Lay Centre alumnus receives doctorate in philosophy

By Samantha Lin

ROME — Lay Centre alumnus David Angeles Garnica came to Rome in early October to defend his doctoral thesis in philosophy titled, “El caballo negro del Phaedrus. Demostrar, mostrar y armonizar el conflicto del alma” (“The Black Horse of Phaedrus. Demonstrate, Show and Harmonize the Conflict of the Soul”) at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

David lived at The Lay Centre for six years as a scholarship student. His wife, Janette, who also lived at The Lay Centre during her studies in Rome, was present for his defense.

David’s thesis on Plato’s The Phaedo explores the ways in which one could “seduce” the horses of the chariot of one’s soul into following the temperate path, balancing desires and needs.

At his defense, David engaged his moderators, so that the defense was more of a discussion among philosophers. After the defense, 40 friends and Lay Centre community members gathered to celebrate.

David Angeles Garnica and his wife, Janette Cortés Núñez, in the courtyard of The Lay Centre after David’s doctoral defense.

Both David and Janette said David’s doctorate is a shared achievement, as both had to make their share of sacrifices.

David’s journey toward his doctorate began in 2009, immediately after he finished medical school. The couple met in medical school, but when David moved to Rome, Janette stayed behind to complete her specialization in psychiatry and begin working in her field. She counseled patients facing serious illnesses or transplants.

They married in 2011, after which David again returned to Rome. Of course, it was difficult for David to leave Janette. However, Janette would remind him that he wanted to study philosophy and that he was capable of doing it, and this would give him the strength to return.

David’s call to philosophy started from a young age when he would tell his sister that, when he grew up, he wanted to be a “wise man.” As a medical student, David would study Greek for fun, ostensibly to help with his medical studies, but really it was because of this deeper call. It wasn’t until he came to Rome that he found the formation he had longed for.

Over some time, Janette experienced a crisis at work and felt she needed to find a new perspective to better treat her patients. Lay Centre director Donna Orsuto suggested studying spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Janette agreed and, in 2013, she moved to Rome and reunited with David while she completed a two year diploma in Spirituality. They both resided at The Lay Centre until 2015.

After David’s defense, the couple returned to Mexico City, where David will teach and do research and Janette will continue with her psychiatric practice.

Both David and Janette leave The Lay Centre a better place than when they first arrived. Their dedication to building community left an indelible mark on The Lay Centre. Their advice to students, who are starting their studies, is Ignatian-inspired.

“Fall in love with life, with somebody, with the things you do,” said Janette. “Sometimes (the journey) is going to be difficult and sometimes people won’t be happy with what you do, but don’t be afraid to explore new ways and new paths.”

David was honest about the difficult journey, but was confident that students can persevere.

“You have to be durable,” he said. “It isn’t easy and it hurts. You will bleed, but you will discover some beauty on the path. What helped me that was really important but I didn’t know at that time, was to find a companion on the path.

“Find someone who is with you. That means so many things at different levels. The companions who are with you are the people who believe in you. When you want to give up they say ‘you wanted that, you keep going,’ like Janette did for me,” he said. “You endure not because of you, but because of the people who are with you.”

“I can see the faces of my companions who were with me on my journey: Donna, who believed in me when nobody else believed in me, friends and benefactors of The Lay Centre who made it possible for me to stay in Rome; the dean of philosophy, who knew that I would come back and finish; a Jesuit at the Gesù Church who prayed with me,” he said.

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Peripheries in our Lives – VPI Autumn Series 2017

The Lay Centre is delighted to have Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi open our VPI Autumn Series “Peripheries in our Lives” on Thursday, 19 October 2017.

Born in 1948, Archbishop Ntahoturi became Archbishop Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church of Burundi in 2005. He has served as chair of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, from 2011 to 2016, and as a member of the Anglican Consultative Council Standing Committee, from 1993 to 2012.  He has extensive ecumenical experience  having served as a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches since 1998, and as co-moderator of the Permanent Committee on Collaboration and Consensus, which brings together representatives of the Orthodox, Anglicans and Reformed Churches. He has also served on the Executive Committee of ACT (Action of Churches Together) International and participated in the creation of the new ACT Alliance, which is the ecumenical branch of the World Council of Churches for Relief and Development.

To learn more about Archbishop Ntahoturi, who is the new head of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See, please click here to listen to an interview by Philippa Hitchen, Vatican Radio.

19 October      Thursday morning program      09:30-12:00

9:30                 Welcome and Introduction to Program  by the director of The Lay Centre, Dr. Donna Orsuto.

9:30- 10:20      Lecture by Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi

10:20-10: 40     Coffee break

10:40-11:10     Questions\dialogue

11:20     Prayer During the Day Service

The morning events will end at noon.

To register please contact or phone +39.06.7726761

Parking is available on site.




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Hebrew University students share ‘unforgettable experience’

by Samantha Lin

ROME — Eleven Hebrew University students participated in The Lay Centre’s “Buongiorno Roma” program last month. The students, many of whom are majoring in Italian or linguistics, engaged in 80 formal hours of Italian class — just the beginning of their introduction to Italian language and culture.

Throughout the month, students had the opportunity for cultural visits, and many went to the Museo Borghese and the Case Romane, close to The Lay Centre. One of their major highlights was the guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, by Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, the head of the Vatican fabrique. She explained the development of St. Peter’s and made two special stops for the group.

The first stop was at the tomb of Pope Innocent VIII, who engaged in diplomacy with the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II — an early example of interreligious dialogue for our interreligious group. The second stop was inside the chapel of Michelangelo’s Pietà. The group sat on the ground in stunned silence as our guide described the process of creating the work.

The students said they enjoyed their classes, given by two teachers from the Centro Studi Cassia. Others expressed their appreciation for The Lay Centre.

“The program honestly has changed my life,” said Mais. “All the love I had at The Lay Centre cannot be described in sentences. It is that unconditional love that is really hard to find nowadays.”

Nadine said The Lay Centre “felt like a family, which triggered me to behave as I am at home and not as a guest.” She expressed her gratitude for the “unforgettable experience… filled with unforgettable people.”

The Lay Centre looks forward to welcoming new students from Hebrew University next September for the same program.

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From lasagna to marriage, visitors discuss vocations

By Samantha Lin

ROME – Although the academic year has not yet begun for most students at The Lay Centre, there are already students hard at work in Rome.

The Lay Centre hosted one such group of American study abroad students from the University of St. Thomas Rome CORE Semester program. Through this program, they learn both the Italian language and about Italy through site visits and experiential education.

Lay Centre Director Donna Orsuto is a guest professor for one such course. On Sept. 19, Donna introduced the students to the “lasagna” of Rome; the layers of history upon which modern Rome is built. Beginning with a tour of the Case Romane and finishing with a visit of the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul, the students learned about the “middle class” neighborhood of ancient Rome that once shared the same hilltop The Lay Centre now occupies.

The Basilica of Sts. John and Paul was built upon the graves of the two martyrs. The tomb of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, is also in the basilica.

After their tour, the students were welcomed by Lay Centre staff and residents and indulged in a lasagna supper. Over dinner, students shared their observations of their first weeks and listened to five speakers discuss the ways they live out their Christian faith.

I spoke about finding tucked-away moments of peace and prayer in the many churches around Rome and the necessity of prayer as a way of remembering that we are simply the tools of God’s love.

Sister Susannah Miriam Kelly of the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem shared her vocation story. She recounted becoming first a Christian, then Catholic and finally a religious sister, a process that she described as “falling in love.”

Father Simon Donnelly from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, currently serving in the Vatican Secretariat of State, agreed with Sister Susannah and added his own account of his “delayed” vocation which, he joked, was simply a delayed reaction to a vocation that had long been on his mind.

And finally, Austrian Ambassador to the Holy See Alfons Kloss, and his wife, Anna Maria, jointly spoke about living their vocations as Christians through marriage. Communication between husband and wife is key and, most importantly, between themselves and God through prayer, said Anna Maria.

The students left The Lay Centre with a different perspective on Rome. Not only did they experience the “lasagna” of history below their feet, but they were enlightened by the various stories of how residents of Rome lived their Christian vocations. The students will return to The Lay Centre several times throughout the semester to continue “learning” about Italy and Rome.


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Autumn Lecture Series – 2017


The Lay Centre invites you for the Vincent Pallotti Institute’s Autumn Lecture Series – 2017, a special six-week series, starting 19 October, called “Peripheries in our lives”, welcoming :

  • Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, Director, Anglican Centre in Rome and the Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See
  • Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Director, Vatican Observatory
  • Edmund Power, OSB, Former Abbot of Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
  • Drew Christiansen, S.J., Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Human Development, Senior Research Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University
  • Carole Sargent, Ph.D., Founding Director, Office of Scholarly Publications, Georgetown University (Scholar of early-modern Women Political Writers, currently engaging Catholic Women Religious and Nuclear Disarmament)
  • Rabbi Joseph Levi, Former Head of the Jewish Community of Florence
    Philipp G. Renczes, S.J.
    , Professor, Pontifical Gregorian University
    (co-sponsored by Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies, Pontifical Gregorian University)
  • Thomas H Smolich, S.J., International Executive Director, Jesuit Refugee Service

For more information and for those who want to participate, please contact us:

Tel.: +39 06 772 6761

See the full program schedule below.




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Looking beyond ourselves, the “Peripheries in Our Lives”

By Donna Orsuto   

“Look at the stars more often. When something weighs on your soul, look at the stars or the blue sky. When you feel sad, when they offend you, when things do not work out…. go out into the open air and converse alone with Heaven. Then your soul will find rest.”             Pavel A. Florenskij

I have been in Mdina, Malta, “the city of silence,” this week.  The star-studded sky at night and the bright blue skies in the day reminded me of this quote from Pavel Florenskij (1882-1937), the Russian Orthodox intellectual and martyr.  It is an invitation to look beyond ourselves, to move out of our comfort zones, to seek answers, to let the light of truth and wisdom illuminate the still unexplored peripheries in our lives and universe.

Soon, I will be heading back to Rome and I look forward to the new academic year as we open the doors of The Lay Centre to our resident scholars and friends, new and old, who will join us for the six-week Thursday morning autumn program, “Peripheries in Our Lives.”

Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, recently appointed director at the Anglican Centre in Rome and the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See, will open the series on 19 OCTOBER. He will be followed, on  23 OCTOBER, by Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, who will be taking us on a journey into our universe and beyond with his presentation, “Peripheries in the Sky.”

The series will continue with other eminent speakers, including Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, who will focus on the theme, “The Last Periphery: Death?”

Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., and Carole Sargent, Ph.D., both of Georgetown University, will address the topic, “On the Peripheries: Exploring the Paths to Nuclear Zero.” Father Thomas Smolich, S.J., international executive director of the Jesuit Refugee Service will speak on “Peripheries in our Cities.”

Stay tuned!

Keep an eye on our social media for more details.

And in the meantime, take a look at the stars!


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Lay Centre alum publishes new book

Emil Anton is a Lay Centre alumnus and a PhD candidate in theology from Finland. He just published his latest book, titled “More Catholic Than You Thought – Travels in Time to the History of Finland.”

Emil Anton and his wife Beata Anton

The book covers Finnish history, from the 12th century, when St. Henry, an English bishop, martyr and patron of Finland, came to the country to evangelize the Finns and organize the Church, until the 21st century, which has witnessed the new phenomenon of atheists converting to Catholicism.

Finland was Catholic for 400 years before the Reformation, a fact often forgotten in a country that has called itself the “most Lutheran” in the world. Though Finnish Lutheranism has been and still is much closer to Catholicism than other forms of Lutheranism and Protestantism.

The book traces Catholic influence and currents in the “Lutheran centuries” (17th-19th) and documents the ecumenical developments of the 20th century and the return of Finnish Catholicism.

The book of about 160 pages and was partly written in Rome. It is Anton’s third book.

While living and studying at The Lay Centre in Rome, Anton “realized what a key location the Caelian Hill was for the Catholic history of Finland,” he said: “It was Gregory the Great who sent missionaries to England. And then England, in turn, with and through Sweden, evangelized Finland.”

“When I thought of Finnish Christian history, during my time at The Lay Centre, on the Caelian Hill, it all came together,” he said.

 Congratulations Emil Anton!

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