Viterbo Students Learn Franciscan Leadership in Italy

Thursday, March 21, 2019
2019 Assisi trip
Sister Laura Nettles led 20 Viterbo students on an eight-day trip to Italy during spring break in 2019.


Viterbo faculty member Laura Nettles of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration knows the critical importance of study abroad experiences in education.

“There is essentially no better way to learn about the larger world, people and cultures than actually being there and living it through one of these experiences,” Sr. Laura said. “The students move beyond their own limited experiences in a way that’s hard to describe.”

Sister Laura Nettles
Sister Laura Nettles

Sister Laura recently led a group of 20 Viterbo students on an eight-day trip to Italy during spring break as part of the class she teaches with fellow faculty member Michael Lopez-Kaley titled, “Theological Foundations of Franciscan Leadership.”

The course is designed to prepare students to be Franciscan leaders by examining what was so special about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi and those who followed, and with a focus on servant leadership and the common good.

The group toured Rome and visited the Vatican, attending Mass and St. Peter’s Square and a prayer service led by the Pope. They went to the Vatican museum and Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. They then went to Viterbo, Italy, and the Church of St. Rose of Viterbo and Assisi, Italy.

The group visited many places of importance related to Francis and Clare.

“I think the students thought it was an incredible experience,” Sr. Laura said. “Assisi is nothing short of magical. Of the 20 students, three had never been on a plane and all but two or three had never been outside of the U.S.”

One of those students was Cali Gurnicki, a religious studies major from Green Bay. Growing up as a strong Catholic, visiting Italy had always been her dream.

“It was awesome,” Gurnicki said. “I really enjoyed the Vatican and seeing the Pope. My favorite part was being in Assisi and having the stories of St. Francis and St. Clare come alive. It is really a sacred place. In addition to thinking, ‘this is where God talked to Francis, you also think, how can God talk to me here.’”

Gurnicki said the trip helped to affirm the important values of Viterbo and St. Francis of Assisi. She really liked the Italian culture, even as it differed greatly from Rome to Assisi.

“I enjoyed how eating was a social experience,” she said. “Eating isn’t rushed, people take the time to enjoy each other’s company during meals. They don’t seem to rush anything in Italy. Life is to be enjoyed. The people of Assisi were very hospitable and kind. I also really enjoyed the clothing fashion. Everyone is dressed nice. And of course, the food is awesome. The mozzarella almost made me cry it was so good.”

The journey to Italy was the first time Gurnicki had been outside of the U.S.

“Just seeing the ocean was great,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience. The world is so big.”

Sister Laura has been on several study-abroad trips during her 10 years as a faculty member at Viterbo. She has been a member of the FSPA for 15 years.

“I love helping students get the tools they need to change the world,” Sister Laura said. “We have incredible students at Viterbo who do want to change the world, and I love being a part of that. The students are why I love teaching.”