On Sunday, September 4, 2016, just one day shy of the 19th anniversary of her death, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, based on two documented miracles recognized by the Vatican in 2003 and 2015. The only modern person on a faster track to sainthood was Saint Pope John Paul II, who was canonized in 2014, only nine years after his death.
Although not one of her documented miracles, Catherine Kasper Home resident Sister Mary Carolyn Welhoelter credits her 1973 meeting of Mother Teresa with leading her to live her life more like PHJC Foundress Blessed Catherine Kasper, in service of the poor. The two met while Sister Mary Carolyn was working in Davenport, Iowa and Mother Teresa was there to speak to Catholic school students about service.
Finding the Bishop’s mansion too fancy for her austere lifestyle, Mother Teresa knocked on the door of a house the PHJC Sisters were renovating in Davenport at the time. In a state of shock, Sister Mary Carolyn slammed the door right after opening it. When Sister Eileen Sullivan asked who was there, she replied, “It’s Mother Teresa!” Sister Eileen admonished her for being such a joker, this time answering the door herself. Mother Teresa was still standing there, seeking shelter from the Sisters. She stayed with the PHJC Sisters for three days, telling them she “felt at home” there.
Sister Mary Carolyn remembers Mother Teresa as a witness to God’s love. “I felt like I was in the presence of someone totally in love with God, a person who wanted to share that love with everyone. That I met a saint is just unbelievable,” she said. Along with her friend, the late Sister Jeanette Schutte, Sister Mary Carolyn founded The Kitchen Table, a Diocesan soup kitchen serving the poor in Cairo, Illinois. She ministered there for the next 19 years, serving 125 meals a day, four days a week, to the poor and hungry. After the lunchtime rush, she delivered meals to shut-ins, who had no transportation to the site.
One of the two miracles accepted by the Vatican for Mother Teresa’s canonization is the 2002 cure of Monica Besra, who was cured of stomach cancer when a locket containing Mother Teresa’s photograph was placed over her ailing stomach. The other miracle attributed to her was the inexplicable recovery of comatose Brazilian man suffering from a brain tumor, who awoke with no signs of the tumor following his wife’s prayerful intercession to Blessed Mother Teresa.
Born Agnes Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Macedonia, Mother Teresa joined the Sisters of Loretto in Ireland at age 18. Following profession of her vows, she boarded a train to Darjeeling, India, intent on becoming a missionary. Hearing what she described as a “call within a call,” she founded the Missionaries of Charity Sisters in October 1950, and began ministering to the poor and sick of Calcutta. Today, the order has about 4,000 members worldwide. Their aim from the start has been to care for the sick, poor, homeless and unwanted, including those suffering from AIDS and Hansen’s disease, formerly known as leprosy. “The greatest poverty in the world is to be unloved, unwanted and uncared for,” Mother Teresa once said.
To that end, she boldly went into conflict zones and areas of natural disaster to tend to those affected by disease, war, and poverty. During the siege of Beirut in 1982, she rescued 37 children trapped in a hospital behind enemy lines, brokering a cease-fire between the Israeli Army and Palestinian fighters. She ranked among the top ten in Gallup polls of the world’s most admired women 18 times, and received numerous humanitarian awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Albert Schweitzer International Prize and many honorary college degrees.
She was not without her detractors however. In 1979, she drew the ire of pro-choice groups when she spoke out against abortion during her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize honor. Another detractor, the late author Christopher Hitchens, served as the only witness against her beatification during Vatican proceedings stating, “she was not a friend of the poor; she was a friend of poverty.” Mother Teresa was unapologetic to detractors during her lifetime, stating that her first priority was to serve Christ and His people.