There indeed is something about Mary, Mary McAnena, our recipient of the 2003 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence, and Mary’s Kitchen. Mary was born in Ireland, raised a family, was a nurse for most of her adult life, and moved from New York to California about twenty years ago. She tells the story of seeing a young woman, hungry and homeless, who moved Mary to prepare food for homeless people in Hart Park here in Orange, and so Mary’s Kitchen was founded. Like Albert Schweitzer, Mary did not turn her gaze away from the people in need around her. Rather, she has seen God in all people, including the poor, homeless, hungry, and disenfranchised. Like Albert Schweitzer, Mary has shown that one person can make a real difference. In her case the one person was a grandma with an attitude, an octogenarian with a sense of righteous outrage that the richest country in the world does not provide food and the necessities of life for its own people. Like Albert Schweitzer, Mary has shown that the message of the teacher Jesus, and the other great religious teachers of the world, is realized in the concrete ways that love is expressed in living a life of service to others. A couple weeks ago we sat on her porch as her eyes flashed and she repeated her conviction that the poor and homeless man, woman, and child are the neighbors we are called upon to love.
Mary, in a frightening world enamored of shock and awe, where countries—even our own—express themselves with violence and destruction, and nations and peoples resort to the law of retribution—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life—you show us a gentle and righteous alternative. At Mary’s Kitchen hundreds of hungry men, women, and children are fed, clothes are given and clothes are washed, and conversations are carried on with volunteers (include Chapman volunteers) and friends of the Kitchen in an atmosphere free of judgment and characterized by mutuality. People are hungry, people are fed, and they are fed well. That is the simple gospel of Mary, and it is profound. It is no wonder that Mary has been called the Mother Theresa of Orange.
Mary, we apologize that we missed your birthday—your 100th birthday—a few weeks ago. We celebrate with you today, we say happy birthday to you, and we honor you for what you have done and continue to do through the gifts and the grace of Mary’s Kitchen.
Director, Chapman University Albert Schweitzer Institute