The canonization of Mother Teresa on Sept. 4 marks the end of one of the faster causes of canonization in modern times. This is not surprising, given the wide acclaim among the faithful at the time of her passing, on Sept. 5, 1997, that she be proclaimed a saint immediately.
Pope St. John Paul II waived the normally mandatory five-year waiting period to start a cause, but the subsequent process was still very carefully followed, according to the Church’s regulations. That included validating two miracles: one for the beatification and another for canonization.
The diocesan inquiry (the first key step in the process) began in 1999, and the postulator for the cause, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Missionaries of Charity priest, said at the time, “The five-year rule is to ensure that there is a genuine reputation for holiness among the people and that there is not just passing enthusiasm soon after a person dies. But in Mother’s case, there was no need to wait, as her holiness was a matter of worldwide belief.”
Within days of Mother Teresa’s death, possible miracles were reported around the globe. As with all such claims, the Church launched comprehensive and meticulous investigations.
The importance of these rules was reiterated by the postulator: “Some people asked why we needed a process at all, given that it would have been much more surprising if a negative decision had been given. But I see the great value of having the process — and we did the whole process. We did not just do the minimum to say that we had done it — we did a well-done process, which was necessary for a major figure like Mother Teresa. And now we have the material for a much deeper understanding of Mother Teresa, which would likely not have been the case otherwise.”
In the end, two miracles were approved.
The first took place in West Bengal, India, and involved the healing of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, whose abdominal tumor was so severe that her doctors abandoned hope of saving her. Taken into the care of the Missionaries of Charity, she continued to decline and endured such agony from the tumor that she could no longer sleep. On the one-year anniversary of Mother’s passing, the sisters at the home placed a Miraculous Medal that had been touched to the body of Mother Teresa on Besra’s stomach. The suffering woman fell asleep, and when she woke up, her pain was gone. Doctors examined her and found the reason why: The tumor had disappeared completely.
A board of medical specialists worked with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to study the alleged miracle. After assessing the records and interviewing the medical staff involved, the committee determined that the healing was medically inexplicable. Pope John Paul approved the miracle on Dec. 20, 2002, barely five years after Teresa’s death.
The second miracle took place in December 2008 in Brazil. Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a now-42-year-old mechanical engineer from Santos, Brazil, struggled with a bacterial infection in the brain that caused severe brain abscesses and agonizing head pain. A priest friend encouraged the recently married young man and his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, to pray for Mother Teresa’s help. Andrino, however, slipped into a coma as treatments failed, and while Rocha prayed, he was taken in for last-ditch surgery. When the surgeon entered the operating room, he found Andrino awake and asking him what was going on.
Andrino made a full recovery, and the couple went on to have two children, even though it was deemed by doctors to be a near medical impossibility. Father Kolodiejchuk referred to their children as a second miracle.
How the healing was actually reported was also rather miraculous.
In an interview with the Register in December 2015, Father Kolodiejchuk explained why there was a delay between 2008 and 2015. “The miracle happened in 2008,” he said, “but we didn’t hear about it till 2013. The doctor [neurosurgeon] was not Catholic. Somehow, after the Pope’s [Pope Francis] visit there [to Brazil], it triggered him to say something to one of the priests of Santos, and that news eventually made its way to myself and the postulation office. That started the chain of events.”
In September 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted the findings of the medical commission and presented the report to Pope Francis for his final approval. On Dec. 17, the Holy Father officially recognized the miracle that was needed for Mother Teresa to be canonized.
The time lapse between the miracle and its reporting was itself rather providential. How appropriate it is that Mother Teresa’s canonization should be held during the Year of Mercy, something that Pope Francis had publicly hoped would happen.
As Father Kolodiejchuk told the Register, “Pope Francis wants the Jubilee of Mercy and wants works of mercy showing. He insists we receive mercy and we must show mercy, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are the exact apostolate we do. Mother would be a good patron saint for the workers of mercy and the example of exactly what Pope Francis is talking about.
“Anyone can imitate and do the same kind of actions in your own home, your own parish. Maybe help a soup kitchen. Some saints are to admire; some saints are to also imitate. Mother Teresa is one of those who are imitable. We could do those things — small things, humble works.”
Matthew Bunson is a Register senior editor.