A beloved saint of modern times, St. Teresa of Calcutta is also one of Thomas Aquinas College’s most memorable Commencement speakers. (See text and video of her address.)
While touring the United States in 1982, St. Teresa visited just three campuses: Harvard University, Georgetown University, and — at the request of her friend Rev. John Hardon, S.J. — Thomas Aquinas College. She served as that year’s Commencement Speaker and, like Fr. Hardon before her, received the College’s highest honor, the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion. (Like Bl. Mother Teresa, the late Fr. Hardon’s cause for canonization is currently under way.)
At the time of her visit, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that all who were gathered that day were in the presence of a saint. While delivering her Commencement Address, Mother Teresa fingered her Rosary the whole while. Flanked on all sides by College faculty and members of the Board of Governors, the tiny nun from Calcutta wore only her simple white and blue sari and a plain gray sweater (against the “cool” — by Indian standards — Southern California day). Though extreme security measures, weeks in the planning, were taken to assure Mother’s safety, she seemed unaware of it all, focusing instead on the 22 graduates of the Class of 1982 and the message she wished to deliver to them.
Noting, as she often did, that though many in the Third World hunger for food, the poverty in America was a spiritual poverty, St. Teresa told the graduates, “Your parents, your relations, your friends, even the whole world, is expecting that you be … the light that Jesus said: ‘I am the light that you must light; I am the truth you must speak; I am the joy that you must share; I am the life that you must lead; I am the love that you must love.’ Go with that — the joy of loving.” Later in the day, she also took questions in an on-campus press conference.
Class of ‘82 graduate, Katie (Blewett) Masteller recalls the blessed occasion: “It was a privilege like no other to have had Mother Teresa with us for our graduation day. Her call to love Christ in all men — especially the unborn — struck a chord with each of us. We were celebrating the successful completion of a rigorous academic program in which we drank deeply from the Church’s rich intellectual heritage. Mother’s words put our accomplishment in perspective: great and praiseworthy as it was, we were reminded we would gain nothing if we had not love.”
Following Mother Teresa’s Address, the Chairman of the College’s Board of Governors at that time, Mr. Thomas P. Sullivan, presented her the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion.
“The Governors of Thomas Aquinas College, on behalf of the College community,” Mr. Sullivan announced, “award to Mother Teresa the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion as a token of their respect and esteem and to recognize and honor her for her extraordinary dedication to God and the Catholic Church as demonstrated in her life and work. In her overwhelming love of the poorest of God’s creatures, she has manifested the deepest meaning of the Gospel and the life lived for Christ through Mary, and has brought that message through her words and actions to a spiritually hungry world.”
President Emeritus Dr. Ronald P. McArthur later reflected that, “Mother Teresa gave our young people wisdom and counsel to guide them throughout their lives and advice on how to express their love of Christ through Mary by helping their neighbors, by strengthening their family life, by lighting a new light: the Light of Christ in our times. In addressing the graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, Mother Teresa was speaking to all young people, to all of us.”
An Enduring Devotion
Throughout the years the College’s connection to St. Teresa has continued. In 1991, when Dr. Thomas E. Dillon was appointed as the second president of Thomas Aquinas College, Mother Teresa responded to an invitation to his inauguration with a letter from India — now a relic of one of the blessed in heaven. Unable to attend the festivities, she wrote to extend her congratulations and a loving admonition: “Be God’s hands to serve those entrusted to you and His heart to love them.”
An alumna of the College, Maggie Isaacson (’86) — now Sr. Marcella, M.C. — has gone on to join St. Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Like all of Mother Teresa’s sisters, Sr. Marcella has taken the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and an additional vow to serve “Christ in his distressing disguise,” as St. Teresa had explained in her Commencement Address at the College. “In our congregation we take a fourth vow of giving wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor. By this vow, we are specially bound to the people who have nothing and nobody, and [we], also, fully depend on Divine Providence.”
“Mother will always have a ‘mother’s place’ in the heart of every Missionary of Charity,” Sr. Marcella says, “as well as a central place in our religious congregation. The M.C. vocation is to satiate the thirst of our Crucified Spouse for love and for souls as He disguises Himself in the poorest of the poor. Mother always wanted her Missionaries of Charity to be true to their name, and she never ceased to set before her spiritual children the means to become true Missionaries of Charity through intimacy with Jesus in the Eucharist and through tender and childlike devotion to Our Lady.”
Slideshow: A history Thomas Aquinas College’s relationship with St. Teresa of Calcutta.
During her visit of the United States in 1982, St. Teresa chose Thomas Aquinas College as one of only three campuses to visit, serving as that year’s Commencement Speaker.
During the Commencement Ceremony, Chairman of the Board of Governors Tom Sullivan awarded St. Teresa with the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion, the College’s highest honor.
Later that day, Bl. Mother Teresa (shown here with Founding President Dr. Ronald P. McArthur) held a press conference on campus.
At the end of the visit, College Vice President John Blewett accompanied St. Teresa via helicopter from the campus athletic field to Oxnard Airport.
An alumna of the College, Sr. Marcella, M.C. (’86), is currently a member of St. Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
On August 26, 2010 — St. Teresa’s 100th birthday — the College remembered her with a memorial Mass in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.
A bust of Bl. Mother Teresa, commemorating her 1982 visit, in St. Bernardine of Siena Library