Following in the Footsteps of Mother Teresa

Catholics are called to be disciples. Living our faith plays an integral role within the life of every Catholic institution. At Ave Maria University, in southwestern Florida, students embrace this through the model of St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Ave Maria offers students the opportunity to participate in the Mother Teresa Project. This allows them to serve the less fortunate who reside both near and far from the university. Students can also participate in a more profound way through the Mother Teresa Scholar Program. This allows students to fully “immerse themselves in the spirituality and life of Mother Teresa,” transforming their lives in a remarkable way.

All students at Ave Maria are encouraged to engage in both formation and service activities during their time here. However, for “Mother Teresa Scholars,” there is an extra incentive. These students will graduate to become ambassadors of hope for our world, challenging society to change the culture into one that truly embodies the New Evangelization.

Students who enroll in this program attend retreats and lectures on the life of Mother Teresa. In addition, they read spiritual works and engage in theological and scholarly dialogue. Finally, each performs a minimum of 75 hours of local service and serves on one mission trip. This program is completely voluntary, yet many choose to take part in this memorable experience.

The call to serve is at the heart of Ave Maria. President H. James Towey volunteered for two years in Mexico, caring for the dying at one of Mother Teresa’s shelters. Later, he served as her legal counsel in the United States. As a result, the university has established a long-lasting relationship with the Missionaries of Charity.

The Mother Teresa Scholar Program is usually completed in two years, with students beginning in their sophomore or junior year. Yet, it is the completion that marks a beginning; a beginning in a new life, lived in service to others. It is safe to say that students who choose to undertake this journey are never be the same again. Their eyes are opened, the minds are clearer, and their hearts are filled with compassion and mercy.

Many in our world have become numb to the plights of others. Desire for success often clouds our awareness of what truly matters. The Mother Teresa Program ensures that participants will never neglect their duties towards their neighbors, regardless of their own good fortune. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.” This message is clearly understood by those within this program.

As mentioned earlier, the Mother Teresa Program offers students opportunities to volunteer in many places throughout the country and around the world. However, there is always the need to serve those closest to home. Within the nearby migrant town of Immokalee, residents benefit from the charity of Ave Maria students.

Whether tutoring children, coaching sports, or ministering to the disabled within the community, numerous events present themselves for student involvement. These are normally scheduled ahead of time, giving students the chance to plan. However, sometimes nature dictates without warning.

Hurricane Irma left a path of destruction in Southwestern Florida this past fall and the people were in great need of assistance. They benefitted greatly from the efforts of students at Ave Maria. This brought out the best in the university and showed that ‘service’ is not just a word contained in the Mission Statement, but a purpose imbedded in the minds, hearts, and spirit of all associated with the institution.

As these students graduate and go on to fulfill the needs of this world, they will take with them the essential virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These qualities will not simply sustain them in their positions at work or responsibilities at home. They will also strengthen their convictions as citizens and their obligations as members of the Body of Christ.

Our world is in need of real change that brings real results. The Mother Teresa Project encourages one to become a witness to the reality that not all are as privileged as some. The entrance into this shared awareness reaps great fruits, which enable all to grow and prosper. St. Teresa’s spirit will continue to remain alive and well through this form of authentic charity.

TODD NOLAN is an admissions counselor at Ave Maria University. He earned a Master of Arts in theology from Catholic Distance University and has written and spoken on issues related to catechesis, youth ministry, and Catholic education.

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