Winter 2008
Home work
9 things to do at TCU in '09
Alma Matters
Memīries Sweet
Riff Ram
Back Cover
Comrades True
Back Issues

TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles:  Clinton's class | Meandering | Message in a bottle | That old-time religion | Ross . . . Robyn Ross

"Dr. Lorenzo"

TCU is ranked 14th in the country for offering students chances to go abroad. No wonder.

By Bronson C. Davis

When Religion Prof. Ken Lawrence '58 became Lorenzo, I knew I was in Italy.

My wife Cathy and I had finally decided to make his renowned alumni study trip to Italy. It was his 19th trip to Italy -- hence Lorenzo, his standing nom de plume -- and his 24th educational excursion. He made a 25th later in the summer to Greece and Turkey for TCU's philanthropic Clark Society. His first happened at McMurry University in Abilene when he was asked to help with a trip to Italy. He saw the transformation in his students when they participated in the analysis of art and architecture directly.

"They seemed to become more independent in their observations," Lawrence said. "After a month's time, they were immersed in the language and the art. It happens on every trip whether it's older adults or students. It's why I love to lead these things."

And why his trips have become legendary. Alumni and friends fill the rosters quickly and there are even "Lorenzo" groupies who have made five or more adventures with him. These trips are no frolics in the vineyards. Three meetings before you leave. Suggested readings and guidelines for deportment, dress, and travel equipment. There are also no free weekends. You had to want to experience the art of Italy for this trip to satisfy, but if that was your mission, then you would be satiated.

Not that there wasn't time to smell the Ginestra or sample the pasta or test the wine, we soon found. Lorenzo knew all the good places, and it was only the walking that prevented massive weight gain from the glorious bread and the five-course meals. The highlight was certainly the three-hour meal in Florence at Leo Bossolini's Ristorante Leo in Santa Croce. It is a restaurant festooned with photographs, and TCU has its own little section on the wall. Mere mention of the school will get you prime service, a glass of wine and a discount!

If Lorenzo was our artistic leader, the organizational muscle of the trip was provided by his wife, Carol Jane. Quiet and unassuming, C.J. kept the show on the road and herded at the rear of our group, keeping her eye on stragglers and slow shoppers. The two met at TCU, where she was a religion major and he studied art, psychology and religion.

These are interests he continued to pursue through a divinity degree at Brite, a PhD at Boston University, and then teaching and publishing. C.J. works close by at University Christian Church, guiding programming for older adults. Our nom de guerre was "Il Gruppo." When Ken would call that out in piazzas, museums and train stations, we would know to gather and pay attention. We were his largest group at 46, ranging in age from 21 to 81. Being part of Il Gruppo reminded me of my army days. We were a slow-moving platoon, but we gradually bonded like brothers and sisters as we bussed, trained and even boated across Northern Italy. Sometimes our travail would bring us together. One such event took place in Venice where we were to stay at a four star hotel. The difficulties began when the vaparetto dropped us and our luggage at the wrong dock, fully 1.5 miles from our hotel, but we didn't know that. We became Lorenzo's army of the elect, dragging our 80-pound bags up, down and across four-foot bridges through throngs of bemused tourists and out onto the magnificent Piazza San Marco. We were a strange parade. By the time we made the hotel lobby, we had become an exhausted, irritable mob. But it only took a nap, some good wine and the glories of a Venetian night to transform "the trek" into one of the journey's memorable moments.

It was art and religion, though, that was central. To stand before works you had studied in college or seen on TV such as Bernini's baldachino in St. Peter's or Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistry of the Il Duomo in Florence, or Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel was a better experience than you could imagine. Seeing the frescoes from the middle ages juxtaposed against those from the early Renaissance in the Lower Basilica of St. Frances, we began to understand what the Renaissance was about, and the fascinating transformation in their perspective on humankind's place in the world. Ever prodded by Lorenzo, we reentered that time through its forms of expression.

"This art is not reproduction, it represents something. What did it symbolize for the artist and the people of that day? What does it symbolize for us? What does it point toward?" he asked over and over again. "This is the way they related to ultimate reality, through these symbols. Some are dense and difficult to understand, but they are trying to express their deepest feelings about meaning and life." And in front of the Duomo in Mantua he pointed out how easy it is to see the progression of Christianity through the architecture of the church.

"Without words the architecture here attempts to make dynamic the religious traditions of the periods it passed through, and to reflect what was relevant and important to the religious experience and understanding of Christians in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation."

This was more than an academic approach, however, for Lorenzo transmitted his passion to us. He confessed that as a graduate student he had sat for four full days in the Uffizi Gallery in front of Giotto's altar screen of Madonna and Child, trying to best understand its meaning. At other times he became so intense in his descriptions that he was overcome with emotion and had to stop to gain control. It happened as he stood before Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peters, describing Mary's expression as "grief beyond tears," and then again in Assisi on the steps outside the Monastery of San Domiano explaining the irreparable break between St. Francis and his father; and then before Carravaggio's painting on the Sacrifice of Issac in the Uffizi Gallery. Art is not a spectator sport for the good professor, it is the stuff of life and calls for serious engagement.

It was only on our final day that Lorenzo allowed us to totally enjoy the sybaritic side of Italy in Chernobbia and then Bellagio on Lake Como, one of the world's most beautiful spots. He seemed especially happy. Mission accomplished. He had ignited the spark and made Renaissance people out of another group. He was already thinking about next summer's journey to France, Germany and England to study Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. That night, Il Gruppo celebrated its journey together in song, poetry and toasts. Then we provided a keepsake gift for our venerable teacher, the highest honor we could bestow in the summer of '98, a T-shirt with the face of another remarkable Italian emblazoned on the front.

The Leonardo DiCaprio shirt fit Lorenzo just fine.

Bronson Davis is vice chancellor for university advancement.