Mother Teresa: Discovering God in the Poorest of the Poor

October 2009


Mother Teresa has discovered God in the poorest of the poor. Through her life and example, people of every country in the world have discovered the light of God shines again in our time. Like Pere Marquette, Mother Teresa does indeed map the unknown regions of the human need to give and receive Christ's own charity.
     - Citation, Pere Marquette Discovery Award presented to Mother Teresa


Father Raynor and Monther TeresaAs Marquette celebrates the centennial of its becoming the first Catholic university in the world to offer coeducation as part of its undergraduate program, it is fitting that it dedicates a statue to honor Mother Teresa. Twenty-eight years ago, during its centennial year, the university invited Mother Teresa to Milwaukee, presenting her with its highest honor, the Pere Marquette Discovery Award. The Department of Special Collections and University Archives preserves a large collection of images and documentary materials related to Mother Teresa's visit to campus and has selected highlights for digitization and presentation in its In the Spotlight collection.

The Pere Marquette Discovery Award was established in 1969 "in the spirit of the discoveries of Pere Jacques Marquette," and is conferred on those "who achieve an extraordinary breakthrough which may be considered a discovery in some form of human knowledge or which adds to the advancement of the human person." In its thirty-year existence, the award has been presented just four times and will be awarded a fifth time this academic year.

Mother Teresa first accepted the university's invitation to receive the award in 1977, but was unable to attend at that time. A stop in Milwaukee in June 1981 to receive the award was part of a month-long, nationwide itinerary during which Mother Teresa visited houses of the nuns and brothers of her order. Accompanying her to Milwaukee was Sister Fatima, a young Indian nun who lived in the Missionaries of Charity's house in New York.

In her acceptance remarks, Mother Teresa humbly noted that she was unworthy to receive the award, but "receive[d] it for the glory of God and in the name of our poor people -- the unwanted, unloved, uncared for; all those brothers and sisters of ours who have forgotten, who have been forgotten, who have forgotten what is human love, what is human touch." She asked those assembled to pray for unborn children and to discover Jesus' love and to follow in his example to love and care for others, particularly those who "have forgotten what is love and what is human touch, and it is they that are hungry for love."

Mother Teresa seated at table with Marquette banner

Tickets to the public ceremony in her honor were offered on a first-come basis and the response was so overwhelming that the university chose to move the celebratory liturgy from Gesu Church to the MECCA Arena. Approximately 9,500 joined in the celebration and another 1,500 watched the ceremony on closed-circuit television from the Milwaukee Auditorium. Marquette University President Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J., presided; assisting him in the celebration and conferral of the award were Rev. Robert G. Gassert, S.J., and Rev. Bruce F. Biever, S.J. Marquette's Women's Council sponsored the activities, which kicked off the Alumni Association's Marquette Thanks You weekend.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's 22-hour stay in Milwaukee was filled with a variety of activities. She arrived late in the afternoon of Friday, June 12, and left following a press conference on June 13 to make several public appearances in Chicago. During her time in Milwaukee, Mother Teresa met with nuns at the St. Joan Antida convent, spoke at the St. Joan Antida library with a group who worked with the poor and dying in Milwaukee, conversed privately with Archbishop Rembert Weakland, met in a small group with Marquette administrators, breakfasted with 2,100 Marquette faculty, staff, and guests, met privately with visitors, and held a press conference in Johnston Hall.

In the citation prepared for the award presentation, the university described Mother Teresa "as one who personifies the goals we cherish in this academic community. She is an inspiration to faculty and students alike as we seek to activate anew the quest for faith, knowledge and justice which have impelled Marquette University for a century." In conjunction with her visit, Marquette coordinated a collection of funds to assist Mother Teresa in her work with the poor and needy. The public was sufficiently inspired: a total burse of $180,000 was collected from the public and a check was presented to Mother Teresa at a luncheon on Saturday, June 13.

In his homily at the celebratory liturgy, Father Raynor said that "just as Marquette University has been honored in bearing the name of a great missionary for the past hundred years, so today we are honored in presenting the Pere Marquette Discovery Medal to the outstanding missionary of the 20th century." The statue created by Gautam Pal serves as a reminder both of Mother Teresa's compassion and faith, but also of her brief but historic visit to campus.

Connect to Marquette Digital Collections.

Questions about this collection can be directed to:
Katie Blank, Special Collections and University Archives