Lasting Friendships

Four men - Joel DiGangi, Dan McLafferty, Tom Kearney, and Craig Sparrow - in Athens, Greece, posing at the base of the Parthenon in January 1976.
Joel DiGangi, Dan McLafferty, Tom Kearney and Craig Sparrow in Athens, Greece, posing at the base of the Parthenon in January 1976.

August 14, 2019
Catherine Johnston ('77)

Photo Credit: David Stanton

About the Author

Cathy Johnston (’77) from Olympia, Wash., reminisces about cherished memories, lifelong friendships and the compassionate presence of Thomas Royce, SJ, from her time as a Gonzaga-in-Florence student. She shared this with Gonzaga Magazine in the Spring '19 Letters to the Editor:

"I loved Dale Goodwin’s story 'Being There.' In 1975, I was one of 92 students who spilled out into Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. What a year! We learned about Italy and we learned about ourselves. We loved and laughed and traveled – and even studied. That time continues to inform my worldview. The friendships endure; every five years we reunite. About 30 of us make time to gather and listen and remember and repeat favorite stories. And we comfort. My Florence roommate has buried her husband after a sudden illness. Another man buries his wife tomorrow. We email, we call, we comfort, we show up. Gonzaga continues to transform us – long after we step off the graduation stage and into our adult lives. What a gift."


Florence? Ancora!
July 1996

We stood on the edge of adulthood peering through our 20-year-old wide eyes, voicing confident opinions. Flying into Amsterdam, we chattered away about our dreams and expectations.

Oh, how much we knew!

For eight months we mixed Medici ghosts with the Mahoney boys. The click-clack of trains pulsed through our days while we conjugated Italian verbs and strolled with Dante and Beatrice down narrow streets. Our hearts recited Petrarch’s sonnets as we stepped through Gucci’s front door.

Oh, how much we learned!

We picnicked along the Arno with panini and our friends. Duomo bells summoned us to Aranzulla’s class: let Homer wait. Instead, we trekked to Piazzalle Michelangelo and watched the sunlight dance across the red tile roofs.

Together, we lingered on Via Dolorosa and kissed the Blarney stone; we stared into the faces of machine-gun toting guards as we freely stepped from East Berlin to West. We climbed the pyramids and danced with Zorba; we rested our weary bones on Yugoslavia’s beaches.

Our minds expanded like Mt. Etna when ancient voices shook our souls. The certainties of youth disappeared. We turned to each other for answers and friendship.

We shared destinations and Chianti kisses and still hold secrets about our adventures with each other. “I’ll never tell. I keep my word of honor,” she said to him 20 years later over coffee.

We began as strangers and grew into kindred spirits, while the world we once spoke of changing, instead, transformed us.

Thank God!

In later years, we watched from our privileged vantage as politicians and children smashed down the Berlin Wall; we listened to the AP report the Red Army’s assassination of Moro in our old neighborhood.

Today, Serbs and Moslems destroy the countryside where my feet once crunched autumn leaves.

International news is always news from home.

And so, middle-aged and accomplished, we gather to remember a time of passion and innocence. We recall the lessons we learned and the mistakes we made. We marvel at the chances we took, the adventures we survived.

Connected through time, Florentine friendships remain powerful enough to call Lorenzo back to life and move a Mahoney man to tears.

Our renaissance continues. 


A group of three students smiling together on a bridge in Venice, Italy.

(From left to right) Joe Feller, Sara Wise and Michaele Hannam smiling together in Venice, Italy, Fall 1975


Ahhh, Firenze

Ahh, Firenze.
You are fire, my first adult love.
We keep secrets and dare not speak
Of shared moments,
Intimate and pure. 

While Rome may be the eternal nonna for some,  You are the seductive amore` whom I could never quite shake. The one who knew me before I knew myself,  Who welcomed my youthful passion,
Listened to my certitudes,
Now gone.

I will always love you, 
Knowing that quaking passion wanes.
I was too young to stay; 
And you, with steadfast confidence,
Remained awash in golden primavera
As I whispered my goodbye through tears 
And the slow click-clack of that afternoon train.

Decades later
Florentine passion slips into my days.
In stolen moments I pause and remember:
Your shadowed face from our pensione rooftop,

Midnight Chianti, morning embraces,
Perfect baci in fog-filled alleys, Your modest doorways Seducing me into splendid adventures.

I remember my innocence so easily abandoned
And with one pulse back in time, 
I stir the fire.


A group of four students shares a photo in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

(From left to right) Wesley Manaday, Michaele Hannam, Celeste Mullen and Jim Collins share a photo in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Taken in Pisa, Italy, Fall 1975


For Thomas Royce, SJ

When I heard the news that Tom Royce, SJ, left his Earthly journey, now welcomed into heaven, I grabbed my Gonzaga Florence sweatshirt and put it on. The logo rests over my heart. Seems perfect.

Tom Royce, SJ, taught philosophy at Gonzaga University my freshman year. “Now, remember, you cannot go from a particular to a universal, but you can go from a universal to a particular. Here’s an example…” The man could get so excited about logic. His students could not help but be inspired by his academic enthusiasm. 

But the real fun came in 1975-1976 when Tom Royce shared the year with our GU-in-Florence class. He soon became known as Padre Pastry – not sure if he coined the moniker or we did.  We shared pastry and travel and Italian adventures and woes (ours). Sometimes we went to class. With 92 college students dumped into Europe for a school year, he had lots of entertainment! I later wondered if he laughed or winced each night as he reviewed our daily antics.

On opening tour, we walked the red-light district of Amsterdam with our mouths and eyes wide open. Tom must have enjoyed watching our innocent reactions as we saw prostitutes “advertising” themselves in windows, as naturally as Santa in Macy’s Christmas displays. But it was through the routine days of the school year we met the kind man, Tom Royce. He listened to our drama, our dreams and our challenges. He loved spending time with us, but never tried to be one of us. 

We shared gelato at Vivoli’s and rode trains to Cervina. He celebrated Mass in the Soviet Union in quiet secret. He taught Documents of Vatican II with lessons I recall: No matter the doctrine, a well-informed conscience wins out – and pastoral compassion. 

He lived his message. Tom witnessed some wild behavior among our crowd, but I never heard him express shock or judgment. He simply stood by, available to listen, empathize, laugh, guide or comfort. We didn’t know how wonderful he was – so self-absorbed we were that year.

In later years, I heard stories of his compassion as a parish priest: traveling over the Cascade Mountains to Seattle Children’s Hospital where a critically ill child struggled to live. He rode the buses around Portland to his destinations – his eyesight limited long ago. He was unstoppable in his ministry to be the presence of Christ in a hurting world. He lived the joy he preached and therefore, was deeply loved.

May God welcome Tom into the loving light of joy and celebration – a feast of eternal friendship.  Our hearts carry memories of a selfless man who shared his gentle humor, deep faith, kindness and passion for life. 

We send him forth with grateful hearts: arrivederci per ora; grazie di tutto. 


A view of St. Peter’s Square from St. Peter's Basilica Dome Observatory

A view of St. Peter’s Square from St. Peter's Basilica Dome Observatory, taken in Spring 1976


Wild Grace – For Johnny

We shared magical moments decades ago – mixing Chianti with European independence, sharing Florentine adventures and click-clack train travel. Students of the Renaissance, students of life.

We remain a community across time. So, every five years we meet for the telling and making of memories. We find new parallel lives as our children grow, parents die and we face challenges our youthful hearts never imagined. Our profound affection deepens through the years.
Tonight, we amble into the hotel hospitality suite after dinner; pretty women and attractive men – accomplished and kind. That wild man, too. He lived on all the edges that year in Florence: drinking, consorting, defying the Roman-collared leader. He wore sunglasses to morning class after nighttime gallons of beer, a don’t-mess-with-me guy. His truth-telling voice raked sensibilities while his California-handsome face stopped girls’ hearts. 

An unknown woman arrives. She stands in the middle of the room, her body arched, like a parenthesis, from God-knows-what life slammed her way. She speaks in staccato phrases that do not hang together.  Her lined face is unrecognizable, her hair as white as cocaine. 

When she says hello and introduces herself, I try not to gasp. 

She is one of us.

We listen to her rant through a litany of tragedy: a hellacious divorce, four back surgeries, her estranged family.  Then, she claims her ex-husband has poisoned her with heavy metal. She tells us she is dying.

We want to know, know, know, so we throw our questions at her, like little lobbed grenades: how did he poison you, where are you living, how many kids and what will you do? 

Everything misses.

But the wild man simply listens and watches in silence. He knows.

He steps forward from the back of the room, from all those years ago, into the middle of her pain. His long legs step around us. He makes a place for himself on the loveseat right next to her and reaches, his long arm pulling her in close to him. 

He holds her, says nothing for a moment and then those wild eyes look into her broken face, his truth-telling voice calls her back to us: “This is your family. We love you and you are not dying. You are not dying!”   

No one speaks.

Within the roar of our silence comes only her weeping, her small face pressed into his chest. I watch without breathing. They once shared incidental passion in a Tuscan vineyard.  Now, his compassion for her – so deliberate, transcendent, palpable.

She weeps, then lifts her head to look at him. He waits.

Slowly, she speaks, she smiles and breathes. He brings momentary peace into her whirling confusion of a life, a life we cannot uncover. 

We talk with her; she asks questions, even laughs; we sit around the table, connected, unafraid.

As a theologian, I study, read and write about compassion, its Biblical moments, but my heart tastes this moment, burning into my soul. 

In our deepest anguish, God sears through our brokenness, our raw pain.

Tonight, I witness God’s mystical presence, pulsing through a handsome California man who breathes courageous compassion, heals with wild grace.