Guest essay: Jim Towey ... Mother Teresa is coming to Ave Maria University

Jim Towey, Ave Maria University president, on NewsMakers 9-1-13.

Jim Towey, Ave Maria University president, on NewsMakers 9-1-13.

Guest commentary

Mother Teresa is coming to Ave Maria University

Eighty-five years ago this month, a teenage Albanian arrived in Calcutta, India, to work in obscurity. The world would later come to know her as Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the most beloved figures of the 20th century.

I had the good fortune to meet Mother Teresa when I was in my late 20s and later work for her for 12 years as legal counsel, including two years as a full-time volunteer.

During that time I often traveled with her and saw firsthand her love and compassion in action.

Meeting Mother Teresa changed my life. Others in Southwest Florida, too, have very fond memories of her. Bishop Frank Dewane, bishop of the Diocese of Venice, knew Mother Teresa from his days in Rome, and he, too, has stories of her that will last a lifetime.

And there is good news for those who did not have the chance to meet Mother Teresa when she lived among us: Ave Maria University is starting a project and opening a museum in her honor that will make Southwest Florida the epicenter of devotion to this saintly woman.

What will the project do?

Educate students on the life and unique spirituality of Mother Teresa through a program of study that immerses them in her life and writings.

Engage students in the service of the farmworker community in neighboring Immokalee and throughout the area, especially children in need of mentoring and the elderly longing for companionship.

Respond to Pope Francis’ call to reach out with love to those who suffer and be part of the new evangelization of the 21st century.

Conduct an annual conference on marriage, family and the sanctity of life, and advocate for these priorities as Mother Teresa did during her earthly life.

Sister M. Prema, M.C., the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order of nuns), in a letter to me granting official permission, wrote: “Thank you for all you are doing to spread the message of God’s love through Mother’s words and works. In these times when God is too often forgotten or disregarded in favor of convenience, comfort and ‘freedom,’ we believe that He wishes to speak through Mother to men, women and children of all ages, nationalities, cultures and beliefs. We commend you and the Mother Teresa Project at Ave Maria University to the prayer of Our Lady and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.”

Ave Maria will hit the ground running with this project. We have programs through which students can volunteer in Missionaries of Charity homes in places such as Calcutta, India; Port au Prince, Haiti; Mexico City; and the Bronx and Harlem, N.Y. Our students will find participation in the Mother Teresa Project a perfect counterpart to their liberal arts education because what they learn from the poor will complement their classroom studies.

The museum, too, will invite students — and tourists, pilgrims and area residents — to learn more about “the saint of the gutters.” It is now under construction in the town plaza and scheduled for dedication next month. The 3,000-plus-square-foot display of Mother Teresa’s life and memorabilia includes more than 30 beautifully designed panels which tell the story of her life (in English and Spanish). They are identical to those used by the Missionaries of Charity in their exhibit in Calcutta.

Items for public viewing also include some of her handwritten letters, a crucifix from her own rosary, stunning photographs, original publications from her state funeral in India in 1997 and beatification ceremony at the Vatican in 2003, and other items.

Naples legend Myra Daniels and renowned architect Gene Aubry collaborated in the design of the museum to create a space at Ave Maria that is simple — and simply beautiful. State-of-the-art technology at the museum will provide visitors the opportunity to view actual footage of Mother Teresa and hear stories about her from some of her closest friends. Oral histories like these will make Mother Teresa present to museum guests in a very special way.

And best of all, thanks to a grant from a generous foundation, the museum will be open to the public free of charge. So whether you come from Port Royal or Immokalee, you are equally welcome at Mother Teresa’s “new home” at Ave Maria University.

I hope to see you at Ave Maria in March when the museum’s doors open as wide as Mother’s arms once did!

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