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Vatican interns get 'incredible' firsthand view of history

March 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM ET

Villanova University student Lauren Colegrove had barely gotten a cup of coffee on her first day as an intern at Catholic News Service in Rome when it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to abdicate.

Timing has been everything for Colegrove and fellow Villanova students who have had a firsthand look at history thanks to uncommon internships at the Vatican.

Colegrove's whirlwind experience has been shared by fellow interns and Villanova juniors Sean Hudgins and Danielle McMonagle, whose stints at the Vatican began the day after Pope Benedict’s resignation was announced. They have witnessed him stepping down and the subsequent selection of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope and the first from the Americas. The trio spoke about their rare opportunity with Matt Lauer in Rome on TODAY Tuesday.

“The last several weeks have been incredible for us,’’ Hudgins said. “Villanova set us up with the internship and we expect, ‘Hey we’re going to go over to the Vatican and maybe work on a Facebook page every once in a while, do a little Twitter work.’ But to have the pope resign and to be here at such a historic time has been crazy for us.’’

The students will be in Rome for about another six weeks as part of their three-month internships. Colegrove, who is from Tampa, Fla., recalled the excitement of her first day at Catholic News Service, which is in charge of the Vatican’s Facebook page and its main news portal, www.news.va.

“We come back and all of a sudden our editor gets this call on the phone,’’ Colegrove said. “All of a sudden, our office is completely silent, and he says that the pope has just announced that he is going to be resigning. I thought (the internship) would definitely be pretty exciting, and it has been.’’

Hudgins and McMonagle are interns at the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, where they have been taking photos of all the historic events and creating content to share on the Vatican’s Facebook page.

“It’s been incredible,’’ McMonagle told Lauer. “Just watching history unfold, literally right in front of us, has been amazing.’’

Villanova began sending interns to the Vatican in 2003, and the students have been heavily involved in working with social media platforms, according to the Associated Press. Lauer asked if they would have to write a long paper on their experiences as part of the internship.

“We have to write a reflection at the end,’’ Colegrove said. “We definitely have good material for that.’’

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