By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ATCHISON, Kan. — During a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square attended by thousands of people, Pope Francis declared Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta a saint, a canonization celebrated throughout the world and close to home at Benedictine College.
The college’s celebrations began with a birthday party Aug. 26 in Mother Teresa’s honor; birthday cake and a freshman retreat focusing on the soon-to-be saint. On her Baptismal Day, Aug. 27, which she considered her “true” birthday, a block party was held and the campus and fountains were festooned with blue lights in her honor and would remain on until Sept. 5, her feast day. The City of Atchison lit up the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge in blue from Sept. 2 – 5. An all school Mass and convocation was celebrated Aug. 30 and on the 31st, the film, Mother Teresa, was screened on campus. On Sept. 2, a statue of Mother Teresa was unveiled and blessed in front of the Mother Teresa Nursing and Health Education Center. During the ceremony, Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller received the “Do Something Beautiful for God” award, in recognition of his years of giving seminars to the Missionaries of Charity —Mother Teresa’s order — in the United States, and a section of the Spirituality Course in Kolkata (Calcutta) India, an annual 11-month course given by the Missionaries of Charity for its members all over the world. On Sept. 4, a canonization watch party was held in Atchison while Benedictine College students studying abroad in Florence, Italy attended the actual ceremony in Rome. Her feast day, Sept. 5, was observed by the celebration of four Masses on campus.
Two Missionaries of Charity, Sisters Trinidad and Flora, traveled from St. Louis to Atchison for the unveiling and blessing of the statue of Mother Teresa. The two nuns were warmly welcomed by Benedictine Sister Anne Shepard, Prioress of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery.
Steve Minnis, President of Benedictine College since 2004, opened the ceremony. He told the students, alumni, Benedictine monks and sisters, Maur Hill Mount Academy students, college staff and visitors that the college had sought permission from the Missionaries of Charity of Kolkata when they wanted to name the new nursing education center, a renovated and updated former doctors’ office (part of a hospital complex donated to the college) after Mother Teresa.
The permission was received, a 3-page letter and agreement, allowing Benedictine College the use of their founder’s name as long as the college remained true to Catholic values and Church teachings.
On what would have been Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday in 2010, the college, assisted by several Missionaries of Charity, blessed and dedicated the Mother Teresa Nursing and Health Education Center.
The first speaker at the statue’s unveiling ceremony was Katherine Bachkora Rowland, a member of the center’s first graduating class, 2012, now working at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
She said that since the building was dedicated, five classes of nurses have graduated, “with blessed hands and hearts ready to serve.”
She quoted one of Mother Teresa’s sayings that inspired her: “The good you do today will often be forgotten tomorrow. But do good anyway.”
Before the statue was unveiled, the “Do Something Beautiful for God” award was presented to Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller, a Theology Instructor at the college. The award’s name is taken from Mother Teresa’s saying, “Every day on awaking, my desire and my enthusiasm is this: today I must do something beautiful for God.”
Sisters Trinidad and Flora, assisted by senior nursing student Sara DenBraber and junior nursing student Mary Bridget Pecha, unveiled the statue of Mother Teresa. The white marble image, made in Italy, shows her in a characteristic pose, leaning forward in service, welcoming an infant. It is similar to a portrait of Mother Teresa, painted by Maine-based artist Dawna Gardner and given to the college by President Minnis and his wife. The portrait hangs over the entry into the first floor level of the Mother Teresa Nursing Center.
As the blue and white covering fell to the ground, Benedictine Father Simon Baker of St. Benedict’s Abbey and Sister Anne Shepard blessed the statue while current nursing students released blue and white balloons.
After the ceremony’s conclusion, many in the assembly posed in front of the statue for pictures. Some stood looking intently at the statue, and their thoughts could be imagined: “I wish I’d known her.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta, known by most as Mother Teresa, humanitarian, founder and long-time head of the Missionaries of Charity, is globally revered by both men and women, rich and poor, Catholic and non-Catholic, laity and religious. But she was more than just an icon.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born Aug. 26, 1901, in Skopje (now in Macedonia) then part of the Ottoman Empire. Her parents, Nikola and Dronda Bojaxhiu, were ethnic Albanians and devout Roman Catholics. Agnes realized her call to the religious life when she was 12. At 18 she left her family and traveled to Dublin where she entered the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish religious order dedicated to education. Before being sent to the novitiate in Darjeeling, India, Agnes first had to learn English. A year later she entered the novitiate.
In 1931, she made her first vows. Wanting to serve God as a missionary, she requested the name Therese, honoring St. Therese of Lisieux. However, another sister in the community was already named Therese, so the new sister opted for the Spanish spelling, Teresa.
It was time to begin her service to God’s people. Sister Teresa was sent to St. Mary’s, a girl’s high school in a wealthy district of Calcutta, where she taught history and geography for the next 15 years. In 1937, she professed her final vows as a Loreto Sister.
In September 1946, Sister Teresa boarded a train to Darjeeling for eight days of spiritual exercises. While traveling she received the “call within a call,” that was to inspire her life’s work and legacy: “to serve Him amongst the poorest of the poor.” Sept. 10, “Inspiration Day,” is celebrated by Missionaries of Charity world-wide.
Back in Calcutta, Sister Teresa was greatly moved by the sick and dying on the city’s streets. In 1948, she received permission to leave the convent and her teaching post to live among the poor, the sick and the dying and minister to them. That same year, she became and Indian citizen.
Her ministry soon attracted a group of women who wanted to serve God through the poor. In 1950, the community of Sister Teresa and her 12 associates was approved by the Archdiocese of Calcutta as the Missionaries of Charity. Sister Teresa was chosen Superior General by the fledgling order and would so serve until ill health forced her to step down five months before her death in Sept. 1997.
The Missionaries of Charity was recognized in 1952 as a pontifical congregation under Vatican jurisdiction. The Missionaries profess four vows —the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and a vow pledging service to the poor, whom Mother Teresa descried as the embodiment of Jesus Christ. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy comprise their service.
Today the Missionaries of Charity number more than 5,000 active and contemplative sisters, 439 active and contemplative brothers, and 35 missionary priests, serving in 135 countries around the globe. Through their care, 500,000 families are fed annually, 90,000 lepers (victims of Hansen’s Disease) are cared for, and the sick, dying and homeless are comforted at 500 Centers.
We hear that among other large U.S. metropolitan areas, Mother Teresa visited New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Las Vegas and St. Louis. But did you know she paid a quiet visit to Atchison, Kan., 35 years ago? Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller explained how that visit came about. Sister Kathleen Egan, O.S.B., is a member of the community at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. Her sibling, Eileen Egan, had worked for Catholic Relief Services in New York in the 1950s, and had met Mother Teresa in Calcutta while on a CRS trip to India. The two became friends. Eileen invited Mother Teresa to speak at a conference for 4,000 Catholic women in Las Vegas, the nun’s first trip outside India.
Father Miller said Eileen Egan, in many ways, introduced Mother Teresa to the world.
Mother Teresa was visiting St. Louis in 1981 when she expressed a desire to visit Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, and meet Sister Kathleen Egan.
She was introduced to the community in the monastery’s main dining room. Sister Rita Killackey, O.S.B., was in the dining room that day. She recalled that Mother Teresa was tiny. She also remembered being struck by the sight of her feet. Sister Rita said her feet were worn and that one toe on each foot crossed over its neighbor. A statue of Mother Teresa in the offices of Catholic Charities Kansas City-St. Joseph is true to life, she said, even to her height and her feet. Sister Rita also recalled that Mother Teresa’s talk was thought-provoking and inspiring.
At that time, Benedictine College operated a South Campus at Mount St. Scholastica. While in Atchison, Mother Teresa also quietly paid a visit to the College and spoke with some of the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey. “That visit,” Father Miller said, “prompted students at our college to skip a meal every week and then deliver nearly 160 meals every Saturday to the poor.” It was the genesis of the Hunger Coalition; which today delivers about 400 meals weekly to the poor. Mother Teresa holds a special place in the heart of the College, he added.
Over the years she was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Padma Shri award for distinguished service (1962), the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971), the Nobel Peace Prize (1979), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1997); all accepted on behalf of the poor with any monetary benefits used in funding the Centers. President Ronald Reagan left instructions for his staff that whenever she called, he was to be immediately available to her. And at Benedictine College, the nursing center and its new statue honor her. And her service was done willingly, smilingly while all the while, she was suffering from a “dark night of the soul” that lasted more than 50 years!
Declining health forced Mother Teresa to cut back on her activities in 1990 and step down as Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity in 1997, handing the reins to Sister Nirmala. In 2009, Sister Mary Prema was elected Superior General.
Mother Teresa died Sept 5, 1997. Less than two years later, Msgr. Henry D’Souza, then-Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II waive the traditional 5-year waiting period before opening the process of beatification and canonization. The pope agreed and, on March 9, 1999, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., was appointed postulator of Mother Teresa’s Cause for Sainthood.
A saint is someone who lived a life of extraordinary devotion and service to Christ, usually in service to others. Each is known for particular virtues: The Church commends them as friends, role models and intercessors with God. Mother Teresa was known all over the world for her whole-hearted service to the poorest of the poor, the sick, the dying, the friendless; she saw the face of God in the faces of those she served and inspired others to imitate her.
The process of canonization begins at the local diocese and eventually moves to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Father Kolodiejchuk began at St. Mary’s Parish, near the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse in Kolkata (Calcutta in English). The thousands of pages of evidence compiled between 1999 and 2015 included biographical information, writings and correspondence, medical reviews and discussions of the miracles with which she is credited, testimony from members of the order, people she ministered to, friends and critics.
The first accolade in the cause for sainthood is the declaration that a person is a Servant of God. A person whose life and writings have been formally investigated and approved can reach the next step, Venerable. While martyrs don’t need a miracle for beatification, others can only be approved for beatification after a miracle has been thoroughly investigated and accepted by separate committees of physicians, theologians and cardinals. They then are declared Blessed by the pope.
Mother Teresa’s two miracles are the healings of Monica Besra of India and Marcilio Haddad Adrino of Brazil. Pope John Paul II in 2003, judged as authentic the curing of Besra from an abdominal tumor; the cure resulted from the spiritual intervention of Mother Teresa.
In 2013, the postulation office learned of the second miracle, the healing of Adrino in 2008 from bacteria-caused abscesses in his brain. His wife and priest prayed to Mother Teresa for help. He recovered completely and today the couple has two children. Father Kolodiejchuk called them Adrino’s “second miracle.”
After two years of investigation, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints accepted the medical commission’s findings and presented their report to Pope Francis. On Dec. 17, 2015, he gave the miracle his official recognition and Mother Teresa’s canonization was set for Sept. 4, 2016.
In closing the Cause for Canonization, earlier this year, Father Kolodiejchuk wrote that it was providential that the Postulation Committee learned of the 2008 miracle in Brazil in 2013. The investigation, culminating in 2015, made her canonization a few days ago a major event in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“Celebrating Mother Teresa reminds us of the link between each of us and with Jesus,” Father Miller said. “When we forget about Christ, we also tend to forget about mercy: the mercy God shows us and the acts of mercy we in turn do for those around us, especially the poorest of the poor.”
He continued, “Every day during the Holy Hour, the Missionaries of Charity add a line to the Divine Praises. After saying Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, they add, “Blessed be God in the Poorest of the Poor.” For Mother Teresa, when Jesus said on the cross, ‘I thirst,’ it was not just for water or for love. He thirsts for our sanctification; he thirsts for the poorest of the poor. Mother would often say to … everyone, ‘be the one,’ the one to satiate the thirst of Jesus in your brother or sister who goes without.’”
Yes, St. Teresa of Calcutta holds a special place in the hearts of the Benedictine religious sisters and monks, the faculty, students and alumni of Benedictine College, indeed in the hearts of millions around the world.