You Will Be My Witnesses: John Paul Sonnen ’01

SJV caught up with John Paul Sonnen ‘01 (Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis) to learn what inspired his book, Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo: Journeying to a Citadel of Faith.

In his first year at SJV, Sonnen traveled to Rome with his brother and a few other seminarians to attend the episcopal consecration of the personal secretary of Pope John Paul II, Msgr. Stanisław Jan Dziwisz.

While staying as guests at the Pontifical North American College, they were “providentially” introduced to the nearby church of Sant’Onofrio, an off-the-beaten-path gem on Rome’s Janiculum Hill.

This untouched Renaissance church has been described by some as one of Rome’s best kept secrets. From his first encounter, Sonnen sought to share the story of this diamond-in-the rough church with others.

His affinity for Sant’Onofrio grew after moving to Italy while completing graduate degrees at Rome’s Angelicum. Content for his book was provided by bits of papers and notes Sonnen kept during his time as a graduate student, history docent, and tour operator in Rome and the Vatican.

An ideal study abroad text for expat students studying or traveling to the Eternal City, Sonnen’s book was published by Arouca Press in 2021. He encourages everyone to visit Sant’Onofrio as pilgrims on their next trip to Rome, perhaps in conjunction with a leisurely stroll atop the beautiful Janiculum Hill.

Sonnen and his wife Natalie are members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Q: Who made the greatest impact on your time at SJV?
A: Msgr. R.J. Schuler, a local pastor who taught for many years at Nazareth Hall and [what was previously known as] the College of St. Thomas. He understood well the psychology of education, and his teaching pedagogy was years ahead of his time. He had an open door for seminarians and strongly encouraged us to visit Rome as pilgrims and to be inspired by the aesthetical, historical, and literary foundations of the city. He had a great devotion to St. Philip Neri, whom an entire chapter is dedicated to in my book.

Q: How did SJV prepare you?
A: Through a solid education in Catholic Studies, I was able to study diverse subjects including art, poetry, beauty, music, architecture, the papacy, Renaissance culture, history, the lives of the saints, institutions such as monasticism, the subject of pilgrimage, and so much more. This intense immersion in the study of Catholic culture prepared me to grow into Catholic manhood, keep the Faith, and dedicate my life to sharing this gift with others, even as a layman.

Q: Any wisdom for a young man considering SJV?
A: Fatherhood is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. Many are called, but few are chosen (cf. Matthew 22:14). Each person must decide how they will respond. Will they accept or reject the invitation to be a father? Embrace the Cross and follow Christ to greatness.

Q: Why give back to SJV?
A: There are three general phases of Christian culture: the ancient, medieval, and modern (patristic, scholastic, and humanistic). Although we are today living in a difficult new chapter in postmodern society, God is still calling men to the priesthood and to Christian fatherhood. We look to the past for inspiration. Truth exists, we can know it, and we have a duty to share it with others. For this reason, I am fully committed to supporting the continued mission and mandate of SJV: to form men in Christ, men of the Church, and men for others.

Scroll to Top