When in Rome…

Internship gives art history major access to restricted Vatican masterpieces

  |  Photographs courtesy of Lily Sehn

From frescoes to cappuccinos, from Michelangelo to gelato, Lily Sehn, ’12, is enjoying healthy servings of Italian history, culture, and cuisine while serving as an intern in the office of the patrons of the arts in the Vatican Museums.

Working in the Apostolic Palace from May 21 through mid-August, the Middleburg, Va., resident entertains patrons on behind-the-scenes tours of the museums, writes articles about the patrons to be published in media outlets, and communicates with leaders of patrons chapters to figure out the best ways to plan events, keep patrons involved, and encourage new patrons to join.


Loyola magazine asked Sehn to answer a few questions about her experience in the Holy See.


Please describe your day-to-day responsibilities.
My responsibilities vary greatly from day to day. The office I am working in is the office of the patrons of the arts in the Vatican Museums, and our office is located in the Apostolic Palace, rather than in the museums themselves. The nature of the office is that of a fundraising organization, which covers the majority of costs for the restoration and conservation of all works in the Vatican Museums. As we are in the fundraising business, so to speak, some of our time is spent hosting various patrons who come through the office as part of their “behind-the-scenes” tours. Entertaining these patrons varies from spending a minute in conversation with them over a cappuccino to acting as chaperones with larger groups to attending private lunches with more influential families and individuals. No matter the patron, though, we are the representatives of their donations to the arts, and we strive to make them all feel necessary and appreciated.

When it’s time to get back to “work” from the glamorous side of the job, I have several projects that I have been involved with. I have been writing articles about the patrons to be published in various media outlets for the sake of broadening our reach. I have also been communicating with various heads of patrons chapters (there are 22 chapters and counting, as several new ones are in the process of being founded, and each is run independently of the main office) to find out the most successful tactics for event planning and other ways of keeping current patrons involved and encouraging new patrons to join. This information will then be sent to all chapters to encourage camaraderie within chapters and between chapters internationally.

I am also working on improving the usability of a database within our office. It is mostly for tracking purposes, especially to keep in order the large number of projects that are adopted every year. The office puts out a “Wishbook” each year with approximately 40-50 projects that have been chosen for various degrees of necessary restoration.

Are you expected to speak Italian? Can you speak about the language difference and how that affects your work there—and your personal experiences outside of your internship?
The office is run by an American priest, and currently there are three short-term interns and one other who has been here for over eight months, all of us American. There are two Italian women who work full time (one is currently on maternity leave) and then there are a couple of other Italians who are the tour guides for our office. We are not expected to speak Italian in the office, although I have been studying it since at Loyola so I try my best to practice when I can. It’s very hard to practice when you are surrounded by other Americans!

How does your internship meet your expectations?
I really didn’t have any expectations when I got on the plane to get here. I had been to Rome once before very briefly with my family, and all I remember from that was the Colosseum and good pasta. I knew this summer would be fantastic, but it has surpassed any expectations I may have had.

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