||Fr. John Putzer arrives at the Dane County Airport (Catholic Herald photo/Nico Fassino)
MADISON -- Despite his fatigue from the exhausting journey (his flights from Rome lasted over 17 hours and covered approximately 5,000 miles), Fr. John Putzer smiled broadly as he exited the terminal at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison on Thursday, Sept. 20. Descending the staircase with a noticeable spring in his step, he took in his surroundings and exclaimed, “It’s good to be back!”
To the surprise of many in the diocese, the Vatican announced in May of this year that Father Putzer had been selected to serve in the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. While being selected for service in the Diplomatic Corps was certainly a high honor, the decision was also bittersweet, because it meant that he would have to leave the Diocese of Madison permanently to pursue his studies and assume his new role.
Less than three weeks after the Vatican’s announcement of his selection, Father Putzer was required to travel to Italy to begin Italian language studies, which would help prepare him for the rigorous training that he would experience while studying for the Diplomatic Corps in Rome.
Due to a happy circumstance, Father Putzer was able to conclude his preliminary language studies five days before his formal education with the Diplomatic Corps was scheduled to begin. This afforded him just enough time to travel back to Madison to visit his family, and to participate in the annual Presbyteral Assembly in the Wisconsin Dells on Sunday, Sept. 23. The Catholic Herald was able to interview him on his recent experiences, travels, and reflections concerning his new assignment. The following are his answers.
When you were told that the Vatican had selected you for this position, what was your response?
When Bishop Morlino first asked me if I would consider studying at the Accademia with the intent of entering the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, my first thought was: “What’s that?” After he explained what the work and formation would involve, my next thought was “Why me?”
It was a rather surreal conversation, and overall I was rather shocked. But, by the time I was officially accepted by the Vatican, I had had more time to get used to the idea, so I didn’t have to lift my jaw off the ground in front of Archbishop Benianmino Stella, the president of the Accademia.
What is your current position, and what will you be studying to do exactly with the Diplomatic Corps?
Right now, my position is “student.” I am residing at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (Accademia) in Rome, which is where priests are given formation to prepare them to work in the diplomatic service of the Holy See. My formation includes pursuing a doctorate in Canon Law (through the Lateran University in Rome), as well as taking in-house courses in the diplomacy, history, and modern languages. This year, in addition to the Italian that I have been studying, I will be studying French.
After this time of formation (which will last four years for me), the graduates of the Accademia are usually assigned to serve as the Secretary to the Apostolic Nuncio of a country. The Nuncio of each country is the official representative of the Pope, and acts as his liaison both to the bishops and to the political leaders of the country. [The Nuncios are commonly referred to as the “Ambassadors” of the Holy See.] In this way, the Vatican Diplomatic Corps is really one of the primary means in which the Church as a whole, under the leadership of the Pope, acts as “salt of the earth and a light to the world.”
After the announcement was made about your selection, how long did you have before you left to begin studies? Was it difficult to prepare to leave in the necessary time?
I told Bishop Morlino that I would be open to the possibility of entering the Accademia in December of 2011, but it wasn’t until mid-May of 2012 that I had an interview at the Vatican and was accepted. Upon returning home from the interview, I had less than a month before I was to report back to Italy to begin Italian language studies.
Indeed, it was quite hectic to pack up, say my good-byes, and get ready to move overseas in just a month. If I remember correctly, I put over 3,000 miles on my car in those four weeks in order to visit family and friends before my move to Rome.
We hear that transitioning to live or study in Italy can be an interesting experience. Did you have any trouble in getting started at your language program?
Yes, mainly because the system of Italian bureaucracy is atrocious. Now, it’s not atrocious simply because there is a lot of it (which there is), but mainly because it never works the way it’s supposed to. For example, upon arriving to Italy, I was expected to report to the officials within eight days of my arrival in order to apply for the Italian Residency Card. Before I could do that, I needed to fill out some paperwork that can only be obtained from a post office.
However, try as I might, I could not find a post office that had the necessary paperwork. I went to seven different locations all around Rome without success. Finally, I was able to obtain the forms to fill out from the U.S. seminary in Rome which, I found out, keeps these forms on hand for just such an occasion. This is rather typical of the Italian bureaucracy — what should take only a few minutes often takes days, weeks, or months.
What have you been doing and where have you been living since you left in June?
From the end of June until late September, I had been studying the Italian language at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy. It was a wonderful (and necessary) opportunity for me to learn the language before arriving in Rome at the Accademia, where the language of the house is Italian and all the classes will be taught in Italian.
In Perugia, I lived at the “Casa del Clero” or House for Priests. There were about 20 priests there throughout the summer from all over the world including a few who would be joining me in Rome in the fall at the Accademia. The location was great — Perugia is a beautiful city set atop a hill in central Italy. The language classes were stimulating, and I was able to learn enough to feel comfortable going to Rome for studies in Italian.
Since September 25, I’ve been in Rome at the Accademia, where I will be for the next four years. The community here seems excellent, and I have already made several friends. The weekly schedule is very full, but I’m excited to get started.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about Italy?
By far, one of my favorite things about Italy is the food. I’ve always loved Italian food, and the pasta here is just fabulous! Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but the fruits and vegetables seem to be fresher as well. This is more particular to my situation than to Italy in general, but as I’ve mentioned, I really appreciate the community life at the Accademia
Things that have been less enjoyable: the lack of air conditioning in the summer, the bureaucracy, and the noise in the streets of Rome at night.
What can you tell us about the life and studies at the Accademia?
As I mentioned, the schedule is quite busy: 27 hours of university classes per week, as well as the various in-house classes at the Accademia (this year I am taking French, Italian, International Rights, and there is a weekly guest lecture from one of the departments of the Roman Curia).
We all pray Morning and Evening Prayer together as well as concelebrate Mass as a community. Generally speaking, all of our meals are taken together at the Accademia. We are also expected to get involved in some sort of pastoral ministry on the weekends (for example, helping out at a local parish or convent). Needless to say, they keep us busy!
Have you been able to take any trips during your free time?
Actually, I have. Though I will have far fewer opportunities for travel now that I am officially at the Accademia, I had most weekends free when I was studying in Perugia during the summer. Because of this, I tried to make good use of that time by visiting several places in Italy including Assisi, Norcia, Cascia, Pisa, Florence, Rome, and Castel Gandolfo.
Is there any way readers back in Madison can keep tabs on you?
Certainly! You can read about my adventures at my blog: calledconsecratedsent.wordpress.com