Archbishop fondly remembers Mother Teresa

BRIGHTON — On the eve of his trip to Rome for the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Archbishop Seán O’Malley was visibly moved when speaking to the press Oct. 16 of his personal relationship with the woman many described as a saint even before her death.

"There probably won't be anybody else that I know personally that will be canonized so I would like to be there personally, to be a part of this celebration," he told the assembled members of the media.

Archbishop O’Malley described Mother Teresa’s imminent canonization as “redundant.”

"The whole world, even while she was alive, considered this woman as so holy and so special and so filled with God," he said. "It really is a wonderful experience having known her."

Sister Dominga, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, sat alongside the archbishop and echoed his sentiments.

"I don't think [her beatification] is a surprise to anyone," she said. "While she was alive, we used to get letters addressed to 'St. Teresa of Calcutta.'"

She said Mother Teresa’s beatification is a “great, great joy” for the order.

Sister Lily and Sister Marina, who operate a shelter in Dorchester, also represented the Missionaries of Charity at the event.

Archbishop O’Malley first heard of Mother Teresa in the late 1960s, while teaching at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. A recognition ceremony for her was being held at the university.

Archbishop O’Malley, anticipating a small turnout, attended the ceremony to show his support for religious men and women. “Well, she’s a religious, not too many people will go,” the archbishop recalled thinking. “I belong to a religious community. I should be there. Only 30 people attended the ceremony, but the archbishop said he was touched by her “testimony of her ministry, her devotion to the poor and her personal faith life that motivated this kind of service.”

It was not until years later that the world began to hear more about the diminutive sister, who served the poor in the slums of Calcutta.

Archbishop O’Malley twice sought the help of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, while a bishop. While bishop of the Virgin Islands, he wrote to Mother Teresa, inviting her sisters to the diocese. “She responded positively,” he said. The Missionaries of Charity still work in the Virgin Islands, caring for AIDS patients.

Years later, when called to head the Fall River Diocese in the aftermath of the Porter sexual abuse case, then-Bishop O’Malley telephoned Mother Teresa and told her of the great suffering in the diocese.

"I told her that I thought it would be a wonderful thing if her sisters would come because their presence and their ministry could help promote healing in a Catholic community that had suffered so much," he said. "She understood that it was a community that was hurting and she agreed with me that the presence of the sisters ministering in that community and the witness of their life would bring comfort and solace."

Once again, Mother Teresa sent sisters to the diocese. They continue to run a homeless shelter in New Bedford. Mother Teresa herself came to the sisters in New Bedford in July 1995. Archbishop O’Malley recounted how thousands lined the streets to greet her when she arrived.

"It was our great joy during the years that I was there to have Mother Teresa come and visit in New Bedford," he said. "I think it was one of the biggest things that ever happened to that community... it was a wonderful experience."

Archbishop O’Malley stated that the “wonderful work” the Missionaries of Charity do in Dorchester is “part of the beautiful legacy that Mother Teresa has left the Church.”

Sister Dominga said that the work of the Missionaries of Charity, who often are characterized for their humility, will not change due to the publicity surrounding the beatification. “We don’t normally do press conferences,” she joked.

Asked if Mother Teresa had ever considered the possibility that she would one day be proclaimed a saint, Sister Dominga recalled an answer Mother Teresa once gave when asked by a journalist if she was embarrassed when referred to as a saint. “She looked straight at the reporter and said ‘No, that’s what we’re all meant to be. That’s the meaning of our lives.’ I think that part of the joy is that she shows us what it means to be a normal human being. To be saint means to be really normal, so there’s hope for all of us.”