A short history of Istituto di San Giovanni Damasceno
The project of the Oriental Congregation to have a “Collegio” under the patronage of St. John Damascene for the Oriental priests as well as for the Latin priests working in the Oriental Churches was presented to Pope Pius XII on 2nd of October 1940 during the audience granted to Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, the then Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The project was definitively approved by the same Pontiff on 9th November, and was inaugurated on 4th December of the same year, the feast day of St. John Damascene according the Byzantine Calendar.
Since there was no proper residence for the College at that time, it was begun in one of the wings of the Russian College. Among its alunni, there were not only Orientals, but also Latin priests from different countries of Europe and even from Africa, Japan and China. In the first year of its existence there was not even one from India. In the second year, the only Indian was Fr. Ettumanookaran Joseph. But slowly the presence of St. Thomas Christians began to increase.
In 1949 the College was shifted to the Pontifical Romenian College at the Gianicolum Hill, when the latter became vacant as a result of the Communist invasion of Romania. Damascene College continued in this residence for forty four years. In the meantime the members from Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches became the majority. In the beginning of 1990s, when Eastern Europe became free from Communist regime, students from Romania began to come to Rome again for studies. Therefore, the Oriental Congregation had to find a new residence for Damascene College. That was the period when Cardinal Lourdusamy was the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation. He felt the need of having a building proper to Damascene College. His desire was realized on the 27th of April 1993 when the College was inaugurated by the then Prefect of the Congregation Cardinal AchilleSilvestrini in the new residence at Via Carlo Emanuele I, a former clinic purchased by the Oriental Congregation and completely renovated.
The existence of the College in this place too did not last. Taking into account the increase in the number of priests coming to Rome for higher studies, the Oriental Congregation decided to shift the College to the former Ukraine College in Via Boccea. It is providential that this transfer to the new place comes on the 75th anniversary of the College. On Sunday, 11th of October 2015, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, celebrated Holy Eucharist in the College Chapel commemorating the Jubilee and inaugurating the academic life of the College in its fourth station.
The list of students (until the year 2015) kept in the file of the College reveals that 855 priests have resided in this Institute during their higher studies in Rome. From the academic year 1996-1997, Damascene College is reserved to the priests from the two Oriental Catholic Churches from India. In the academic year 2015-2016, there are 46 priests as members of this Institute – 35 from Syro-Malabar Church, and 11 from Syro-Malankara Church.
The administration of the College, which was given to the Jesuits from 1940 to 1974, is entrusted to the Discalced Carmelites from 1974 onwards. There are also two Sisters from Colombia, from the Congregation of Hermanas Domenicas de Betania, at the service of the College.