Gordon in Orvieto’s 25th Anniversary: A Pilgrimage Through Faith and Culture  

For over 25 years the Gordon in Orvieto study abroad program has been changing students’ lives through the pursuit of the arts and humanities in Italy. At the very heart of the curriculum is a community life built upon trust and care. Over 800 students, 50 faculty and nearly 30 different institutions have made Orvieto their temporary home. 

To celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary on June 13 and 14, more than 100 of the same students, faculty and staff made the pilgrimage back to Orvieto, Italy, to reconnect with the purpose, places and people that made their semester studying in Italy truly meaningful.   

The Program’s History 

Visitors gather for food in the convent’s courtyard for the Mostra.

At its core Orvieto invites modern-day students to renew their understanding of history, art and literature in an age that often seeks to leave the past behind. From the start Gordon humanities and arts professors John Skillen, Bruce Herman and Jim Zingarelli realized that to achieve this historical sense, students would need to immerse themselves in a place where they could encounter, interact and touch a culture where history and tradition were still very much alive. 

The Skillen family lived and served as program leaders for the first decade, giving shape to the curriculum while building relationships with the residents of Orvieto. Matt and Sharona Doll moved their family to Orvieto in 2008 and have continued to build on the goals of the College’s mission for the program. Gordon in Orvieto has not only become a part of the ancient city’s community, but a phenomenon that has forged a community of its own based around love for Christ, Italian culture, the arts and each other.   

Celebrating the Present 

Visitors observe the art in the convent for the Mostra.

The anniversary celebration festivities began with the traditional end-of-semester public exhibition, the Mostra. Every fall and spring, after four months of producing art, poetry and related projects, students showcase their work. The entire city is welcomed to celebrate with live music and abundant Italian food prepared by the program’s own chef, Maria Battistini. During the event the Convento Servi di Maria (the restored 13th-century Servite convent that houses the Gordon in Orvieto program) was filled with original art that was made in conversation with the city that has hosted the students.  

The newly lit bell tower of the convent.

This time, however, the party was triple the usual size because the crowd also contained Orvieto alumni and faculty who gathered for the reunion. Doll and President Mike Hammond welcomed everyone with special thanks and a greeting on behalf of the College. It was a moment to honor the work of the students, faculty and friends of the program, past and present. It was also a moment to reflect upon the reason for being in Orvieto, to restate the desire to build relationships over time and to express gratitude for the hospitality that has been central to the program’s cultural exchange.  

The festivities included 90 pounds of gelato from Gelateria La Musa, a pizza station run by Il Pizzino, face painting with students and the fantastic band Across the Blues. People danced, studied the works of art and enjoyed the beautiful reunion. As the evening ended and the light faded, President Hammond invited the crowd for a countdown before illuminating the bell tower of the convent—a sign of the program’s presence, a gesture of thanks and a signal to the future. 

The Future of Orvieto 

Visitors explore GIO and its first exhibition Chiostro.

The celebration continued the next morning with a tour jointly led by Herman and Skillen to some of the most important places in Orvieto where the program has been rooted. Others chose to take walks along the base of the cliff, a path that circles the entire city and offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding Umbrian countryside. Alumni from the various cohorts made stops by the previous locations of the program, Monastery San Lodovico, Monastero di San Paolo and Palazzo Simoncelli. 

In the afternoon the faculty exhibition, Chiostro, was inaugurated at the program’s new gallery, GIO, just steps away from the convent, along the main Corso Cavour. The show features work by several Gordon in Orvieto faculty members over the past decade. The theme for the show is “Cloister,” a concept that reflects the connection between the architecture, curriculum and community life cultivated each semester.  

Director Matt Doll honors the students, staff and faculty of Orvieto at the closing dinner.

The celebration finished with a family-style Italian dinner in the medieval quarter next to San Giovenale. Herman and Skillen offered reflections on the past, followed by a forward-looking introduction by President Hammond to Dr. Sarita Kwok, who spoke about the newly formed Adams School of Music and the Arts, the new administrative home for the Orvieto program. Finally, Doll honored the many wonderful people who have helped shape the program. It was also a moment to center upon the purpose of Gordon in Orvieto: to love and to serve, to care and to create together for others. 

“The First Servites left everything to follow God by serving the needs of others,” Doll said. “And while we may not be friars, this convent is still a place of learning and devotion. Its mission—to be a caring community that loves and serves—is still alive today. But what takes place here is not meant solely for those on the inside. It is meant to be shared. That is why we celebrate. It is our pleasure but also our responsibility to give back—to signal presence and express gratitude.”