by Josephine Kelly ’15
Tucked across from the Arts Center stands the always-inviting Casa Italiana. Visitors may spot students and community members engaged in a friendly game of bocce when the weather is warm or enjoying homemade pasta in the newly renovated kitchen.
In 1978, Italian-American members of the Rochester community raised funds in order to support an Italian culture house on the Nazareth campus. Since then, the Casa has incorporated not only students but members of the Rochester community as well, bringing countless cultural programs, activities, and trips to its patrons. “This gift from community members shows the wonderful relationship between the college and the community,” explains Maria Rosaria Vitti-Alexander, Ph.D., professor of Italian and coordinator of the Casa Italiana.
Immersive language and culture houses such as the Casa are huge attractions to prospective students or faculty members, says Vitti-Alexander. Nazareth’s mission states that the College “seeks students who want to make a difference in their own world and the world around them,” and the Casa helps students become citizens of the world through gaining an understanding of a different language and culture. The global mindset students acquire has become essential in the world marketplace.
Casa Italiana organizes a trip to Italy almost every year. These week-long trips entail guided tours through historic cities as well as accompanying evening programs and tastings of both foods and wines native to the region. Last June, students and patrons visited Val Comino (Southern Lazio), a region that sits at the foothills of the Apennines, north of Naples and south of Rome. Prior to each trip, the Casa hosts movies, cooking classes, and other cultural events related to that region of Italy. The programs enhance the experience for trip attendees by enabling them to apply what they have learned and experienced at the Casa.
Some of the more savory events hosted by the Casa are its cooking classes. Taught in an eight-class series every semester by Chef Katherine Sayer or other special Italian guest chefs, the classes focus on the cuisine of the great cities or regions in Italy and walk students through the preparation of several dishes. The classes take place in the Casa’s newly renovated cooking area. “Everybody loves the new kitchen,” says Vitti-Alexander. “It feels so much bigger and like a true Italian kitchen.” Students have the opportunity to gain more experience in the kitchen while also gaining a fresh perspective on Italian food and how it has influenced Italian culture.
Understanding a culture means understanding the language. Nazareth College offers an Italian major, and the Casa also offers enrichment classes for anyone with the desire to learn Italian. These immersion language classes are currently taught in three levels; a fourth level will be available for the first time this fall.
For younger scholars with an interest in Italian culture and language, the Casa offers a variety of programs specifically tailored to children. La Scuola Italiana (Italian School) teaches the Italian language to young learners, and week-long summer camps introduce children to Italian language and culture through activities such as cooking, games, and demonstrations.
A recent oral history project by the Casa involves interviewing Italian Americans to save their memories and experiences. “We will create an archive of these stories that will be available to all to read,” explains Vitti-Alexander.
Through its 37 years, the Casa’s enriching programs have continued to bring Italian culture to life not only on campus but in the Rochester community as well.
Josephine Kelly ’15 graduated in May 2015 with a major in business administration.
Casa Italiana offers its popular cooking classes to the Rochester community.