NEW YORK — When The New York Times interviewed retired Olympian Dominique Dawes, she was asked a peculiar question: If you could have dinner with one person who is no longer living whose obituary was published in The New York Times, who would it be?
The three-time Olympian responded by saying, “I would choose to dine with Mother Angelica.”
“I’d invite Mother Angelica to my home and have her sit at the head of our table, alongside my husband and two baby girls,” Dawes told the Times in an Aug. 17 interview.
“I’d ask her to say the blessing, then proceed to ask her a few things about her life and about fortitude.”
Dawes, who made Olympic history by becoming the first African-American female gymnast to win an individual medal in 1996, grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and started taking gymnastics lessons at age 6.
Also known as “Awesome Dawesome,” she was part of the ‘“Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the U.S. women’s gymnastic team won gold for the first time in history.
After retiring from gymnastics in 2000, Dawes converted to the Catholic faith at the Easter vigil in 2013; and soon after, she married Jeff Thomson, a Catholic high-school teacher.
Dawes was originally drawn to EWTN foundress Mother Angelica because of her faith, resilience and perseverance.
“She knew resilience most of all, raised by a single mother from an early age after her father had abandoned them,” Dawes said. “I often wondered how she overcame this abandonment, learned to forgive her father and ultimately trust in God.”
Noting Mother Angelica’s humble beginnings, Dawes said that she would cook Mother Angelica some “soul food” for dinner — a meal that would include chitlins, collard greens, cheese grits and candied yams.
“Mother Angelica would understand this meal: She was raised around blacks and poor Italians in a tough Canton, Ohio, neighborhood. She knew people, she understood their plights, she was one of them,” Dawes said.
Impressed by Mother Angelica’s ability to start the largest religious television network in the world with only $200, Dawes mentioned many questions she would ask the beloved nun.
“She was a cloistered nun, in a convent, yet she was seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide as the host of a series on EWTN. How was she able to embrace both of these so very opposite vocations?” Dawes asked.
The retired Olympian particularly related to the contradictory aspect of Mother Angelica’s vocation and admired how she balanced a quiet life with a public one. Dawes said that because of her own introverted nature, performing at the Olympics always gave her anxiety.
Dawes was also struck by Mother Angelica’s ability to take her own painful, personal experiences and turn them into fuel for the greater good. The gymnast said she would ask Mother Angelica how she could help others in her own life, “whether they suffer from anxiety, depression, addiction, physical ailments or the pain of abandonment or divorce.”
Dawes also noted her desire to learn from Mother Angelica’s lasting example.
“Mother Angelica ... how can we here on earth emulate what you did, even in a smaller way, offering help to others in a world that so desperately needs it?”