Seminarians and priests enjoyed a friendly bowling match in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes during some downtime on an afternoon in May 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Rome Newsroom, Jun 3, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).
The “mythical bowling alley” — that’s how it was thought of by seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome in recent years.
The narrow room in the basement of the seminary’s main building, with its two 1960s-era wooden lanes and above-ground ball return, had become a glorified closet for at least nine years.
“For years — for decades really — this bowling alley was breaking down,” NAC rector Monsignor Thomas Powers told CNA. “It was hard to find parts for the old pieces, and it was getting more and more expensive [to maintain]. So for the last few years it became more or less a storage room.”
But then the idea by some students to restore the alley scored a strike.
The original bowling alley had been a gift from St. John XXIII to the American seminary, Powers explained. The gift was announced in 1958 and the construction completed in the early 1960s.
“Because [the alley] was possible because of a saint — and because it’s a great way for guys to have fraternity, to spend time together, to take exam breaks, study breaks, build teamwork — we thought it really should be back to what it was intended to be by the pope,” he said.
Washington, D.C., seminarian Benjamin Bralove had also heard of this “mythical bowling alley that once existed.”
He told CNA he talked to the Student Activities Committee at the seminary, which he chairs, and found that the other seminarians were also interested in “trying to bring this bowling alley back to life.”
A generous donation from Norman and Darlene Ferenz last summer meant the students’ dream could finally be realized, and the college got to work restoring the St. John XXIII Lanes to their former glory.
Powers blessed the newly refurbished bowling alley on May 17, and since that day, he said, the sound of bowling balls striking pins has reverberated throughout the college.
Bralove, who led the restoration plan, said the hardest part of the process for him was the patience he had to exercise waiting for the monthslong project to be completed.
But Michele Marconi, the college’s chief financial officer and another leader on the refurbishment, said there were other challenges, too — namely, getting the proper pieces and finding someone with the know-how to restore the original 1960s Brunswick lanes.
The first obstacle, he said, was that there was no longer a Brunswick representative in Italy, so they ended up using a Netherlands-based company for help getting the parts.
Marconi noted that “the gutters at the end were all broken” and that it probably would have been easier to install something new than to fix the old. But, he said, they were committed to keeping the 1960s charm and were able to find a carpenter to do the repair work.
“We had three different companies working on it ... not only delivering the parts, but actually assembling the pieces,” he said, including a Brunswick expert who travels all around Europe.
The financial officer also pointed out the now-rare feature of the lanes with above-ground ball returns rather than underground, something he said is “really typical of the ’60s, ’50s.”
Rector Powers said “part of formation is to teach the men to study hard, to work hard, to be a complete self-gift to God and his Church, but also to have a healthy leisure in his life, and this is a great way to have some leisure with their brother seminarians.”
“And finally it’s something that faculty can actually compete in with these guys,” he added with a chuckle.