SMA: Faith Is Culture
By Joseph Toone
When my mother reached a certain advanced age, I knew my visits were not to be about altering her diet or other lifestyle choices, which mostly featured watching way too much TV about the Pennsylvania couple with eight toddlers. I lived too far away to influence her daily choices and instead focused merely on her enjoying my visits by taking her to visit pals, enjoying some champagne together, and taking her to have any appetizers she wanted at her favorite local restaurant, the Olive Garden, which she inexplicably referred to as London Fog.
This concept of living in the moment was espoused by St. Teresa of Avila, whose image stands in the Parroquia and looms above the city as one of the ladies who encircle the dome of the Las Monjas (the nuns) Church.
St. Teresa is largely remembered here as the owner of the small statue of the Infant of Prague, featured in nearly every church in town, and an auspicious wedding gift known for preventing wedding day rain. However, St. Teresa is also known for her prolific writings and is standing in the Parroquia with her feathered plume and book in hand.
Teresa’s writings, even read today in translated form, are lyrical and moving. She, along with the Virgin of Guadalupe, played a large part in the feminization of faith in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico as a whole by emphasizing compassionate love. Her writings focus on living in the now with God. So, for instance, if you are boiling an egg, God is in the water, the pot, the flame, and so on. Teresa got so caught up on the notion of God’s being in the moment, she would literally levitate off the ground and go into ecstasy. In art, as she is featured on a local bus, when you see a nun with an unusual facial expression, it is Teresa in an ecstasy of enjoying God in the moment.
My mother long volunteered at a local Catholic nursing home in central Pennsylvania called Villa Teresa in Teresa’s honor. The complex was built in the ’70s on the largest hill in town. This geographic faux pas aided in several wheelchair deaths involving the elderly with rogue high velocity winds, resulting in downhill plunges much like the rides at nearby Hershey Park.
Eventually these incidents necessitated closing Villa Teresa. When my mother could no longer function independently due to dementia, it was, ironically, the Jewish Nursing Home in town that she entered, still somewhat baffled by Villa Teresa’s closure. I’m sure had she or I been more like St. Teresa of Avila, we could have found a way to feel God’s presence even in those moments!
Joseph Toone is the best-rated guide on history and culture in SMA by TripAdvisor. Walking tours are Thursdays and Fridays at 9am from the Oratorio Church benefit children’s library and art programs.