Notre Dame confers honorary degrees at academic convocation in Rome

Author: Carrie Gates

Rome Honorary Degrees 1200
Honorees and University of Notre Dame administrators following an academic convocation at the Rome Global Gateway. Top row, left to right: University of Notre Dame Executive Vice President Shannon Cullinan, President-Elect Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C., Provost John McGreevy and Provincial Superior, U.S. Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Rev. William Lies, C.S.C.. Seated, left to right: University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees Chairman Jack Brennan, honoree Roberto Benigni, honoree Barbara Jatta, honoree Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C. and University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

At an academic convocation on Monday (Jan. 29) at its Rome Global Gateway, the University of Notre Dame conferred honorary degrees on three distinguished leaders: Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums; Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity; and Roberto Benigni, an internationally acclaimed actor, director and poet.

John T. McGreevy, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost and Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, opened the convocation by welcoming the honorees and an audience that included distinguished officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State, members of the diplomatic corps and leaders from Italian universities.

John J. Brennan, chair of the Board of Trustees, and University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., conferred the honorary degrees.

The citation for the honorary degree described Benigni as “a beloved storyteller, known for his sharp comedic wit, boundless joy and authenticity. Intent on drawing renewed attention to biblical and historical Christian texts, from the Ten Commandments to Dante’s ‘Divina Commedia’ to St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun, he brings these treasures to life for millions of people — and in so doing, earns the admiration even of His Holiness Pope Francis.”

An ebullient Benigni offered brief remarks, noting that it was a joy to be with members of the Notre Dame community and, spreading his arms wide, saying, “I would like to give you my heart to express my thanks.”

He went on to offer a meditation on the Virgin Mary and her many representations in art. “I now have a degree in Fine Arts, but what can I say? I have immense admiration towards this prestigious University. It is dedicated to Notre Dame [Our Lady], so all we have to do is talk about the Virgin Mary.”

Benigni went on to describe three world-renowned Italian paintings — the “Madonna del Parto” by Piero della Francesca, “The Annunciation” by Lorenzo Lotto and the “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael. Della Francesca’s Madonna, he said, has “the face of a human woman, as if there were no room for the divine,” and illustrates Mary’s “particular devotion so much so that God entrusted the birth of his son to her.” For that reason, Benigni said, “she has remained in my heart.” He concluded by reciting tercets from Dante’s “Paradise” dedicated to Mary.

In conferring an honorary degree on Bishop Farrell, the University cited his generosity in placing “his life at the service of the Church in its work of unity and reconciliation” and providing “exemplary service to three popes.”

“This gentle and dedicated successor of the apostles has held fast to the conviction that the message of the Gospel is diminished by divisions among believers, that unity is a fruit of the Spirit, which must be cultivated by all the faithful, and that the imperative of ecumenism, by its very nature, calls us to attentive reverence to the worldwide oneness of Christ’s followers.”

Bishop Farrell was “immensely grateful,” he said. He outlined the many ways his work for ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity have intersected with Notre Dame, including the “Notre Dame Consultation,” a dialogue between Catholics and four Protestant denominations convened by Father Jenkins, and Notre Dame’s support of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.

“The honorary doctorate I am receiving today I see as recognition of the hugely important cause of Christian unity,” said Bishop Farrell. “The more Christians move from conflict to reconciliation and communion, the more we will be a sign and instrument of peace and the unity of the whole human family.”

The first woman to lead the Vatican Museums, Jatta was commended for her transformative leadership, knowledge of the history of art and conservation, and extraordinary dedication to the Church.

Jatta has “transformed the Museums with a vision that blends innovation and tradition,” the citation stated. “She approaches her work with the conviction that art can bridge even the deepest divides, embracing Pope Francis’ conviction that ‘art is the clearest proof that the Incarnation is possible.’”

After receiving her honorary doctorate, Jatta thanked Notre Dame leaders and acknowledged the work of the Vatican Museums staff.

“It’s a real honor for me to be here and receive this honorary degree,” said Jatta. “It’s not for my person, but [for] the Vatican Museums, and all the staff and people behind this institution.”

Jatta offered the convocation address, reflecting on the unique role of the Vatican Museums and their mission. She emphasized that the goal of the Museums is not to gain acclaim or high status, but rather to offer “a journey of spirituality and beauty.”

“This idea of preserving and sharing our heritage made up of beauty is the same mission driving us today,” said Jatta. “It’s beauty that tells us so much about faith and devotion.”

The convocation included a performance of sacred music by soprano Marianna Ivashchenko, countertenor Federico Mauro Marcucci and pianist Davide Bucci.

You can watch a full recording of the convocation at

Originally published by Carrie Gates at on January 29, 2024.