When Christin Jezak walked through the door to volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity Convent in Norristown, Pa., a few years ago, little did she know that her life would change forever.
Jezak began helping the sisters to learn more about their ministries and Mother Teresa for a solo performance that the actress was developing for a graduate thesis project at Villanova University, where she earned a graduate degree in theater.
“I knew I wanted to write a play about Mother Teresa and human dignity,” the 27-year-old actress told Our Sunday Visitor. “However, it was from this experience that I came to realize that Mother’s life was not about her, but rather about Jesus in the people she encountered.”
She said that from the minute she met the sisters ministering in Norristown, she knew that the people whom they serve needed to be the focus of the play to truly depict Mother Teresa’s heart and life.
“It was incredible,” Jezak said. “Right away it left an impression.”
‘Person to person’
After much prayer, Jezak wrote “Person to Person: A Mother Teresa Project.” She performs the play at venues throughout the Northeast and appeared at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in 2008.
The performance has been staged before secular as well as Christian audiences because the famous nun encouraged people of every faith to strive to make the world a better place.
“I chose Mother Teresa because I felt she was a universal figure,” Jezak told OSV. “She wasn’t only for Christians — she brought a positive message to the entire world.”
Jezak became enveloped in that same life-affirming unconditional love when she met the Missionaries of Charity sisters.
“It was amazing to see how they treated everyone the same — rich or poor,” she said, adding that she was inspired by the “person to person” connection that the Missionaries of Charity made with everyone, whether the person was a wealthy benefactor or someone seeking help.
“I believe in ‘person to person,’” Jezak said, quoting Mother Teresa. “Every person is Christ to me.”
Jezak said the play’s message is about reaching out to those in society who are often forgotten — the poor, the sick, the downtrodden — the people in whom Mother Teresa saw the face of Christ and treated with compassion and dignity.
“It’s about those whom we tend to miss, experiencing the joy of who they are, and seeing value in the people who we are with every day,” she said.
Jezak told OSV that her desire to write the play grew stronger as she read Mother Teresa’s reflection titled “Prayer for the Poor.”“Who is Jesus to me?” the future saint wrote. “Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Jesus is the Bread of Life. … Jesus is the joy — to be shared. … Jesus is the hungry — to be fed. … Jesus is the homeless — to be taken in. Jesus is the lonely — to be loved. … Jesus is the prostitute — to be removed from danger and befriend her. ...”
During the performance, Jezak plays the roles of Mother Teresa; a young woman troubled by loneliness; a homeless man; a nursing home resident; a disabled woman; and a prostitute. The actress substitutes a high school student for the prostitute when the play is performed before a younger audience.
“These are all types of people whom Mother Teresa noticed and served in society,” the actress said. “I chose these characters because these are the people in the United States I felt need to be addressed and talked about.”
Jezak said she developed the message she delivers in the play after watching a poignant documentary created by Ann and Jeanette Petrie titled “Mother Teresa,” as well as listening to clips on YouTube and audio recordings of some speeches the nun had delivered.
The actress said that after reading “Come Be My Light,” a collection of Mother Teresa’s writings and letters, she knew that she had made the right choice to write the play and address the need for love and respect throughout the world.
The collection reveals that Mother Teresa, despite being a woman of great faith, sometimes felt abandoned by God.
“I feel very called to do the work I’m doing,” the actress said. “It has been quite the journey.”
Brian J. Lowney writes from Rhode Island. For more information, visit P2PTheatre.com.