At a JFRC Chicago Alumni Aperitivo reception on October 18, Emilio Iodice, director and vice president of the John Felice Rome Center, announced the largest current commitment in JFRC history: one million dollars from Anthony F. Piazza II (JFRC ’62–’63). This gift will support capital improvements on campus as part of the Insieme comprehensive campaign for the Rome Center, including updating and renovating of common spaces, academic spaces, offices, and student residences.
In recognition of this gift, Loyola University Chicago will name the Information Commons in Rome. Beginning spring 2014, it will be known as the Anthony and Susan Brazier Piazza Information Commons, paying tribute to Tony Piazza and the late Susan Brazier Piazza (JFRC Spring ’63). Read on to learn more about the Piazzas.
Record gift in memory of JFRC alumna
In early 1962, Tony Piazza (JFRC ’62–’63) was nearing the end of his sophomore year as a history major at Santa Clara University when he saw a notice on a bulletin board that Loyola University Chicago was starting up a study abroad program in Rome. The idea was to spend one’s junior year in Italy, something that appealed to him.
Upon being accepted to what would be the first full-year term at the Rome Center following the first class of spring 1962, he set sail on the New Amsterdam from New Jersey in late summer and reached Southampton, England, before trekking through Paris and Luzern en route to Rome.
“As it turns out, in the year that I was in Rome, I met a woman who became my wife,” says Piazza. “She came to the Rome Center in the spring of 1963 from St. Louis. We corresponded for several years after we met and were married in 1966.”
Piazza and his wife, Susan Brazier Piazza (JFRC Spring ’63), were married for over 40 years when she was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Upon learning this, they had a conversation about wanting to do something significant to support the Rome Center—a place that held great affinity for both of them and brought them together.
“We had a very long and happy marriage,” says Piazza. “And that’s probably the best gift that Loyola ever gave us.”
Together, they made a contribution to establish a scholarship program for students who couldn’t afford to attend the Rome Center. When Susan passed away in 2011, Piazza began planning a substantial gift to the Rome Center in her memory and a tribute to their 45 years of marriage—the first million-dollar current commitment in the history of the Rome Center.
“With the decision to purchase the current campus and the vision that Emilio Iodice and Father Garanzini have shared with us about what they would like to see the Rome Center become, I felt this was the right time to make a commitment,” says Piazza. “I hope other alumni who enjoyed the JFRC will see it similarly and join those who have given already to help fund this very important program.”
During his student days at the Rome Center, Piazza experienced several historic events. “Within a few days of us arriving in Rome, we were able to go down to St. Peter’s Basilica and witness the opening of Vatican II,” says Piazza. “That was spectacular.”
John Felice also organized a private audience for the students with Pope John XXIII about a month before he passed away. And Piazza was still in Rome when Paul was elected Pope.
“John Felice opened up doors for the program in Rome that only he could have opened,” says Piazza. “He had no fear whatsoever of asking for things that seemed unattainable and would find some way to get them. He set up an audience for us with the president of Italy. Things like that—things that you wouldn’t think someone in his position could pull off—he did.”
Piazza, who lives in St. Louis, recently retired after running a business he started in 1967—a kitchen and bath business where he worked his whole career. RSI Kitchen and Bath (RSIKB.com) is a family business now run by his daughter, Megan, though he remains involved in an advisory role. The company designs residential kitchens and bathrooms for builders, remodelers, and retail customers. Piazza ran the business for 45 years until 2012.
“My year at the Rome Center gave me the opportunity to look at the world from a totally different perspective. Many Americans don’t engage cultures beyond their own or think outside the borders of the United States,” says Piazza. “Being in Rome opened me up to a whole different world out there with different people and different ideas, and it’s very important to understand how other people think. If you want to convince somebody of something, you have to understand an issue from their perspective. My year in Rome started that learning path.”
“I think studying abroad is even more relevant today than it was back then,” he continues, “because when I was a young man you could be focused on just the U.S. and still do well. I think today as the world shrinks from an information standpoint that having a worldly attitude is even more critical.”