Father Brian Kolodiejchuk is the postulator of the cause of canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
He first met Mother Teresa when his sister entered the Missionaries of Charity. A few years later, Father Kolodiejchuk, responding to an invitation from Mother Teresa, became a Missionary of Charity brother and later priest.
He spoke to Register news editor John Burger at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn., where he helped kick off an exhibit honoring Mother Teresa’s 100th birth anniversary, which is Aug. 26. Here is the first part of that interview.
We’re here because of the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth. Would she want us to be celebrating her birthday?
She would approach this the same way she approached receiving an award, which is that it gave her an occasion to speak about God, speak about the poor and try to inspire people to also look and see, even around them, who Jesus in the poor is, beginning in their own family. These kinds of occasions are just means. With Mother in heaven and especially since the beatification, there’s another kind of role Mother Teresa has.
Even in these things, the focus is on her, but just like when she was alive, she would turn the focus to Jesus.
So, hopefully, people who say they are believers — Catholics — would, through Mother, again focus on Jesus, and then on the message of seeing Jesus in the poor and seeing Jesus in those around them and doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.
What do you mean when you say there’s another kind of role Mother has since her beatification?
That’s the role of the saints. We look to their life to be an example, and then in the communion of saints we also have them as intercessors. In some ways, it’s better for us than when Mother was living because we would have to wait until she came to where we were, or maybe we could write a letter, and Mother didn’t like the telephone. But now, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we have direct contact.
She didn’t like the telephone?
No, she was very practical and didn’t want to just sit around and be on the telephone. And she would be concerned about the long-distance charges. That’s part of poverty.
Was part of it her desire to be more present to a person, whereas the telephone made her, perhaps, more removed?
No, she would appreciate the phone and use the phone when it served a purpose, so I don’t think it was so much for that reason.
Something tells me, though, she wouldn’t be too thrilled about e-mail.
No, faxes and those things were coming in toward the end of her life, but not a superabundance of the Internet and e-mail. Normally, the sisters don’t use the Internet or e-mail, except in some places where they really need to, because now some things, like the government, are only accessible on the Internet. So they have to have those kinds of adjustments.
Is there anything new with the cause?
For the last two or three years, we’ve looked at a few cases [of possible miracles] every year, but so far there’s nothing solid enough to think that it would have a chance at least of passing the investigation. The first step would be to do a diocesan inquiry, where you have at least an initial sense that it might be solid enough in the diocese where it took place. The first phase is the gathering of the data, testimony and documents.
As postulator, what exactly do you do?
Since 2008, I’m also the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. Thankfully, we have sisters who do a lot of the day-to-day things (with the cause) in Tijuana. There are four sisters in Tijuana, two in Rome and two in Calcutta. The postulation and the Mother Teresa Center [MotherTeresa.org] are the same people; there are two aspects of the work. With any cause, there’s always two aspects: the formal process and the “promotion” of the person, promoting knowledge of the person and veneration of that person.
When the cause started in 1999, we were mostly focused on the formal process as such. Mother Teresa already had such a solid and widespread reputation for holiness that we didn’t need to do so much of that stuff. But now it’s already 13 years since Mother died. So people who were maybe children or early teens may have known, and anyone else may have known something about Mother Teresa — they know the name or some general idea. Maybe they’re not quite as familiar because she’s not in the media as much as when she was living. So, part of the Mother Teresa Center, which is part of the work of the postulation … will continue after the canonization, whenever that is.
Basically, the MCs had a choice of doing nothing, so to speak, and let Mother Teresa blow in the wind, and whatever happens, or to say No, we have a certain responsibility to Mother Teresa herself and to the Church and say We want to preserve that legacy and present “This is Mother Teresa.” So one of the key words in the center is “authentic.” Or even just information, the facts, and Mother Teresa in her fullness, let’s say. It’s sort of the other side of the work, of the knowledge and the veneration of Blessed Teresa.
Were you the one who prepared the positio, the formal document that’s presented to the Vatican detailing a candidate’s life of heroic virtue?
I was the one in charge of it. We had other people working on it.
Do you continue to study her life in any way?
Yes. Come Be My Light [the 2007 collection of her letters, which revealed her years of spiritual struggle] was the first work of the center, and then this fall, coming again with Doubleday, [there will be a book of] mostly quotes of Mother Teresa. And then after that, we’ll start on the biography, because we have lots of information and data and there’s no one book, especially for biographical kinds of information. I mean, some of them are quite good, based on the information they had, but since we were able to gather all this information for the cause — that was a formal process — there’s lots of data to make, hopefully, a decent biography. We can’t use everything, because, normally, full access to the archives is 50 to 70 years after a person dies. Now, not so much for Mother’s sake but for the people involved, the other people who are still alive or recently deceased.
But there’s still a lot of stuff we can use, hopefully going deeper. Now that Come Be My Light really revealed the profundity of Mother’s holiness — everyone had a sense she radiated holiness without really knowing much of the actual characteristics of that holiness. Those letters really revealed a real depth of that holiness that was kind of hidden by Mother’s simplicity, action and words. Some of the things she would say, for example: “Give whatever he takes, take whatever he gives with a big smile,” meaning we’re suppose to accept God’s will, surrender and with a smile, cheerfully. But when you realize that that resolution, that prayer was made in the midst of this extreme suffering of the darkness, then you say, “Oh, well, now it’s something a little deeper.”
Tomorrow: New insights into Mother Teresa.