds down and we will soon welcome our largest incoming class of undergraduates to-date, we know Greater Things are on the horizon for UST. While wandering through these historic countries and miraculous locations, I thought about those charisms of knowledge, discipline, goodness and community. We embody these in our academics, but also in the way we live our life. Intentionally wandering means you know and trust in our Lord while allowing yourself to explore all the ways He can surprise you and allow you to sacrifice for the good of others. This is what your time in university is all about – allowing the Holy Spirit to light your path for you. Let us all pursue intentional wandering with the Holy Spirit as our guide this next year as we strive to be a campus community who serves one another in prayer and love.
Crescamus in Christo!
Richard L. Ludwick