For most of the year in 1978 I was a rowdy teenager who loved to work hard and have a good time. I played guitar in a band and enjoyed being with friends and family. I would be a senior in high school the fall of that year, but had an intense dislike of school. Little did I know that in that same year, as I pursued my self-centered way of life, Mother Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta as she was known then) was being hosted in my home town of St. Louis, Missouri, by Father Valentine Young, a Capuchin priest whose Religious Order I would join seven years later.
Fr. Valentine was the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in downtown St. Louis. He was known an apostle to the poor and had an inspirational message on “Dial-A-Saint,” a two minute phone message about a saint for every day of the year. The service was sponsored by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company who gave Fr. Valentine the special equipment to record his daily messages. Fr. Valentine had the task, the privilege, and the honor, to pick Mother Teresa up from the airport and drive her to several destinations in St. Louis, including Archbishop Cardinal Carberry’s residence and the newly built and completely donated little residence for the Missionaries Sisters of Charity in a poverty-stricken, destitute area of the city just north of the affluent theatre district.
After I joined the Capuchin Franciscans as a postulant in 1985, I was always proud of the picture that hung on the friary wall which depicted Fr. Valentine and Mother Teresa walking arm in arm from the airport terminal to the car. The two of them truly worked for “the poorest of the poor.” (Little did I know that years later as a Capuchin priest and assigned in St. Louis as director of postulants, that I would celebrate Mass for the Missionaries of Charity in that same residence founded by Mother Teresa herself!)
Some years later, in May of 1989, but before my ordination to the priesthood, I attended a large gathering of Catholics at McNichols Arena in downtown Denver, Colorado. That year, Archbishop Francis Stafford had invited Mother Teresa to visit the city, and invited her to a prayer rally at the arena. There on stage with the Archbishop, Mother told him that she was going to establish a convent in the city of Denver – the crowd went wild with enthusiasm and applause and the Archbishop was visibly moved by the spontaneous announcement. To this day, Seton House still operates in the outer southwest downtown area of Denver and I am proud to say that the Capuchins are the sisters’ chaplains. I had the privilege to celebrate Mass with them just last winter.
Lastly, I remember Mother’s passing September on 5th, 1997. It was my first year at St. Crispin Friary in St. Louis as director of Postulants. That year I led our one postulant to Detroit, Michigan on a bus pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan whose cause for canonization was then, and is still, in process. That first evening at St. Bonaventure Friary in Detroit, we watched the news where it was announced that Mother Teresa had passed away. I remember a feeling within me that a light had just gone out in the world. Suddenly, the world just didn’t seem the same without Mother Teresa, who was truly a light to our world. I had always taken Mother Teresa for granted, had thought that she would always be there to encourage and to bring calm to the hearts of the poor. She was a great gift from God. Mother let her light shine for all to see just as Jesus told us in the Gospel (Matthew 5:16). No more would that light burn in our world. Much of the world mourned her loss – I know that I did.
Next Sunday, September 4th, Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa in a public proclamation in which a person is celebrated as a sister or brother who is an example of how to love God and our neighbor, and to be human and holy at the same time. The saints are a way for us to see how God works in a variety of ways to mold and shape us into the person we are called to be. He molded Mother Teresa in a profound way – may we be inspired to follow her whole-hearted love of her Savior and ours, Jesus Christ.
– Fr. Jeff