Last evening AMU was privileged to host a one-of-a-kind gentleman by the name of Michael Collopy.
You may have never heard of him but he probably has the most amazing network of friends in the world. Nelson Mandela. The Dalai Lama. Pope Francis. Matt Damon. Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra. Maya Angelou. Clint Eastwood. The list is seemingly endless.
How did he meet so many famous people? The short answer is that he has an eye for beauty. His trade is portrait photography and his subjects comprise a “Who’s Who” list that spans the globe, ranging from two canonized saints, nearly every living Nobel Peace Prize winner, every living U.S. president and the A list of Hollywood and music celebrities. Word of mouth has a way of attracting the finest to the finest and that’s how his rolodex grew and reputation blossomed.
Because Michael is so humble, you would never know from meeting him that he has done anything extraordinary. Indeed these days, when he isn’t photographing the famous, he works three days a week doing art therapy with the mentally ill.
Michael Collopy playfully photographs AMU students near his exhibition in the Canizaro Exhibit Gallery.
I met Michael nearly 30 years ago when he was photographing Mother Teresa (his book, Works of Love are Works of Peace, is a masterpiece; indeed, one of those photos served as the basis for the Vatican’s official painting of Mother Teresa at her canonization). He is a devout Catholic with an unassuming smile and a vocation that has taken Jesus to places missionaries can’t seem to go – the halls of power, the mansions of the rich and famous, and the hills of Hollywood. And he also has gone to the leper colonies of India, the garbage dumps of Mexico City, and some U.S. homes for people with AIDS.
One of Collopy’s portraits of Mother Teresa.
He had Ave Maria attendees in the Demetree Auditorium mesmerized by the rapid fire of photos he presented and the stories he wove to accompany them. He spoke of the courage of a woman in Columbia who for three years lived chained to a tree because of the cruelty of FARC guerillas; the Syrian woman who was shot in the face, point-blank, and survived, and sought to return to her advocacy for women’s rights in her country; the man who was tortured every single day for two years by Japanese captors during the ugliest of times in World War II, and yet lived to smile about life; and of course, of his close friendship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta and all that she brought to his family’s life.
As I left his talk (that was arranged by another extraordinary and humble soul, AMU’s director of library services, Jennifer Nodes) I had two thoughts: First, I wondered how it was possible to know a man for nearly 30 years and not know he had done all of these extraordinary things; such amazing humility that he and Alma have!
And second, that whatever adversity or difficulties we face in life as we pioneer at AMU, these challenges are nothing in comparison to what countless people sacrifice, day in and day out, all over the world, for love of God and neighbor, for freedom, justice, and peace, and often, sheer survival.
What a joy it was to have on our campus a man who has walked in high places and low and found the beauty of God on the faces of those he photographed!