The Renaissance Within — Looking Back at Gonzaga in Florence’s 50th Anniversary

The Piazza in Florence
Gonzaga in Florence celebrates 60 years in May

March 13, 2024
University Advancement

On Saturday, April 26, 2014, esteemed alumnus of Gonzaga in Florence and Trustee Emeritus Tim Barnard (’71-’72) addressed the attendees of the Gonzaga in Florence 50th anniversary celebration at the Palazzo Corsini. With the 60th anniversary celebration just around the corner, here are his meaningful words to help ignite the sparks of reflection and appreciation in Gonzaghinis, Florentines and friends once again: 

President Thayne McCulloh, Dr. Pat Burke, distinguished administration, faculty, friends, family and 7,300 Florentine alumni of Gonzaga in Florence. But most of all, to all the Florentines that are with us no longer, especially Matthew Madison who is the only Gonzaga in Florence student to have passed away while on the program.  Matthew died January 2006.  He was from Bozeman, Montana.  He was a great kid from a great family.
Good Evening.

My name is Tim Barnard, class of ’71-’72. My wife, Mary, gave me a birthday gift to track down my lineage.  The genealogists found one dead end after another…that is, until we found an old birth certificate of my great-grandmother Carmenelo Franco from Bella, Italy, a very poor region in southern Italy.  We also found a couple of letters from my Great- Great-Grandfather, Stefano and his son, Vincenzo. I’d like to share those letters with you.

Dear Vincenzo,
I am feeling pretty badly because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year.  I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot.  I know if you were not in prison my troubles would be over.  I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me.

A few days later he received a letter from his son:

Dear Dad,
Don’t dig up that garden.  That’s where I buried the bodies!

Because his mail had been censored at the prison, the next morning the Carbineri and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to Stefano and left. The next day Stefano received another letter from Vincenzo.

Dear Dad,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now.  That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.  
Love you,

There is a lesson about being resourceful in these letters…

I found out about Gonzaga in Florence when I made a surprise visit to Tom McCarthy here in Florence on a cold, drizzly evening in March of 1970…Florence was not very pretty that evening. Tom and I attended a boarding school together and did nothing but complain.

I asked the question “How do you like Gonzaga in Florence?” and waited for the howls of derision.

Instead, I incredibly heard “Best year I ever had.”

That was enough endorsement for me.   And as a kid from Jersey…Well, I could use some “cult-chuh.”  

In the fall of ’71, Gonzaga in Florence met in New York City.  I didn’t know a soul.  I had a little intrepidation: would I like the kids?  Would I find some friends?  After all, I’d be gone for an entire YEAR!

Surely, I’d find some good guys. My question was soon answered as I walked into my New York City hotel room. There were two beds and a rollaway.  

“O.K.  I’m the last one.  I get the roll-away.”

But as I walked in, this guy with no shoes and a goatee was sitting in the lotus position playing the flute and never stopped to even say, “Hello.”

“This is only one guy, right?”  

A few moments later the door about burst off its hinges and a stocky guy with a purple polka-dot suit and handle-bar mustache came marching in and said, “Howdy, Howdy, Howdy! Mark Neiter here — Billings, Montana, Montana’s largest metropolitan area. Nice to meet you, son!”

Whoa! It was a bit of an inauspicious start.

I’m sure your start of Gonzaga in Florence experience was much the same as mine. Maybe a song brings you to that time and place.  Think for a minute…
Mine was Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” “Wake up, Maggie.  I think I’ve got somethin’ to say to you. It’s late September and I really should be back at school…”

When we started…

We had long hair.
Our edges were sharp and pointed.
Our jeans were belled at the bottom.
The world revolved around us.
We were concerned about how we fit in.
We had fake ID’s.
We looked inward and didn’t find as much substance or solace as we hoped.
Our friendships were more on the surface than deep.
We didn’t care for customs or cultures.
We were all “Running Against the Wind.”

GIF 1971-1972

The schools in the U.S. we attended were filled with structure but failed to instill it within us. And suddenly we were all together with seemingly no structure.  In fact, we were told to not let school get in the way of our education.  We were free to go wherever we wished, with no guidance or supervision.

And as the year passed…

With that freedom, ideals and yes, even structure began to appear.
We learned independence.
We learned frugality.
We learned to trust others.
We learned people were basically good and honest, giving and kind.
We learned the confidence to go anywhere.
We learned the journey was more important than the destination.
And most significantly, we found true friends and relationships with depth and warmth in each other.

Our hair was still long.
Our jeans were still belled at the bottom.  
We were still running against the wind.
But we were different and our edges were not quite as sharp and pointed.
And we embraced a culture.

Then it was time to leave, and we wept. We couldn’t believe it was over.

We tried to explain our journey to friends and family who listened patiently.
But we couldn’t, no matter how we tried, we just couldn’t explain it.
But it was O.K. because what we now shared inside would be there forever.

You all know there is something profoundly missing in this speech. That is, without the influence of the legends, the giants, the Mt. Rushmore of Gonzaga in Florence, our experiences would not have been as nearly fulfilling.  The names will forever ring out in Gonzaga in Florence history.  

Clement Regimbal, Tony Via, Bruno Segatta, Tony Lehmann “The Padre,” and Pat Burke….

They gave a significant portion of their lives to us and to Gonzaga in Florence.  
Since Padre was in my class, I’d like to say a few words about him and his impact upon us.

He’s referred to as “The Padre,” “Father Tony,” “Our Saint Padre,” “I once knew a great man,” “The Man, the Myth, the Legend,” or simply “Tony.”

I’d heard about The Padre before I met him. I’d heard how wonderful a person he was, and my first thoughts were, “He’s not conning me.  No one is that good.” I was very skeptical and I was very wrong, as he won me over as he did hundreds of others. All the time I thought he, Regimbal, Burke, Via and Bruno were trying to teach us the Renaissance that was all about us, when in reality it was the Renaissance within that was so important.

And that, my fellow Florentines, is the thing we share: The Renaissance within.

Grazie Mille!

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Gonzaga in Florence, you are invited to make a celebratory gift so that Zags can continue to discover “The Renaissance within” through this transformative program.