Katie Ringler of Tempe is about to spend the next year traveling parts of the world, retracing the steps of Mother Teresa, the iconic Catholic nun who died 10 years ago this summer. “I have had really powerful women who have been examples to me in life,” said the 23-year-old, a May graduate of a private college in Pennsylvania.
Katie Ringler of Tempe is about to spend the next year traveling parts of the world, retracing the steps of Mother Teresa, the iconic Catholic nun who died 10 years ago this summer.
“I have had really powerful women who have been examples to me in life,” said the 23-year-old, a May graduate of a private college in Pennsylvania.
“Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) is the ultimate example of selflessness and compassion, two qualities that are exemplified through her establishment of an international service mission,” wrote Ringler in essays she used to win a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Travel Grant.
Fifty seniors from small liberal arts colleges were chosen in March for their year of independent research.
Their projects will range from looking at the bioethics of health care distribution to the cultural foundation of justice and how it determines health systems around the world.
“A Mission of Charity: Following the Footsteps of Mother Teresa” will be Ringler’s 12-month adventure, starting at the end of July.
A new graduate in peace and justice studies from Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., she envisions her travel project as a valuable experience for her next quest — getting into medical school for a career in international public health. While she has to write quarterly reports and a five-page paper when the project is complete, the foundation wants participants engaged in transforming experiences.
“They emphasize how they don’t pick projects, they pick individuals,” Ringler said. “They really want it to be an individual experience.”
Mother Teresa, the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, visited Phoenix in 1989 to establish a Missionaries of Charity house from which a team of nuns now works in outreach to the poor. Ringler’s mother, Sue Ringler, co-founded Paz de Cristo homeless kitchen and outreach through St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa with its former priest, Monsignor Dale Fushek, who had worked closely with Mother Teresa in her visit and missionary house search.
Katie Ringler remembers being a child at Paz de Cristo and becoming more involved during the nine years that her mother directed it. “Every day my mom would pick me up from kindergarten, and we would go back to Paz while she finished working,” Katie said in her application. Throughout her childhood, she witnessed the development of the Mesa food kitchen as a fixture in the faith community’s response to the homeless and saw “the realization of my mother’s vision — a better life for those marginalized by society.”
Last month, Sue Ringler was ordained a priest in the Independent Catholic Church of the West and serves as pastor of its Guardian Angels parish in Tempe. “I was Roman Catholic, and I have followed my mom” to Independent Catholicism, said the Tempe High School graduate.
At Ursinus, Katie Ringler helped established weekly meal service for the community’s poor, using about 25 students. She studied for four months in Spain, and, in the summer of 2006, she was a health intern in the International Medical Corps in Kenya. Those programs have helped prepare Ringler for her Mother Teresa adventure to “fully absorb the spirit and intensity of her life.”
“By following her life, I hope to gain a greater understanding of her own inspirations and what led her to lead the life she did,” Ringler said.
To begin the complicated logistics of her trip, Katie contacted the Missionaries of Charity office in New York City and was urged to write letters to the sisters and contacts at all the locations on her planned route. She got spotty responses and intends to develop contacts outside the religious order in the cities she will visit.
It will take her first to Skopje, Macedonia (Tempe’s Sister City), where the Catholic nun was born in 1910, and then to Ireland where she studied in a convent. “I will next fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka (if the travel warning is lifted) and then take a boat into Madras, India, followed by a train into Calcutta in order to attain the complete trust she had in her path leading her in the right direction,” Ringler said.
Ringler plans to spend four months in Calcutta, where Mother Teresa arrived as a teen and took her vows as a nun in 1931. She taught for 17 years at a Catholic high school in Calcutta, then left in 1948 to develop mission work among the poor, which culminated with the Vatican allowing her to establish the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.
Ringler will live with missionaries at her destinations, including Calcutta. “I will see how the slum children are cared for,” she said. Nuns teach them practical skills for finding jobs.
A key destination will be Shanti Nagar, “The Place of Peace,” where Mother Teresa ministered to lepers who had a place to “live and die respectfully.” Ringler plans to travel widely in India to see where the nuns expanded their work and “see how each different location made a lasting impact on Mother Teresa.” In the second half of her year, she will spend about two months each in Venezuela, Tanzania and Italy, and possibly end in China “where Mother Teresa always hoped to establish her vision” and where the sisters are in talks with the government to accomplish that. Venezuela is the first place Mother Teresa took her mission work outside of India. In Rome, she wants to compare the sisters’ work in a developed, affluent country with what she observes elsewhere. In the shadow of the Vatican, she hopes to look at the relationship of the church’s authority and how it affects the way the missionaries serve.
“In my own life, I have dealt with the church’s authority clashing with my own ideas about the best way to serve,” Ringler wrote. “By seeing how the sisters deal with this tension, I may be able to find an effective way to address this conflict in my own life.”
In Tanzania, the fourth place the order was established, she will observe how the mission has affected an African culture and its ministry with the widespread population affected by HIV/AIDS.
Ringler has penciled out her expected costs at $25,000.
Her hope is that she will be able to live among the nuns as much as possible to watch how they embody Mother Teresa’s passion to serve. “I think they see me as a potential volunteer, being able to help out,” she said.