Knight Shift

The gold ring Craig Paulo wears around his right pinkie and the pin he displays on his lapel appear to be little more than fancy accessories to most people in this country.

But in Italy, these adornments make people take notice.

Paulo, who grew up on the 1900 block of Durfor Street, proudly wears these status symbols as a knight of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, an honor bestowed upon him in April by the well-titled Prince Don Carlos di Borbone delle Due Sicilie, the Infant of Spain and Duke of Calabria.

He is one of 12 knights of the Constantinian Order living in North America and, at 34, the youngest of the group. Besides Paulo, one other knight lives in the Philadelphia area — Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Other notable members of the order include King Juan Carlos I of Spain and Pope Pius XII.

"I knew of the order," Paulo says, "but I did not expect I would receive this."

Like most who receive this honor, Paulo says he did not know he had been nominated for knighthood until well after his name had been submitted for consideration to the prince. And even now that he has been conferred, some details about the process remain a mystery.

One thing is for sure: The decision of who becomes a knight ultimately belongs to Prince Don Carlos di Borbone.

"He confers it simply out of his grace," Paulo says. "There are reasons, but he doesn’t need any. I guess they see my academic and scholarly achievements."

Paulo has a doctorate in philosophy and teaches at Temple University. He also is the president and founder of St. Peter’s Institute, a nonprofit corporation he started in 1999 that sponsors Italian-American students who wish to study at the Vatican universities in Rome.

The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George dates back to the fourth century and Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The order helped defeat pagan forces, which led to the Christian conversion of the Roman Empire.

Today the mission of the Constantinian Order is to promote Catholicism, exemplify loyalty to the pope and support the teachings and dogma of the Church.

Paulo lives on City Line Avenue in a ninth-floor apartment with an impressive, sprawling view of the city.

"The view’s not bad, but if this were Italy, it would be stunning," he says. "You’d be looking at churches that are at least 500 or 600 years old. The houses and everything would be [just so]. Walking in the center square, that is what I miss the most and what I like."

Paulo still travels to South Philly several times a week to visit his mother. He graduated from St. John Neumman High School in 1985, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from La Salle University and a master’s from Villanova University.

Paulo continued his doctorate studies in Italy, in part because he wanted to study at the center of the Catholic world, and also because of his feelings about some American schools.

"To really get a good education, you have to go to an Ivy League school in this country," Paulo says. "And in my opinion, they are anti-Italian and anti-Catholic, by and large.

"It is not that Italian Americans don’t penetrate it, but there still is an anti-Italian, anti-Catholic vein that runs through these universities. That, I think, prevents our success. They see us as pizza-makers, unfortunately."

Paulo earned his doctorate from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, the oldest Jesuit university in the world. Although the salary for a knight is not what it used to be back in medieval times, membership does have its privileges.

Paulo compares being a knight to belonging to a noble family. He can legally use "Cavaliere" and "Don" before his name in Italy, Spain, England and several other European countries. Those titles represent significant status, Paulo says.

"When someone can present you as ‘Il Cavaliere Professor,’ it is pretty nice," he says. "It means you are going to get a good room at that hotel."

He also was granted a coat of arms from the king of Spain and when the pope dies, Paulo says, he will have the privilege of joining the processional behind his casket.

Working and studying at a papal university, the professor has met Pope John Paul II many times. He stopped counting, he says, after the 55th occasion. The first time he encountered the pontiff, Paulo was 26. "That was more special than the knighthood, I would say."

He last saw the Holy Father in June 2000, the day before he moved back to the United States from Italy with his wife, Catharine, who was pregnant at the time with the couple’s son Christian. Paulo had requested an audience with the pope to ask him to bless their unborn child.

Pope John Paul graciously obliged, Paulo says, and he blessed his wife and gave the couple two sets of rosary beads.

"He said in case there are two," Paulo recalls.

The professor and his wife each maintain dual citizenship in the United States and Italy. He says he visits the Old World at least twice a year and intends to move there eventually.

"To be able to experience that, to be where your name originates, to see people that look like you," Paulo says, "I just find it absolutely amazing."