RU ready for Pope Francis’ visit to US? Rutgers Classics offers online course on Papacy


Father Bob Simon (Moscow PA) created this St Peter’s Basilica with 500,000 lego blocks, now on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. Credit: Darryl W Moran

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the first visit of Pope Francis to the US, which starts today. Or at the very least—if you live in DC, Philly or NYC—it will be hard not to get caught up in the traffic jams.

As it happens, Rutgers Classics and the university’s School of Arts and Sciences have developed an interdisciplinary fully-online course on the history of the Papacy. It’s called ‘Papal Rome and its People: 1500-Present‘, and is formally listed as ARTS & SCIENCES INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES 01:556:251. RU Classics professor Corey Brennan first offered it in spring 2014, and will do so again in spring 2016 (expanding the course to encompass some important themes from the medieval period). Here’s the trailer:

What’s the course about? Well, it offers a case-study approach toward select aspects of the social, cultural, intellectual and political history of the early modern and modern Popes, with a particular focus on their relationship to the city of Rome.

In particular, it highlights the reigns of Popes Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585, who introduced our Gregorian Calendar) and Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623, who canonized the first Jesuit saints), and their subsequent family history to the present day. But there’s a lot more too.

Portions of many course lectures were pre-recorded on-site in Rome, with Brennan and Anthony Majanlahti (the author of one of the main textbooks for the course, The Families Who Made Rome) as presenters. Here are two sample mini-lectures from the 30-hour course:

The course has several attributes that together appear to make it unique, at Rutgers and beyond.  First, it seems there is no university course in at least North America examining the Papacy’s temporal powers with precisely this broad chronological sweep.

Second, significant portions of the course have been filmed in Rome in the noble Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s residence, the historic Villa Aurora, and at several other sites in the Eternal City (August 2013 and September 2014). Rutgers undergraduate students from the university’s Center for Digital Filmmaking, housed in the Mason Gross School of the Arts and then under the direction of Dena Seidel, took responsibility for all on-site videography.

Third, materials for the course include a selection of unpublished documentary sources (in translation) and objects from the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s large archival collection in Rome, plus an entirely fresh and invaluable perspective—this Papal family’s unusually rich and well-informed oral history.

Questions? Contact Corey Brennan at


Detail from the facade of the Lego St Peter’s. Credit: Darryl W Moran/AFP/Getty Images

2 responses to “RU ready for Pope Francis’ visit to US? Rutgers Classics offers online course on Papacy

  1. Pingback: World Heritage Strategy Forum recap: address by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi to Institute for Digital Archaeology conference at Harvard – Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi

  2. Pingback: Taking stock of a unique collaboration in Rome: Rutgers Classics remembers HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (1941-2018) |

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