Georgetown celebrated the quincentenary of St. Teresa of Avila, a prominent historic figure in the Catholic Church, with an all-day series of panel discussions and performances exploring the modern implications of her legacy in Lohrfink Auditorium on Friday.

The free anniversary celebration, which took place the day after the saint’s feast day, included a symposium of renowned Teresian scholars, a Spanish music performance by the Georgetown University Orchestra and scenes from a play, “God’s Gypsy,” based on the life of Mother Teresa by students in the department of performing arts.

St. Teresa, who was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, Spain, is renowned for co-founding the Discalced Carmelites, a mendicant order in the Catholic Church, with St. John of the Cross. She is also noted for her work as a theologian, author and reformer of the church.

The commemoration was organized by faculty in the department of Spanish and Portuguese and the department of performing arts. The Embassy of Spain, the Casey-McIlvane Memorial Lecture Fund and the Carmelitana Collection also sponsored the event.

On Thursday, Spanish professor Barbara Mujica, who is a Teresian scholar, hosted a lecture to address the topic of whether or not St. Teresa was a feminist.

The symposium featured five scholars from around the United States, including adjunct Georgetown professor Fr. Brian O. McDermott, S.J., Carmelite nun Constance FitzGerald, theology professor at Xavier University Gillian Ahlgren, Spanish professor at the University of Virginia Alison P. Weber and history teacher at Holton Arms School Christopher Wilson.

Each scholar spoke about different aspects of St. Teresa’s spirituality, ranging from the influence and support she received from Jesuits to her writings on love and friendship.

Ahlgren said that Teresa sought to explain the relationship between God and man.

“St. Teresa showed us … that with God, we become part of the work of revealing the world,” Ahlgren said. “Working for dignity, renouncing and denouncing sin and injustice, growing in truth and love and drawing others into this life-giving creative activity.”

The day’s festivities ended with artistic performances. Georgetown University Orchestra Music Director Angel Gil-Ordóñez said the pieces chosen for the performance were influenced by the time period of St. Teresa.

“We found music that was inspired by the poetry and the popular songs of the time. These songs were sung there at the time,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “We found two Spanish composers of the 20th century, and it makes total sense because the sounds and the Renaissance flavor make a beautiful combination.”

Gil-Ordóñez said it is valuable to combine art with academia.

“Music plays an extraordinary role in the contextualization of any other intellectual activity,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “There is no better place than within the university to explore these fascinating interactions between history, culture and the rest of the arts.”

Georgetown University Orchestra percussionist Kyle Rinaudo (SFS ’18), who performed at the concert, said that this performance was different from anything the orchestra has done in the past.

“Usually our performances are big classical works. We do a lot of these big, grand pieces,” Rinaudo said. “This concert is a lot of smaller pieces, less well known and a lot smaller orchestration.”

In addition to the programming, the Booth Family Center for Special Collections displayed 69 documents and objects related to St. Teresa in an exhibition running from Aug. 31 to Dec. 18. The collection includes early Discalced Carmelite documents, such as a first edition of Teresa’s works.

Director of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections John Buchtel, who oversees the library’s archives and collections, said that the collection consists of both old and new items on display.

“Some of the works on display are drawn from collections that have been here for more than 100 years,” Buchtel said. “We have been adding to the collection recently using our acquisition funds to find rare, relevant materials about St. Teresa.”

Georgetown owns one of St. Teresa’s rarest publications, “Los libros de la madre Teresa de Iesus,” published in 1588. It is unclear as to when the publication first arrived at Georgetown.

Buchtel said that the collection contains many other works that have been influenced by St. Teresa.

“One of the things the exhibition shows is just how significant an impact St. Teresa has had on the history of spirituality and on women’s history,” Buchtel said.


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