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Teresa and Theresa, Centuries Apart

Host Intro 1: Now a little bit more about culture and identity.

Host Intro 2: Sometimes, a name can have a back story spanning centuries. Commentator Theresa Avila shares hers.


There’s a thing that happens when I introduce myself to some people: a flash of recognition and a smile.

You see, my name Theresa Avila, or in Spanish, Teresa Avila, is the same as of Saint Teresa de Avila, known for her writings in 16th century Spain.

For a Catholic, she’s is big deal. She’s been recognized by the church for her writings on spirituality and prayer. She’s the subject of a famous work of Baroque sculpture  by the Italian artist Bernini.

A lot of Catholics share a name with a saint. And, we identify. She was a writer. I’m a writer. She’s the subject of a great work of art. I spent years studying great works of art. Her feast day is October 15th;my birthday is October 19th.

For my parents, being the proud, Catholics that they are, it was kind of a bonus to have me share a name with a saint.

Like most Mexicans, we have Spanish last names. We’ve traced our lineage in Mexico back to the mid 1800s. But in all likelihood – our family came from a town called ‘Avila’ in Spain. Just like the saint.  Yet another connection. And as I got older, a quest.

I studied in Spain one summer in college. I made it my mission to take a weekend trip to the small town of Avila.

When I arrived, it was hard to miss the cathedral at the center. In it, a chapel dedicated to my Saint Teresa.

I wandered off on my own, silently. I tried taking in every detail. I remember running my hands across the cold stone. I looked up at the high ceilings and wondered exactly how everything had been built. I imagined an era where people like Saint Teresa had struggled to find their place in the church.

And at last I found her – or at least a sculpture of her. Hola, I said. “Hello.”

A slight tingling feeling down my spine assured me I wasn’t alone.

I was with her, but it was more than that. I’ve done a lot of firsts in my family. First to graduate college. First to move across the U.S. First to travel across the Atlantic. The first to visit the town of Avila.

Yet in that moment, looking at this St.Teresa, I was connected not just to her, but across the ages, and to my family.

As I cried. I thought: St. Teresa de Avila had found something to devote her life to. Me? I was just starting to figure it out. I’m still trying to figure it out.

But that moment, in that chapel? It wasn’t so much a spiritual awakening as it was a moment of comfort. And awareness.

I’m not the only Theresa Avila who’s tried to make her mark on the world. And I probably won’t be the last.

OUTRO: Theresa Avila may someday marry, but she’s already decided she won’t be changing her name.  

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