It all started in 1983, in St. John's Hall, a sort of Italian Renaissance Villa, now a grassy knoll in front of the Pryzbyla Center, with the first students from mainland China to study in the US, one of them a painter of some renown who decorated with daring brush strokes the back wall of the first language lab: tape recorders and home-made tapes. The program shared space with architecture freshman studios: the English students at work during the day, the freshmen architects at night. It took off from there as more and more international students were applying to study at the Catholic University of America: from Asia and South America, from Europe and Africa, brave young men and women, ready and patient to grow in their knowledge of English so as to be able to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in English.
They went on to become engineers and architects, nurses and professors of nursing, teachers in Catholic schools and musicians, priests and bishops, all over the world. The program expanded, a miniature reflection of geo-political events and the vicissitudes of world economies. Dozens of students from Korea and Japan, whole families of youngsters from Columbia and Panama, and soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, waves of young and not so young people from what used to be the Soviet Union and its satellites: close to 100 seminarians from Ukraine, priests and religious men and women from Poland, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.
One spring day, our neighbors, the Bishops' Conference, approached us about a program in ecclesiastical English for a large group of clergy from Russia and Eastern Europe, and soon afterwards, the Intensive English Program became "Little Rome," with the Archbishops of Moscow and Latvia, a bishop from Kazakhstan, priests from Moldova, Russia, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland walking in the hallways with English books in their hands, memorizing irregular verbs. The program was already moved to the less architecturally inspired Pangborn Hall, with a dedicated language lab space, equipped with computers through the generosity of an alumnus, and two classrooms, filled to capacity every day, abuzz with voices getting shaped around English vowels.
The new century welcomed new cohorts of students, from the newly founded seminary Redemptoris Mater, from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, from Brazil and Mexico, and the many religious orders in the Brookland neighborhood and beyond. But now alumni who come back to visit-and there are many who have not forgotten their first home at the Catholic University of America-find the program in its third location, in Gibbons Hall. A most providential location, for in the early years of the Program, a Vietnamese student, one who had escaped with his little brother walking through the jungle, chose for our emblem the most beautiful building on campus-the turreted Gibbons Hall-and his drawing appeared on the Program's first advertising brochures. It still is the watermark of our home page.
The current location of the Intensive English Program is in the shadow of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, on whose steps a few thousand students who started out their academic journey in the Intensive English Program receive, several years later, their degrees from the Catholic University of America.