By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — As the sun set Oct. 26 and the blue autumn sky darkened, Kansas City in Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann blessed a bronze statue of St. Teresa of Avila now gracing the entrance to the Avila University campus near the administration building. Alumni, faculty and staff, students and friends of the university attended the dedication.
The life sized statue of Avila’s patroness, sculpted by local artist Charles Goslin, was underwritten and contributed to the university by the Thompson family in honor of Jeanne Collins Thompson and Byron G. Thompson, Sr., who died this past summer.
The unveiling and dedication of the statue took place as Avila University prepares for its centennial anniversary celebrations and the university’s founding sponsors, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, are celebrating 150 years in Kansas City. This year is also the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa’s birth.
St. Teresa is also the patroness of St. Teresa’s Academy, where the College of St. Teresa, now Avila University, was founded in 1916.
Charles Goslin, 84, is a former Hallmark artist who graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1953. He works in a variety of media, including sculpting in bronze.
After accepting the commission, but before going to the foundry, Goslin researched St. Teresa of Avila and read her seminal work, El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), which he borrowed from Dr. Ron Slepitza, Avila’s president.
He learned a lot about the woman born Teresa Ali Fatim Corella Sanchez de Capeda y Ahumada in Ávila, Spain in 1515. “Teresa of Avila became a person to me,” Goslin said. “Her outstanding characteristic was humility. She was gifted with humility. There are other folks with that gift: Christ washed the feet of the Apostles, St. Francis of Assisi lived in poverty and built a church when Christ asked him to, Blessed Mother Teresa was incredibly kind and humble and did great good in India, and now Pope Francis.
“Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun, and back then there were rich nuns and poor nuns. Teresa wanted to be humble before God, so even though she came from a wealthy family, she stopped wearing shoes and founded the Discalced (barefoot, unshod) Carmelite Order.
“It was a delight to do that piece,” Goslin said.
Mark Thompson, Byron and Jeanne Thompson’s son, and member of Avila’s Board of Directors, said the family will continue to be involved with and supportive of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Avila and Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., in honor of their parents.
“St. Teresa provided help and inspiration for the Thompson family, showing us how to be ears, eyes, hands and feet for Christ,” he added.
He quoted part of the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:
“Let nothing frighten you.
Let nothing disturb you.
All things are passing away, only God never changes.”
Replicas of the statue are being made for all the Avila students, and will be presented in early 2016, Thompson said.
Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Ruth Stuckel, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Avila, led prayers concentrating on asking God to help those present become more like St. Teresa of Avila: “a contemplative in action, integrated in mind, body and soul, inclusive and influential, a woman for all seasons and all generations. Her example calls us to an ever-deepening relationship with God and with each other,” Sister Ruth said.
Dr. Slepitza spoke briefly, concluding by pointing out that the statue sits at the entrance to the university and to its next century. “Remember, the love of God is in service to the dear neighbor,” he said. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have, since they were founded about 1650, dedicated themselves to all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that most “benefit the dear neighbor.”
Following the dedication and blessing by Archbishop Naumann, who served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for seven months before the Nov. 4 installation of Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., Goslin explained several aspects of the statue.
Some of his inspiration came from The Interior Castle, “not an easy read but a powerful one. I found jewels in it that are precious. St. Teresa wrote, ‘I commend myself to the Holy Spirit … we cannot know ourselves until we seek to know God.’ That’s why her hand is uplifted, she reaches toward the dove, the Holy Spirit, takes him to heart, cherishes and shares him with others in her books.” He pointed to an open book and quill pen in her other hand. “Her books are as alive today as they were 500 years ago. She is barefoot, the humble founder of the barefoot Carmelites. I will always treasure doing this piece.”