In 2007 several US bishops familiar with the positive impact of St. Josemaria on diocesan priests expressed interest in a formative program for their seminarians inspired by his spirituality and teachings. St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), founder of Opus Dei and the Association of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, devoted many years of his life to supporting diocesan priests through fraternal and spiritual formation and remains a role model for many priests today.

As a result, in 2009, Midwest Theological Forum and the St. Josemaria Institute organized a six-week program of academic courses and spiritual formation designed to complement the formation in seminary. Specifically, the program focuses on helping seminarians to enhance key characteristics of priestly identity, to develop a plan of life, and to cultivate a love for pastoral ministry.

The program begins with a five-day silent retreat in Ars, France, village of St. John Vianney, to reflect on the meaning of the priesthood. Some seminarians have remarked that this retreat was the most memorable experience of the entire program.

Following the retreat, the seminarians go to Rome for academic courses in Theology, History of the Church, and Christian Art and Architecture. The courses are supplemented by visits to Vatican Congregations, attendance at Papal Liturgies and General Audience, and pilgrimages to churches and holy sites throughout Rome and surrounding towns. The pilgrimages, in particular, are opportunities for the seminarians to pray at the tombs of the great saints and martyrs of the early church—to deepen their friendship with Jesus Christ and priestly zeal for the New Evangelization.

Courses and activities are planned within a daily schedule centered on the celebration of the Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, and an hour of meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. An emphasis on daily prayer, learning to contemplate the life of Jesus, is essential to helping the seminarians to keep the presence of God. The daily schedule also includes time for fostering fraternity among classmates which is so important for priestly life.

The program concludes with seeking the motherly intercession and protection of the Virgin Mary through pilgrimages to the Marian Shrines of Monserrat, Torreciudad, and Lourdes.

In the spirit of pilgrimage—of prayer and sobriety—the program offers:

Spiritual Formation

  • 5-day silent retreat in Ars, France
  • Daily schedule including Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, mental prayer, and the Holy Rosary
  • Sacrament of Penance, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and spiritual meditations
  • Learning how to have and commit to a plan of life
  • Living in close proximity to the Holy Father
  • Praying at the churches and tombs of the martyrs and saints


  • Opportunity to meet seminarians from across the USA
  • Daily prayers, meals, and classes
  • Cultural activities
  • Sports and hiking excursions
  • Free-time

Human & Intellectual Formation

  • Being immersed in the cultural history of the Church
  • Experiencing the beauty of the Church’s art and architecture
  • Academic courses taught by expert instructors from the USA and Rome
  • Guided tours and excursions to religious and cultural sites
  • Papal liturgies and audiences
  • Visits to Vatican Congregations

Pastoral Formation

  • Talks and discussions about challenges to the priesthood today
  • Interchange of experiences with visiting bishops and priests
  • Daily encounters with people of diverse needs and backgrounds on the streets of Rome


His Eminence James Cardinal Stafford
Major Penitentiary Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary

Most Rev. David R. Choby +
Former Bishop Diocese of Nashville

Most Rev. James D. Conley
Diocese of Lincoln

Most Rev. Robert W. Finn
Emeritus Diocese of Kansas-City-St. Joseph

Most Rev. Jose H. Gomez
Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino +
Former Bishop Diocese of Madison

Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

Most Rev. Alexander K. Sample
Archdiocese of Portland

Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann
Diocese of Orange


Rev. James Socias
The Rome Experience Program

Rev. Eric Nielsen
University of Wisconsin at Madison,
Diocese of Madison

Very Rev. Ronald W. Cattany
Rector and Pastor Cathedral Basilica,
Archdiocese of Denver

Thomas Pierzchanowski




“My hope for myself and for my brother seminarians who embarked on this Rome Experience pilgrimage is that with the companionship of Mary, Saints Peter, Paul, Josemaria, and all the Saints we’ve encountered and prayed with along the way, we will return home with a deeper relationship with Christ, with a greater sense of the family of Saints that surround us, and that we might venture out with courage into the great mission and adventures that lie ahead.”

Jeff Stephens
Seminarian, Archdiocese of Cincinnati
The Rome Experience Class of 2019


“During my time in Rome, I have heard the same words of Christ to Peter at the end of the Gospel of St. John: Do you love me? As I visit the tombs of the martyrs and see the relics of our faith, I cannot help but to say: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!

Nick Nappier
Seminarian, Diocese of Tyler
The Rome Experience Class of 2019


“The Rome Experience helped me to internalize the many aspects of Priestly identity: a man of prayer, a man of communion, a man of service.”

Rick Arriola-Gonzalez
Diocese of Galveston-Houston
The Rome Experience Class of 2017


“The amount of places seen is unmatched. Also, the program lends itself to growth within a community. My spiritual life was truly enriched in the heart of the Church, and I am a better man, Christian, and future priest having been in the program.”

Alec J. Sasse
Diocese of Lincoln
The Rome Experience Class of 2017

“Being in the town of the saintly Cure d’Ars gave us the desire to affirm God’s will just as John Vianney did more than 150 years ago. For this reason, it was helpful to be pulled out of our ordinary circumstances and daily routine, which can leave us in our own world with our own projects and plans. The good of taking time for a retreat in an unknown place was beneficial in allowing us seminarians to contemplate eternal truths, mainly what God has revealed through his saints, especially John Vianney.”

Marc Gustinelli
Seminarian, Diocese of Palm Beach
The Rome Experience Class of 2019


“I always hear about the reality that the Church has a vast history since its foundation the the first century. Being able to see it in Rome, however, has strengthened my understanding of what it looks like to have two-thousand years of Church history, and has also given me insight into how it has been formed in this time. This experience is an incredible opportunity, and I would recommend it to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of their faith.”

Elijah Puthoff
Diocese of Lincoln
The Rome Experience Class of 2017


“The Rome Experience was most beneficial for me in my life of prayer. The emphasis on structured prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was a great highlight of the trip. Being able to walk among the Saints in the Eternal City certainly helped to focus my prayer in a deeper way and give it a new richness.”

Matthew Pearson
Diocese of Madison
The Rome Experience Class of 2017