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Top Siena College officials discuss meeting with Pope Francis during recent trip to Italy

Siena College leaders are reflecting after a recent trip of a lifetime that included an audience with the pope.

The private Catholic college in Loudonville often leads mission trips for students and faculty. On their most recent trip earlier this month, the board of trustees and several friars travelled through Rome, where they were given an audience with Pope Francis. Father Mark Reamer is a member of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan order that established the college and is guardian of Siena College’s Friary.

“We start in Siena, and have several days to really learn more about who Bernadine was, and who he is for us today. And the message of the gospel, and how we can live that out here. It's yeah. And then we went to La Verna, the mountaintop where Francis received the wounds of Christ, called the stigmata,” Reamer said.

In Franciscan tradition, the marks are representative of Francis’ suffering and his love for the world.

Joanne Maloy is a 1980 Siena graduate and a member of the college’s Board of Trustees. She says, while the college often takes mission trips for students and friars, this one was different.

“It was suggested that we do one for the Board of Trustees. And the premise was to walk in the footsteps of Saint Francis so that we would all be familiar with his life and his teachings,” Maloy said.

But actually meeting the pope, the first to bear the name of Francis, isn’t as simple as just walking in the door to the Vatican. College President Chuck Seifert:

“Brother Michael Perry is at Siena College; Brother Michael was the 120th Minister General for the Franciscan Order, which means he was the 120th successor to St. Francis. And he did work directly at the Vatican with the Pope. And in fact, when the Pope walked into the room and saw Brother Michael, he just lit up,” Seifert said.

Reamer says the trip was a long time coming.

“About a year or so ago, we had a picture of Pope Francis and Michael Perry with the Siena Saints t-shirt. And that was the beginning. And at that time, Francis said, ‘Tell me more as this develops.’ And he was interested in what Siena College is doing as a leader of colleges and universities in the United States,” Reamer said.

Maloy says it was an experience like no other.

“He looks at you like you're the only person in the room when he when he greets you,” Maloy said.

Seifert says Franciscan imagery abounds on the campus in Loudonville, but nothing compares to seeing the original.

“We were at Clare's tomb. And all of that history just really helped reinforce why it is we're doing what we're doing,” Seifert said.

Clare is Saint Clare of Assisi, an early follower of the Franciscan tradition.

Seifert says Pope Francis was especially impressed by the college’s commitment to the principles laid out in his encyclical Laudato si', subtitled “on care for our common home.” Seifert says the pope stressed the message during the meeting,

“-a message of caring both for each other, and for the environment and the planet, carrying on multiple different levels. And honestly, there's a wonderful integration, of caring across those because we are all connected,” Seifert said.

Reamer says, as a member of the clergy, the message has another layer of significance.

“It was of kind of nice to get a pat on the back from the leader of the worldwide church to say, ‘I like what you're doing, keep doing it,’” Reamer said.

“And he’s aware of it,” Maloy added.

And he's aware of it, and he was very encouraging to us to continue this good work,” Reamer agreed.

Reamer likened the experience to Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to spread the word.

Seifert says the impact was just as powerful for him, a layman.

“After the pilgrimage, and obviously the capstone of meeting the Pope, I have a much better understanding of what it means to be a Franciscan, and how we can better convey that as we go forward,” Seifert said.

Maloy says, religion aside, the experience was powerful for everyone.

“We see each other four times a year, for a day, and you sit at a table with someone across from you, but when you actually spend 10 days with them, and we were all very conscious of making sure we had dinner breakfast lunch with everyone, we mixed ourselves up and we came away much more. Much more bonded. We knew each other much, much better,” Maloy said.

Overall, Siefert says he’s come away a different person.

“It just really helped reinforce my need to continue to learn to continue to grow, and to continue to practice,” Seifert said.

You can see pictures from the trip in the box at the top of this article.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.