Saint Peter of Sion – Ratisbonne
Religious of Our Lady of Sion, Jerusalem
The house was founded in the 19th century. This house, which was on its own when it was built on a hill facing the old city of Jerusalem, is now at the very heart of Jewish Jerusalem.
Because of the great demand on the “Ecce Homo”, the school in the Old City, this was full, and because lack of space made it impossible to welcome more students, Ratisbonne’s founder, Fr. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, sought a suitable place for constructing a large school. Thus he bought the land from an Orthodox Christian, and in 1874 he began with the construction of Ratisbonne, which he moved along at a good pace. Fr. Marie-Alphonse asked a Paris architect to draw the plans for the future establishment, and he wanted it to be large and beautiful: large because he thought of the many children who were waiting to be accepted; and “beautiful because,” as his architect told him, “what is ugly is just as expensive as what is beautiful. Since the school of St. Peter is supposed to become a breeding ground for workers and artists, it is right to let them always see a building which will be for them a permanent example of good taste.”
Run by the (male) Religious of Our Lady of Sion, Ratisbonne began as a primary school for boys. This school also taught languages: French, English, Arabic, and Hebrew; in addition it offered professional training up to 18 different trades. The house was meant to serve the local population; the spirit animating it was openness to all: Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and all the children who could study there until 1948.
After the creation of the State of Israel, the Ratisbonne house became progressively a center of studies for Christians interested in Jewish studies. In 1970, following the Catholic Church’s teaching on the importance of Jewish studies for Christians, Ratisbonne began to teach in a more specialized way and it became international and ecumenical.
In order to ensure the permanence and development of the Christian Center of Jewish Studies at Ratisbonne, the Congregation of the (male) Religious of Our Lady of Sion gave its Ratisbonne property to the Holy See in 1984 with a juridically correct contract and on the clear condition that the Holy See be committed to enabling the center to live and to prosper. The Institut Catholique in Paris was given academic responsibility for the Institute. The Religious of Sion were still involved with the working of the center, but without direct responsibility.
In 1998, the study center became a Pontifical Institute, but three years later, in 2001, the Congregation for Catholic Education decreed unilaterally that the Pontifical Center of Jewish Studies at Ratisbonne would be closed. However, according to the 1984 agreement with the Holy See, the Religious of Sion kept part of the Ratisbonne building for themselves to live there and in order to carry out their community activities.
So in their rooms at Saint Peter of Sion – Ratisbonne, the Congregation of the (Male) Religious of Our Lady of Sion has re-organized its library, which is specialized in Jewish studies, and has included a space for teaching there.
At present, we are developing activities around study through courses and conferences, and the space also serves as a place for formation of brothers and sisters of Sion.
In fact, we are continuing with activities that correspond with our vocation, in relationship with the Jewish people and according to the directives of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.
Fr. Elio PASSETO, NDS