John Carroll University offers a number of study abroad opportunities to its students. The International Cultures course, “Gazing Women, from Paris to Florence,” provided students the opportunity to study Italian and French culture. The class included a mandatory trip to France and Italy over the course of spring break of 2016.
The class is sponsored by the Bishop Pilla program in Italian American Studies. The program was created in honor of John Carroll alumnus and Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Anthony Michael Pilla. It is designed to focus on an interdisciplinary undergraduate liberal arts approach to Italian Studies.
This was the first year the trip included travel to Paris, France. Santa Casciani, professor of Italian Language and Director of the Bishop Pilla Program, decided Paris should be on the trip because many of the paintings studied in the course are in the Lovure, World Famous Museum.
Casciani reflected on how the students benefitted from the experience. “Their eyes were opened to a new way of looking at the world. They got to see a world outside of the United States. It was important for them to see how these two countries live,” she said.
As an act of solidarity with the people of France after recent terrorist attacks, Casciani and Nancy Conrady, a French professor at John Carroll and co-professor of the class, wrote a proclamation. The proclamation was signed by Father Niehoff, President of the University and Jeanne Colleran, provost and sent to the French president.
The proclamation read,“Whereas, we ask that God’s blessings be with the people of France as they continue to recover from this horrendous act of violence. Now therefore, I, Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, S.J., President of John Carroll University, and I, Jeanne Colleran, Provost of John Carroll University, do hereby express our condolences to the people of France and do declare that our colleagues and our students at our university stand in solidarity with the people of France.”
Although the trip was academic, Conrady felt it would have been strange to be in Paris and ignore the fact that Paris was still reeling from the terrorist attacks that took place four months prior. “Everything in the proclamation is Jesuit. It is everything the University stands for, put into print and put into practice and received so well,” she said.
After sending the proclamation, Conrady did not expect a response. However, on the morning of their departure, she received an email from the chief of staff, head of the president’s cabinet, inviting the group to make arrangements to meet and receive the proclamation.
“You send things off like this, you write to a president of a country, and you don’t necessarily expect to hear back. All of a sudden, at the top of the list of things to do, was call the number that they gave us and make arrangements,” Conrady said.
The students were unaware of the visit. On the way to the airport, Casciani and Conrady announced the news to the students by handing out rubber bracelets they had made several weeks before, with the words “Je Suis Paris” (I am Paris) printed on them.
Conrady recalled having a layover in Atlanta and calling the state department in Washington, D.C., informing them of the group’s plans. “I was pretty sure they would be interested,” she said. The state department in Washington, D.C. then contacted per the American Embassy in Paris to make them aware of the meeting.
“We went from a John Carroll University trip, all the way up to something that was being addressed by the state department and the American Embassy. All of a sudden, we were diplomats. And I don’t think that anybody had that in mind when we were planning the trip,” Conrady continued.
The group was received in the Élysée Palace, considered to be the French equivalent of the White House. Conrady explained this is where the president’s offices are, heads of state are received, and important dinners are held.
“It is two different buildings, behind a compound and it is behind high walls. Most people don’t even have an idea of what it looks like inside.”
She continued, “Just about no one goes in there. You only go in if you are being received as a diplomat or if you are the attendee at a state dinner. So to be invited inside was so exciting. I have been to France a number of times and I never hoped to be received,” said Conrady.
After going through security and given ID badges, the group was ushered into the marble room, which was set up with large tables and seats for the group of 37.
They were greeted by the minister of education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, on behalf of the president. Because he did not speak much English, Conrady translated what he said to the group. The translation was, “The president wanted to receive you but was unable this morning. He has asked me to come to address your group and to tell you how much we were touched by the proclamation of support.”
“The minister gave us such a beautiful speech about the relations between France and the United States since World War II and even further back. It was very moving how much he appreciated the American show of support,” said Conrady.
After speaking with Vallaud-Belkacem, the group was escorted across the street for an hour and a half tour of the entire grounds, including a separate building that houses the president’s office.
Conrady remembers the excitement of knowing the president was present in the same building. “As we went into a room, they would close the doors and we could hear scurrying around and we knew the president was moving around at the same time,” she said.
“This was a really important moment for John Carroll students. It shows the importance of study abroad or even travel abroad,” said Conrady. “You never know what it will lead to and the fact that it led to something this important and exciting, is just terrific.”