By Elena Dini
ROME — The word “hospitality” is frequently used to describe The Lay Centre experience by those who come to visit. However, perhaps only the resident community knows that the finer details that make The Lay Centre so hospitable are under the care of a longtime friend and volunteer Mia Donato.
Mia offers her help to The Lay Centre twice per week.
“I’m a housewife,” she said. “If the students need anything, they know I’m here. I iron a lot and I clean what needs to be cleaned.”
Mia arrived in Rome from the Netherlands in 1962.
“I met my future husband in England while I was taking an English course there. Then I came to Italy to know more about Italian life and, in 1963, we got married,” she said.
When she moved to Rome, one of the first visits Mia paid was to the Ladies of Bethany, who lived near Piazza Navona.
“My sister knew the Ladies of Bethany from the Netherlands,” said Mia. “She became Catholic and she did her catechism with them. Since I was coming to Rome, she told me to get in touch with them here, and I did it. Eventually I, too, did my catechism with them and I was baptized in their little chapel.”
“I still remember that the night before my wedding I slept there at Foyer Unitas of the Ladies of Bethany, and then a car came to pick me up (the next morning) to enter the church that was around the corner, St. Agnese,” Mia recalled.
She and her husband had two children and, when they were young, Mia would visit Foyer Unitas now and then. In 1985, however, she learned they needed more help and she committed to coming more often as a volunteer.
At that time, the Ladies of Bethany ran a guesthouse and welcomed mostly non-Catholics guests. In 1986, the sisters closed this space, and Donna Orsuto and Riekie van Velzen began a new adventure: The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. Mia continued her volunteer work with The Lay Centre, supporting this new mission and helping in so many different ways over the years.
“We still have very good contact with some of the first students of those days,” Mia said. “We keep seeing each other when they come back to Rome for a conference or just to pay a visit.”
“Every year I meet very young people here and they know that if they need anything they can ask and I’m happy to help,” she said. “Coming here keeps me young with them!”