Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would have turned 100 years old in August . . .
In her 87 years, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta touched millions of lives through her work with those she called “the poorest of the poor.” Just six years after her death in 1997, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity was beatified.
Her cause for canonization is moving forward. During her lifetime, a number of Legatus members and their families met this “living saint” who would have turned 100 years old on Aug. 26. These are their stories.
Anne Ryder, Indianapolis Chapter
“I do not do interviews or film projects, but you are welcome to come to Calcutta and to share our works of love.”
When TV reporter Anne Ryder received that reply to her request for an interview with Mother Teresa in 1996, she thought it “extraordinary.” She later learned that everyone who sought an interview got such a response. Nonetheless, her station’s general manager pronounced it “the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever seen” and opted to send Ryder and two photographers to India.
Ryder set out with little idea of what was to follow. Upon her arrival in Calcutta, she decided simply to absorb the experience of working as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity. That required letting go of her journalistic habit of controlling situations. “I dropped my pushy self at the door, and I grabbed everything I could read on her. Everything said if you want to be filled, empty yourself. So I did.”
After being assigned to one of Mother’s homes for the poor, Ryder simply went about her work. On the third day, she was summoned by Sr. Priscilla, whom she had been told was Mother’s “gatekeeper.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked Ryder. “I told her I was there to do whatever God wanted me to do in whatever way God wanted me to do it. I meant it.” As the two women talked, Ryder said Sr. Priscilla’s harshness seemed to melt. “Wait here,” she told the journalist.
“I heard her typing, and she came back with a permission slip to shoot in every one of the homes.” The nun then asked Ryder when she planned to leave. Told it would be Saturday, she said, “Saturday morning you will talk to Mother Teresa.”
For the interview, they sat together on a bench and talked for about 25 minutes. Ryder said she was permitted to ask questions freely, including why a loving God permits so much suffering. Mother Teresa responded: “He who has suffered so much for love of us, it is our opportunity to suffer for Him.”
The interview, the last before Mother’s death a year later, ran on several Midwest NBC affiliates.
Ryder said the most difficult lesson she learned from Mother Teresa is that “it’s not how much you do that matters, it’s with how much love you do it. That, to me, means pay attention to those impulses we get to call someone, to write someone, to cook for someone, to speak to a stranger, to ask if someone needs help, especially when it’s inconvenient, because it almost always is.”
Tom Monaghan, Naples Chapter
Tom Monaghan has two heroes — Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa — but until an encounter in a Denver airport hangar on May 21, 1989, he had only met one of them.
Before then, Monaghan had met John Paul and had visited Missionaries of Charity houses in Rome and Honduras. But he had yet to meet Mother Teresa.
Their Denver meeting was a brief one and took place in the hangar of Leprino Foods, a major manufacturer of mozzarella cheese. At the time, Monaghan was chairman and CEO of Domino’s Pizza, and the company was one of Leprino’s biggest customers.
Monaghan remembers Mother Teresa as being very tiny with deep, penetrating blue eyes.
“We shook hands and there were a few other people there — not a crowd,” he recalled. “She had a rosary in her hand — one of those one-decade rosaries — and when she wasn’t talking to somebody, she seemed to be saying the rosary.”
Even before their meeting, Monaghan said Mother Teresa had inspired him. He was especially moved by the pro-life message she delivered at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in the presence of then-President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. Mother Teresa’s speech led Monaghan to get more active in supporting pro-life political candidates.
Among his mementos of the woman who will someday likely be St. Teresa of Calcutta are a handwritten note from her and a photograph of their Denver meeting.
Paul Lauer, Hollywood Chapter
On a visit to Rome in 1991, Paul Lauer was determined to attend Pope John Paul II’s private morning Mass, but he never expected that being there would lead to meeting Mother Teresa.
Unbeknownst to Lauer, who had met Mother briefly in the late 1980s in Los Angeles, the Missionaries of Charity foundress was also in Rome while he was there with his wife Laura and their six-month-old daughter Corinne.
While waiting to enter the Pope’s chapel, Lauer and his wife began talking to several Missionaries of Charity; one mentioned that Mother Teresa would be coming.
“Sure enough,” Lauer said, “she comes in, sees our baby, and starts cooing over her.” After Mass, the family had a chance to talk further with Mother Teresa. “I said to her, ‘Mother, we’re from the U.S., and we’re trying to make our family a holy family.’ She said, ‘Holy family is big family.’”
The Lauers now have five children, the youngest of whom is nine. His meeting with the future saint came during a season in his life in which Lauer says he had been working to build a Catholic nonprofit organization. “There were a lot of things we sacrificed or gave up to be able to do that work. It seemed to be kind of God’s way of saying, ‘Thank you for doing a good job. Here’s a little treat.’”
Lauer said he saw the greatest impact from the encounter with Corinne, who is the most spiritually inclined of his children. “I’ve always reminded her of it — that she was blessed by the Pope and Mother Teresa. Whether it was because of that, or the things we always told her, or just her personality, or something supernatural, all through high school — she’s now in college at Ave Maria University as a freshman — she was always the more religious amongst her friends and really the only one who was a practicing, devout Catholic.”
Jane Nalty, New Orleans Chapter
Jane Nalty never met Mother Teresa, but she has a powerful connection to the beatified nun — a son who worked with the Missionaries of Charity foundress before becoming a priest.
Now the pastor of Good Shepherd Parish and St. Stephen’s Church in New Orleans, Monsignor Christopher Nalty was studying at Rome’s North American College in 1996 when he and a classmate decided to spend their summer working with the Missionaries of Charity in Africa. Instead, they were asked to go to Calcutta.
On their first day, Monsignor Nalty recalled, “We just showed up. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do.” They were enlisted to serve at the 5:30 a.m. Mass. As the future priest went to assist with communion, he was directed to the left side of the altar. He looked up to see Mother Teresa in front of him, waiting to receive the Eucharist. “I thought, ‘OK God, you can have me now.’ It was so very humbling to give her communion.”
This was to be the first of many encounters the seminarian would have with Mother during a summer in which he worked at a home for the dying and visited a leper colony, women’s prison, hospital and orphanage.
On one occasion, after he had heard Mother give her “stump speech” yet again to a group of pilgrims, telling how many nuns and houses the Missionaries had and in what countries, he said she caught him rolling his eyes.
“She turned to me and walked toward me, grabbed my shirt and said, ‘Look at me. I couldn’t do that. God did that.’ That’s the point I hadn’t gotten all summer! She wasn’t bragging. She was saying, ‘Look at what God did.’”
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Born: Aug. 26, 1910. Skopje, Macedonia
Birth name: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu
Religious life: 1928: Joined Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Sisters of Loreto) in Ireland. 1929: Went to India. 1931: First profession of vows. 1937: Final profession.
Missionaries of Charity: After receiving a “call within a call” on Sept. 10, 1946, she was granted permission to begin a new work among the poor in Calcutta. She left the Loreto Sisters convent on Aug. 17, 1948. She founded the Missionaries of Charity on Oct. 7, 1950. The work eventually expanded to six continents.
Honors: Nobel Peace Prize, 1979. Indian Padmashri Award, 1962
Died: Sept. 5, 1997
Beatification: Oct. 19, 2003
Canonization: Another miracle attributed to her intercession must first be authenticated.