John Felice Rome Center Honors Founder 100th Birthday

John Felice Rome Center hosted various celebrations in celebration of their founders birthday

The John Felice Rome Center gathered over 100 students and faculty members in Piazza Venezia at the Italian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor campus founder John Felice on his 100th birthday Sept. 6, according to campus director Todd Waller.

Felice, a Maltese Jesuit, founded Loyola’s Rome Campus in 1962 to provide American students with an international educational opportunity, according to Loyola’s website. He died in January 2008.

“There’s many people who did not know John Felice, but his values are what we talk about constantly within a Jesuit education — finding God in all things, helping to spark that fire in terms of one’s intellect but also one’s curiosity, passion and faith,” Waller said.

Felice’s legacy lives on at the Rome campus. 

On Felice’s 100th birthday, a student and faculty member laid a wreath for Felice on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome — a tradition Felice participated in to honor those he met in World War II while working for American General George S. Patton in North Africa, according to Loyola’s website.

The ceremony also represents many of Felice’s values — education and “tolerance among people of various religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, he hoped would bridge the gap between future generations to avoid the devastation of war,” Loyola’s website reads.

After the ceremony, the Rome campus held an event called Groove in the Grove for students featuring Southern Italian dancing and a DJ, according to Waller.

“You don’t talk about John per se in terms of his goals and his mission, but it’s felt throughout all of our faculty meetings and how we interact daily with students,” Waller said.

Waller said Felice “fell in love” with Americans when he was working as General Patton’s translator at 19 years old, according to Waller. Patton led a corps in Northern Africa and planned the Invasion of Sicily in 1943 during WWII, according to The Ohio State University.

“He thought it was really important that Americans had the chance to touch and experience what Rome and Europe had to offer, so that’s where the seed was planted,” Waller said.

Felice’s dream came to fruition in 1961 when he met with the Italian president and U.S. ambassador Clare Booth Luce and got approval for the program. The Italian president gave Felice the dormitories from the 1960 Olympics to use for the first campus of the Rome center, according to Loyola’s website.

The John Felice Rome Center opened its doors in 1962 and welcomed American students who traveled by ship to study in Rome, according to Loyola’s website.

Felice built the values and culture of the Rome center over the 46 years he spent there, according to Waller.

“He had a very basic philosophy that you come to Rome, you get out in the city and then you reflect on that and take action,” Waller said. “It’s very Jesuitical.”

Felice was known as a firm administrator with an amazing sense of humor, Waller said.

While Felice served as an administrator, there was a group of Loyola students who took a train to Florence to party with students from Gonzaga University. Knowing they would miss their classes, Waller said Felice paid the train company to stop halfway and make all the students board a train back to Rome.

“He had an amazing sense of humor, and he liked shenanigans,” Waller said. “For example, the last night of the semester, students would go and swim in the Trevi Fountain. Then the police would chase the Loyola students through the streets of Rome at 3 a.m. Felice paid the police to never catch the students. Felice kind of liked the shenanigans.”

Felice worked as the Dean of Students and the director of the Rome campus before retiring in 1998. He was given the title of director emeritus, according to Loyola’s website.

Before he died at the age of 84, Felice stayed in the U.S. due to his health but wrote a letter to the students.

“Even though I don’t know you, you are all in my heart,” Felice wrote. “ I pray for you constantly that the Good Lord will guide you in this experience you are having at the JFRC. Do your very best to see and study the treasures that surround you. Don’t waste your time and money on the insignificant. You will be richer in mind and spirit when you return home and you will be able to share your experiences with your family, friends and others you meet in life.”

This story was written by Sarah Mahaney and Sophia Calvo

Photo of Courtesy of Todd Waller

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff