Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who visited Bellarmine in 1982, was canonized as Saint Teresa by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016. We asked Michael Nabicht ’68, who had a role in bringing Mother Teresa to campus, to share his memories of that event. His recollection includes not only his personal experiences with her, but also the lasting impact her presence has had on the institution itself. —Christina Mudd
I graduated from Bellarmine with a degree in philosophy. I then began work in the field of communications. I worked in broadcast television for a number of years before founding a company that produced documentary films and educational media.
In 1981, I was commissioned to produce a film featuring Mother Teresa, as she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. I wanted to interview Mother in Calcutta. After a long struggle to reach her and get her permission, our film production crew of six flew to India and spent about three weeks there with her. That crew also included another Bellarmine graduate, Bob Sullivan ’67, who is an international filmmaker living in Arlington, Va. Bob recorded all the audio with perfection under very difficult and challenging conditions.
I was aware that Mother Teresa was at the top of the list of world figures on whom the Bellarmine Board of Overseers wanted to bestow the Bellarmine Medal. They had tried to reach her but could not. I offered to invite her to accept this award while I was in India. During one of our production meetings, I told her about Bellarmine and the Medal, and she agreed to accept if she didn’t have to travel to receive the award. Then-President Eugene Petrik flew to Calcutta while we were there, so we could film the ceremony. He learned about her order, the Missionaries of Charity, told her about the mission of Bellarmine and invited her to visit whenever she was in the United States.
The Missionaries of Charity have many missions serving the poor in the United States, and one of them is in Jenkins, Ky. As it turned out, she was planning to be in Jenkins in June and agreed to come to Bellarmine during that time. Since I had worked with her in Calcutta, I was asked to accompany her. Dr. W. Fielding Rubel, a benefactor, offered the use of his private plane to bring her from Eastern Kentucky to Louisville.
Mother Teresa’s visit was covered by local and network media. She arrived late in the afternoon, stayed in the Carmelite Convent on Newburg Road, and then spent the next full day on campus. She met for a press conference in the President’s Office and then met a group of students in the Chapel. Next, she went to the Fireplace Room for a more informal conversation, and finally she spoke to about 4,000 gathered in Knights Hall. By 5 p.m., we were back in the plane taking her to Youngstown, Ohio.
My time with Mother Teresa has had a lasting impact on me. I saw firsthand a person with great love for everyone. She was fully present to anyone she was with and to anyone she attended. She had complete respect for each person. She was never overbearing and always thoughtful.
She was an ordinary person—very much like a grandmother who was always attending to the needs of others. She was always focused on serving “Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.” It is because of this focus that her visit to Bellarmine was all the more unusual. She did not make personal appearances, as it took time away from her work of service. However, she felt her visit to Bellarmine was worthwhile because she called attention to Jesus being the poorest of the poor, and it gave her the opportunity to inspire students to love and serve Christ in the poor everywhere.
Mother Teresa enjoyed her visit at Bellarmine, with its beautiful campus, its warmth, hospitality, energy and its commitment to its mission, which is in harmony with her own. It is my hope that for all the years to come, students and faculty will look to her for guidance and strength in pursuing the love of truth.
To see coverage of Mother Teresa’s 1982 visit to Bellarmine, visit bellarmine.edu/motherteresa.