At Seattle University’s Mass of the Holy Spirit on September 28th, Fr. Steve Sundborg, SJ, President of SU, reminded us that this month is the twentieth anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. I had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa in December, 1996, which was just a few months before she passed away.
It was in Calcutta at her Missionaries of Charity center there. I was travelling with a group of Creighton University graduate students doing a study tour of India. I had co-sponsored the trip with my colleague, Dr. Vasant Raval, who is still a member of the Creighton accounting faculty today. Calcutta was our first stop on the tour. Mind you, in 1996 there were not many Americans visiting Calcutta as tourists, and the city had long surpassed what its infrastructure could support. It was very different than Omaha, Nebraska!
We had heard that sometimes Mother Teresa would show up for the 6:00 AM mass in the chapel at the center. So, we all got up early in the morning to make the mass. Initially, she was not there, but not too long into the mass she slipped into the back and sat next to one of our students!
After the mass, she was happy to meet with us briefly, and invited us back the next day. When we returned, we had our own audience with Mother Teresa. She was short in stature, but as you might imagine, had a very powerful personality. She was very intense and very committed to the importance of her work. Of course she took the opportunity to remind us of the need for support of the mission of the Missionaries of Charity and we were happy to oblige with some modest financial contributions!
At one point in our conversation she produced a box that had medals with the image of St. Mary on them. She looked me in the eye and said that these were miraculous medals that she wanted to give to our group. Then she took a handful out of the box and placed them in my hand, instructing me to distribute to the group, which I dutifully did!
Over the years I have given a few of these medals to people experiencing illness, and in each case their condition improved notably and they lived longer than expected. I really do believe they are miraculous!
Sometimes you get asked questions such as, “who is the most famous person you have ever met?” or “who is the most impressive person you have ever met?” I have an easy answer for those questions! Looking back, it was such a privilege to have met Mother Teresa. It seemed important at the time, but is even more important today. It is not uncommon for a priest such as Father Sundborg to refer to Mother Teresa in his homily. Each time that happens I am probably the only person in the church who can say that he actually met her!
By the way, in the picture above, you can see the box of medals in Mother Teresa's hands! Can you spot me in the picture??