Our Pilgrims


My name is Natalie Derksen. I can already feel the happy tears building up inside of me as I dream of this wonderful opportunity to travel to Rome. Knowing that I will be able learn about my faith and grow as a Catholic in one of the greatest cities in the world is almost too good to be true. I am truly excited to travel for the first time in my life out of the country! To experience Rome with students and professors who yearn to discover the history and heart of Catholicism is a once in a lifetime journey. As a junior at Saint Mary’s studying communication, I am looking forward to documenting this trip for all of my friends and family at home to see!


My name is Matt Magnaghi. This trip to the center of the Catholic world and the country of my ancestors should prove a pivotal part of my faith journey that began with my Baptism some twenty years ago. A lover of music, friends, and food, I am from Solana Beach California. I have always enjoyed the study (and practice) of religion, which has led me to both this course and a minor in Theology. I have previously traveled a bit through Europe but have never visited the Eternal City. My Catholic and Italian roots are giddy with excitement for three weeks of Jesus, wine, and pizza. Ciao!


My name is Jacquelyn O’Neill. I’m an Accounting major in the Senior class at Saint Mary’s.  I have always dreamed of traveling to Europe, and the opportunity to participate in a pilgrimage to Rome is a blessing beyond anything I could have imagined.  I am most excited to be in the presence of Pope Francis, attend daily mass, eat gelato, travel to Assisi, and well, just about everything! Ultimately, I am excited to embark on a spiritual journey that will help me to stay grounded in my faith after I graduate.


My name is Jessie Bever.  I am a junior Accounting major.  I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and moved to San Diego when I was 14 years old.  At Saint Mary’s, I was a member of the softball team for a year and a half.  Since I am not playing anymore, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to travel abroad. When I was looking at the options to travel for Jan Term, this class caught my attention. I had Father Dave as my professor for TRS 097, and it was such a great experience.  I am looking forward to learning from him again.  I am very grateful to be a part of this trip, and I am so excited for the journey. 

Mitchell Woodrow

My name is Mitchell Woodrow. I’m a Junior in Business Administration with a concentration in Digital Media and a minor in Communication. I am very reflective in the way I see myself and the way others respond to me but at the same time I am driven to becoming the best person I can be. I think both of these qualities have influenced me to go to Rome. I have been involved in many leadership opportunities including being a Student Ambassador Saint Mary’s Admissions office and working as a Lasallian leader. In learning about Saint Mary’s and the Lasallian mission, I have grown into the person I am and the way I live my life through respecting and celebrating diversity around us and, just as importantly, within us. I recently became a Public Relations intern with Vantage PR. Besides going to class and working, I enjoy spending time with friends, going to concerts, working with iMovie, and trying new restaurants I find on yelp.


My name is Giselle Espinosa and I am from Red Bluff, California. I am a senior at Saint Mary’s and majoring in Personality Psychology. I am excited to have the opportunity to visit Rome to further my spiritual life, learn more about my Catholic religion and have my first experience of going out of the country.

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My name is Rebecca Patterson. I am a junior and an English major with an Accounting minor. 2014 has been a year of personal discovery for me. I have been defining myself since I came to Saint Mary’s, but this year especially, I have striven to explore, learn, and most of all, fully experience my very limited time at Saint Mary’s. Italy is a country rich with history and my family can trace its roots there as well. However, for me, the opportunity to go to Italy will not only be a chance to connect with the lives of my ancestors and the early Christians, but it will also enable me to further my personal and spiritual growth. I look forward to great food, new connections, and the chance to continue to discover myself during this adventure in Rome!

Anthony Oliveira

My name is Anthony Oliveira and I’m from Hilmar, California. I’m an Accounting major at Saint Mary’s College of California graduating this May. I’m really looking forward to deepening my Catholic faith and being exposed to the Italian culture on this pilgrimage!”

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My name is Hope Blain and I am a senior English major and Art History minor. I am the 2014-2015 Student Body President of Saint Mary’s College as well as a student intern at the Saint Mary’s Museum of Art. I have loved being a part of the weekly Student Mass as a greeter and Eucharistic Minister and for the past two years I have deeply enjoyed living in the Santiago Community, a faith-based living and learning community on campus. Due to these experiences, I believe attending Saint Mary’s College has been a pivotal stop on my faith pilgrimage and I feel strongly called to be a part of JAN 173: Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians. This trip will allow me for the first time to tangibly study the origin and history of my faith, and better understand how the Early Christians worshipped, lived, and experienced the reality of God in their own lives. Just as I have grown in my own Christian-Catholic identity at Saint Mary’s, I will be able to discover how the Early Christians transformed from a small congregation of believers to a world-wide religion.

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My name is Marian Pantaleon. I’m a senior at St. Mary’s College of California, a Liberal Civic Studies Major in the Teachers for Tomorrow track and am minoring in Montessori. I aspire to be a first grade teacher just like my mother who has been a first grade teacher for 19 years. She enjoys working with the younger children as they teach her the joy and simplicity of adventure and exploration. I was born and raised in Burbank. There, I was fortunate to have had a Catholic education for elementary and high school which fostered my faith and relationship with God. Continuing my education at St. Mary’s College, I am ready to explore the roots of my faith as am blessed to travel to Rome during this JanTerm.


My name is Andrew (Andy) Altomare. I am a senior here at Saint Mary’s College of California studying Technical Theatre and Design, and employed as a Network Technician with the IT Services Infrastructure and Operations Group. I chose this class because Italy has been a place in which I have wanted to travel in my life and having Father for a TRS class made me want to know even more about Catholicism. I am very excited to Travel, Learn, and Adventure.


My name is Meaghan Osborne. I’m a senior at Saint Mary’s, majoring in Liberal and Civic Studies (Teachers for Tomorrow program) with a minor in Theology and Religious Studies. I am extremely excited to embark on my pilgrimage to Rome for JanTerm. This trip encompasses my three favorite things: Jesus, pizza, and wine (in that order)! I look forward to traveling outside of the country for the first time, enriching my spiritual life by attending daily mass in Rome, learning more about the lives of early Christians and the spread of Christianity, visiting ancient ruins as well as coffee shops, spending a weekend in Assisi, and eating mass amounts of carbs. I feel very blessed for such a wonderful opportunity.


My name is Mary Gerlomes and I am a senior in the Teachers for Tomorrow Program. I have decided to embark on this pilgrimage to Rome in order to widen my global perspective and deepen my Catholic faith. With an open mind and alongside this particular group of students and professors, I hope to make this an experience I will never forget. This journey is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one I could not be more excited to begin!

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I am Heather Marsh, a senior English: Creative Writing major and Theology and Religious Studies minor. I am really looking forward to my first pilgrimage to the holy city of Rome and my first time going abroad. I hope this trip will help to deeper enrich my faith experience as well as give me a chance to explore the greater world that we live in. I am especially excited to go to Assisi, as my Confirmation saint was Saint Clare of Assisi!


My name is Erika Guzman and I am from Santa Maria, California. I am a senior and majoring in Biology. I have always had a fascination with religion, especially how it forms part of a person’s identity as well as its cultural and historical impact on society. I grew up in a family where religion was integrated in every aspect of life; but I am interested in learning and seeing more of how the Catholic faith took root and how it is practiced in a different country.


My name is Marie Munzar.  I am a sophomore from Livermore, California who is majoring in Biochemistry.  I felt drawn to the Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians class because I am interested in history and in learning more about my faith, and I love to travel.  This class seems the perfect choice for me.  I am excited for what I will learn over this Jan Term and how my experiences in Rome will help me grow.


My name is Nataly Sanchez and I am from Sacramento, California. I am a junior Biology major at Saint Mary’s College of California. I aspire to be a surgical pediatric oncologist and I have quite a long road ahead of me to achieve that! I am extremely excited to go on this pilgrimage to Rome because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the roots of my faith with a group of people who are just as enthusiastic to learn the history of the Catholic Church. It’s also a great time to reflect, which I haven’t made a priority (as I should!) during the semester.


I’m Father Dave Gentry-Akin, a priest of the Diocese of Stockton, California, and a professor of theology at Saint Mary’s College of California, where I have taught for twenty-one years. I earned my Masters in Divinity at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) and my pontifical licentiate and doctorate from the Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven, Belgium).  I have been a teacher most of my adult life, and have also worked as a hospital chaplain and a parish minister. Currently I am the associate pastor of Saint Jude’s Church in Ceres, California, where I minister on the weekends and during school breaks.

In the Theology and Religious Studies Department, I teach our foundational course in Biblical Theology on a regular basis, as well as courses such as The Catholic Imagination, The Theology of Creation: The Incarnate Word in an Evolving Universe, and In the Face of Mystery: Faith and Reason in the Search for God. My passion is to help students to explore the rich depths of all that the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition has to offer them, and so I really look forward to leading this wonderful pilgrimage with Father Mike Russo.

Having led this pilgrimage on numerous occasions over the past ten years, I have been blest to see the many of the beautiful and historic sites of Rome many times. Still, each time I lead a group of students down to San Clemente, and we hear the story of how this 1st century bishop of Rome, the third successor of Saint Peter, led a house church on this site, and how Catholic faith and worship has been practiced here continuously for more than 1900 years, I am moved. It is a rare privilege to lead our students into the 12th century worship space, and to share with them the incredible apse mosaic describing the cross of Jesus’ death as, indeed, the tree of life. I realize anew that, to use an image coined by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, I am only “a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons”, passing on what I have received so that our beautiful Catholic faith can continue to inspire young men and women as it has inspired me.

Each time we offer this pilgrimage, my hope is renewed as I witness how the young men and women that we bring with us are so open in their search for God, for meaning, and for true joy in this life. Each group, of course, has its own character (and its own “characters”!). Yet what is constant is that they all give themselves completely to the process in their search for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, which are all just other names for “God”. These young women and men, the future of our Church and our World, allow themselves to be touched, and changed, by the people, the places, and the experiences we shared together on this journey.  The Founder of the Christian Brothers wanted the Brothers to help the young people with whom they ministered to learn to read, to write, to do math, so that they could have a better life in this life, but his ultimate concern was that the Brothers help the students under their care to find God.

My prayer is that this pilgrimage helps each of these extraordinary young men and women to come closer to God, to come closer to the “pearl of great price” that is of such incomparable value that it is worth everything one has.  To find God is truly to find oneself, and, thus, to find the deepest happiness, even in the midst of the doubt, the fear, the struggle, and the sorrow that is an inevitable part of the human condition.dscn0830

Ciao, tutti! I’m  Father Mike Russo, pictured here in Subiaco; and I’m “freezin for a reason!” And the reason is our pilgrimage trip to the sacred sites of Italy & Rome. I’ve taught at Saint Mary’s for 30 years and this Jan Term course is a chance to learn more about my own faith; and most especially witness  the vibriant reponse of our students day-by-day. My first trip to Italy was in 1963 — and since then, I have been here for many, many opportunites to see and work in this culture of my grandparents who came from Avellino, nearby Naples.
Luckily, I have covered the news of religion for CBS News and was so privilaged to be in Rome for the death and burial of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Hello to everyone following this site! I’m Ginny Prior, the webmaster and media instructor/coordinator for this Jan Term experience. I have been working in broadcast and print for a very long time – although there is no truth to the rumor that I knew Thomas Edison personally.
In the ’80s and early ’90s, I was the morning newscaster for the legendary KSFO radio in San Francisco – part of the Gene Nelson morning show. I have also worked on air at KCBS and numerous other radio and TV stations across the country. My adventure show, Out and About, still airs on Sports Byline network affiliates in the US and beyond.
My print outlets include the Bay Area NewsGroup, where I have regular columns online and in the print editions of the Hills Newspapers. I am also an ongoing contributor to Saint Mary’s Magazine and I teach journalism and coordinate internships at Saint Mary’s College of California.

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