Cardinal recounts encounters with Mother Teresa

Photo courtesy Cardinalseansblog.org

Below are excerpts of Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's post entry published in CardinalSeansblog.org Sept. 2.

Of course, this week we are all looking forward to the canonization of Mother Teresa in Rome on Sunday.

Probably after Pope John Paul II, she is the person most seen and most known by Catholics in the world today because of her extensive travel, presence and missionary experience. Her canonization, coming as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, is a wonderful tribute to her vocation and the work of the Missionaries of Charity.

I first met Mother Teresa as a young friar when I was teaching at Catholic University of America, even before my ordination. We were informed that the university was going to honor a missionary nun, and that there would be some sort of a convocation at Caldwell Hall, which is a medium-sized auditorium.

To be honest, at first, I just kind of ignored it. But then later I thought, "Well, not many people are going to go to this, and I'm a religious and this poor missionary is here, so I should at least show up."

So, I went to Caldwell Hall and, sure enough, there were only about 20 or 30 people in the whole auditorium. To my surprise, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington was there on stage and with him there was a laywoman and a small Indian woman, who I thought they must have brought along.

The laywoman got up -- her name was Eileen Egan and she was the head of Catholic Relief Services -- and she introduced Mother Teresa. Eileen spoke about how, one day in the slums of Kolkata, she saw a wheelbarrow coming towards her, and in it was a dying man all covered with maggots. She said it looked as if the wheelbarrow was traveling under its own power until she saw the short nun on the other side pushing it. Of course, that nun was Mother Teresa.

Eileen asked Mother Teresa, "Where are you taking this man?" And she answered that she was taking him to an abandoned Hindu temple where the sisters took dying people from the streets so they could die, as Mother Teresa always said, surrounded by love. And Eileen went on describing the work of Mother Teresa. Then Mother Teresa got up and spoke, and everyone was weeping. It was just so powerful.

Afterwards, I got up to approach the archbishop (who was a wonderful man, but sort of a curmudgeon) and I said, "Your Eminence, this is the biggest blunder I've seen at the Catholic University." He said, "What do you mean brother?" And I answered, "This should have been in the National Shrine, and you should have made all the students and faculty come and see this woman!" And he agreed.

As I said, at this point, none of us had heard of Mother Teresa before. It was only afterwards that Malcolm Muggeridge of the BBC decided to make a television program about her called "Something Beautiful for God." The title came from the time he asked her, "Mother what you are doing?" and she answered, "Well, I'm trying to do something beautiful for God."

In fact, it made such an impact on him that he became a Catholic.

Of course, after that, Mother Teresa became internationally known, she won the Nobel Prize and her community -- which was once basically just a small group of her students from when she was a Loreto Sister -- expanded incredibly. I think now the Missionaries of Charity have about 3,000 sisters working with the poorest of the poor in hundreds of places throughout the world.

When I was in the West Indies, I asked her to send me sisters, and she did shortly before I left for Fall River. Then, when I came to Fall River, it was just after the terrible scandal in the diocese, and I told her that the sisters would be a healing presence in the diocese. Immediately, she sent me another community for New Bedford.

She later visited her sisters in New Bedford. They had a house in St. Lawrence Parish, and so they had a huge Mass there with Mother. I celebrated the Mass, which was in Portuguese, Spanish and English, and afterwards Mother Teresa addressed the people. It was sort of a rainy day and St. Lawrence is a very large church, but when you looked out -- we had loudspeakers outside -- it was just a sea of umbrellas as far as the eye could see in every direction.

By the time Mass was over, it had stopped raining and Mother went out. The people lined up by the hundreds to meet her. I could see that she was giving out these little cards, as well as miraculous medals, which she always did. This card intrigued me, so I got in line to get one, too.

It was my privilege to be with Mother Teresa on many occasions, in many different parts of the world -- in Cuba, Nicaragua, Rome, New York and Washington. It is kind of unbelievable that someone that I saw so often is now becoming a saint. Sometimes, when I'm celebrating Masses for her, I will ask people, "How many of you met Mother Teresa in person?" and all the hands go up.

She really had a connection with so many people, and so, her canonization is a time of such joy. I know that the crowds in Rome are going to be just overwhelming. I had been planning to attend since the announcement of the canonization was made, but with the recent death of one of my aunts, I need to be with my family, and that would not allow me to make it to Rome on time. However, it will allow me to celebrate a Mass at Mother Teresa Parish in Dorchester with our local sisters. So, on the morning of the canonization, we will have our own "little canonization" here in the archdiocese.

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