Maria Bello: Sharing Her Journey from Villanova Student to Acting and Activism

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VILLANOVA, PA. – Maria Bello ‘89 A&S returns to her alma mater Tuesday, March 27, to share her journey from Villanova University student to acting and activism. The talk, sponsored by the Villanova University Center for Peace and Justice Education, will take place in The Connelly Center Cinema at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at villanovatix.com or in person at the event ($2 for students; $5 for others) with the proceeds going to WE ADVANCE, an organization co-founded by Bello to advance the health, safety and well being of women throughout Haiti.  

An internationally renowned actor and women’s rights activist, Bello traces her current work back to her formation as a student at Villanova. She credits the Rev. Ray Jackson, OSA, an Augustinian priest and co-founder of the University’s Center for Peace & Justice Education – who passed away in 1997 – for inspiring her to both follow her passion and help others in the process. Bello’s involvement with issues of social justice during her time at Villanova included work at the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia.

“I went to Villanova with plans to go to law school afterward,” Bello recently told Main Line Today. “In college, before I ever thought of becoming an actress, I was studying to be a human-rights attorney.”

Bello added, “During my junior year, I took an acting class. I had to do a monologue, so I picked this song by Bob Dylan about a homeless man who experiences social injustice, and I began to realize the transformative power of art…I could choose art to tell stories that would move people to think.”

Bello has starred in over 30 movies (including “Coyote Ugly,” “A History of Violence,” and “The Cooler”), receiving several nominations and wins for her acting, including the Golden Globe Awards and the NY Film Critic’s Awards. She has also been recognized for her activism, voted one of Variety magazine’s most powerful women in Hollywood (2009) for her efforts with women in Darfur. In addition to being co-founder of WE ADVANCE, Bello is also a Vital Voices Global Ambassador for Haiti, which allows WE ADVANCE the opportunity to aid communities in the areas most needed.

"It is an inspiration when Peace and Justice alumni return to campus and share the remarkable ways that they have put their commitments into action,” said Kathryn Getek Soltis, Ph.D., Director of Villanova’s Center for Peace and Justice Education. “Ms. Bello is a fantastic example of a Villanovan who has maintained a deep sense of justice and advocacy while also pursuing the passions and gifts that have led to her acting career. She proves that with creativity and drive, any career path is compatible with social justice."

Since 2008, Bello has worked in Haiti with Artists for Peace and Justice and Femmes en Democratie, a network of 300 Haitian women politicians, businesswomen and artisans. She raised funds and produced a women’s media campaign for the elections in November 2011. She also spearheaded the opening of the women’s clinic in the Petionville Camp immediately following the earthquake. In September 2011, she joined President Martelly’s Advisory Council on Investing in Haiti, advocating for investments for women in the country. Bello is a member of CGI and works on gender policy within the Haiti Network.

WE ADVANCE (weadvance.org) is a movement to advance the health, safety and well being of women throughout Haiti.   The organization models an inclusive grassroots approach that collaborates with both other organizations and women from every socio-economic class. Based in the poorest slums in the Western Hemisphere – Cite Soleil and Wharf Jeremie, Haiti – WE ADVANCE has three primary programs: Health Clinic, Community Outreach & Education, and Advocacy on a local, national and international level. In addition to these programs, the organization works very closely with a network of more than 40 other NGOs throughout the country.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.