Memories of Gonzaga in Florence 60 years ago

Bon Voyage
Newspaper clippings from 1963 when John Keegan and classmates left for Florence

May 07, 2024
University Advancement

With the 60th anniversary of Gonzaga in Florence on the horizon, travel back in time through the eyes of John Keegan (’65), as he tells the story of his experience at Gonzaga in Florence in this excerpt from his memoir-in-progress.

Gonzaga in Florence, 1963-1964

My third year at Gonzaga University was a miracle that will live in me forever, a dream come true. Three great Jesuits at GU—Fr. Leary S.J, Fr. McCluskey S.J., and Fr. Conwell S.J.—put together the inaugural pioneer program that allowed us to do a year of our college in Florence, Italy.

A contingent of 69 students left Spokane (and other cities) on September 5, 1963, to open the doors of the Gonzaga in Florence study abroad experience that has now offered this residency program for 60 years. We boarded the S.S. Waterman on September 6. I watched New York fade away as we sailed across the Atlantic to Rotterdam with 28 boys, 41 girls, 2 priests, 1 lady, and 1 CST Tour leader—a total of 73 participants. 

S.S. Waterman

Our 12-day tour from Amsterdam to Florence was amazing and full of European history and allowed us to get to know the students we will be living within Florence.  We arrived on September 28, 1963. The entire trip was a dream, a fairy tale, a story that I will never forget.

The spirit of the experience was to improve our Italian and give ourselves over to the secrets of living in this amazing city. Florence was a treasure chest of history and an amazing collection of art. My favorite museum in Florence throughout the year was the Galleria Academia, where Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of the naked and giant David is posed with a slingshot in one hand and looking to the far horizon. One of my favorite walks in Florence was to cross the Arno River and go up the hill to look back at Florence from the high vista on the other side of the Arno.

While in Florence in this magical year, we received the horrible news that on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President, 46 years old and the 36th President of the United States, had been shot in Dallas, Texas Somebody in our Florence group heard the news via his radio connection to a source somewhere in Europe. In Florence, the Catholic churches were filled with Italians who had heard the horrible news of our President being assassinated. Persons on the streets and in the church closest to our pensione bowed and crossed their hearts as a sign of sympathy for us American students as we passed them by.


Still, living with this tragedy, we made our Christmas Trip to the Middle East, sailing on the ship Esperia from Genoa to Naples, Alexandria, and Beirut, as Amalfi, Sorrento, Mt. Vesuvius, Pompei, Sorrento, Baalbek, Lebanon, Beirut, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born. Critical to our Christmas trip was to first see the Christian sector of Jerusalem before crossing into the Jewish sector of Jerusalem. Later, our weeklong Spring trip took us to Spain by Train, where we saw bullfights in a beautiful arena designed for such events. 

The 69 members of that first year of the Gonzaga in Florence program (1963-64) will long be remembered for successfully pioneering this amazing leap across the Atlantic Ocean from Spokane to Florence. At the time of this story’s publication, the Gonzaga in Florence program is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Each of these pioneering students deserves to be remembered:

Ron Alia

Pat Andre

Bob Baily

Mary Kay Barbieri

Fran Bellotty Anderson

Mike Berry

Jim Boyd

Richard Bumgarner

Mary Castiglioni

Elena Cinelli Agostino

Ed Cody

Agnes Cowles Bourne

Patricia Cronin Snead

Dan Cummings

Kay Cullen Richardson

Colbert Davis

Diane DeFelice Nelson

Rosemary Dellwo Toft

Suzanne Denneny

Rebecca Edwards

Melanie Ferguson McCall

Kay Grant Powers

John Hancock

Marilee Hart Russell

Elizabeth Herres Miller

Alberta Jovick Pilliod

Sarah Jullion

John Keegan

Jane Kelliher Cowles

Bob Kinniburgh

Judy Kirkbride Conant

Clare Kolloch Rice

Pat Kozar O’Doherty

Jay LaCroix

Catherine Love

Tom MacFarland

Mike Machida

Cheryl Mack

Tom Martin

Mike Mathis

Pete Mattes

Jim McCarthy

Neil McCluskey

Connie McGreevy Emry

Brian McKernan

John Miller

Eileen Murphy Anderson

Margot Olson Tipton

Sunny O’Melveny Strong

Carlos Prietto

Margaret Prietto

Nick Puzzo

Martie Redmond Ham

Kevin Roddy

Rosemary Ross

Jean Schiffler MacFarland

Joan Schiffler Bergman

Mary Kay Shaw

Sue Schoenberg Ross

Monty Smith

Denis Strachan

Kathy Sweeny Marzano

Joan Tausch Duroe

Tom Tilford

Carole Toboni Mcintosh

Jo Tucci Lejeune

John Tuhy

Judy Walden Wathen

Louise Wiele Alia

Judy Zatkovich Schwartz 

To this day, scholarships are an important part of ensuring that the life-changing study abroad program that began with John Keegan’s class is accessible to generation after generation of students. In honor of Gonzaga in Florence’s 60th anniversary consider a gift in support of the program and the scholarships that keep the experience thriving.