Benedict Nivakoff

According to Fr. Benedict Nivakoff, class of 2001, "Leslie Richardson made me a monk!" As a sophomore at Sewanee, sick of Spanish and bored with Latin, Fr. Benedict Nivakoff longed to learn a language that would bring him more than just technical knowledge. He wanted a culture. Leslie's Italian classes were lessons in how to live life, not just learn to bear it. At her urging, he made a secret trip (unknown to his parents) to Rome before his Junior year. There he discovered the beauty of Rome, and the depth of the Church. There he found the monastery, which would later become his home. He continued taking Italian classes until graduating in 2001. He packed up the few belongings allowed for the novitiate (including his well marked Italian text book) and entered the monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia where he later made solemn vows and was ordained a priest. This September will mark 12 years as a monk. Although many important people and less important places influenced his decision to become a monk, it was Italian class with Leslie Richardson which added the one thing he still needed: the inspiration.

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Catherine Ramsey-Portolano

Choosing to study Italian at Sewanee marked the starting point for the direction of many decisions to follow that would have long-term effects on the rest of Catherine's life. Along with majoring in Italian came travel to Italy, first for a 6-week summer program and then for a one-year exchange program. One year became four and resulted in a Laurea di Dottore from Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta, the equivalent of a Master’s degree from one of Rome’s private universities. She returned to the U.S. to earn an MA in Italian from the University of Wisconsin and a PhD from the University of Chicago before returning to Italy in 1999 to make Rome her home. Since 2000, Catherine has taught at The American University of Rome where she is now Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Italian Studies teaching Italian culture, language, and literature, including courses on Dante’s Inferno, Italian feminism and woman writers, and Medieval Italian Literature. Ms. Ramsey-Portolano's research and publications focus on gender issues and women writers in 19th and 20th century Italian literature and film, and is currently working on a book dedicated to the representation of female illness in fin de siècle Italian narrative and early Italian cinema.

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John David Rhodes

John David Rhodes had already satisfied his foreign language requirements in his first year at Sewanee, but by his junior year was looking to acquire another language while working towards his BA in English. He took to Leslie Richardson’s classes with great enthusiasm and delight. After two semesters of studying the language, he spent the summer of 1991 (between his junior and senior years) in Rome. The decision was fatal: Rome and Italy have played important roles in his personal and professional life ever since. After completing a Masters degree at Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature, John David began a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies at New York University. His knowledge of Italian and interest in Italy gently encouraged him to focus his energy on Italian cinema. His dissertation studied the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s passionate and critical interest in Rome’s sprawling post-World War II suburban expansion. This work became his first book, Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). John David taught in Italian and English departments at universities in Ireland and the UK before moving to the University of Sussex where he is Reader in Literature and Visual Culture in the School of English. He continues to publish on Italian cinema and culture and has recently co-edited a volume of essays on Michelangelo Antonioni: Antonioni: Centenary Essays (British Film Institute/Palgrave, 2011). He returns frequently to Rome (and other places in Italy) to deliver invited talks, conduct research, and satisfy cravings for puntarelle and carciofi alla romana.

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