Mother and Me
It was 1976. We were standing outside the back door of the main auditorium of the Philadelphia Civic Center. Dan, Tom (now both priests) and I were attending the International Eucharistic Congress. Dan and I had just graduated from high school. A Congress worker had told us Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be arriving through that door on her way to speak to the thousands awaiting her inside the auditorium.
Soon the car arrived. Mother Teresa got out. She walked up a few concrete steps. Behind her was Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic Worker. Day was elderly and using a cane. Mother Teresa turned around and took her by the arm. What a beautiful moment! Mother Teresa helping Dorothy Day up the stairs.
And I was there.
Dan went up to Mother Teresa. He gave her some money wrapped in a note. It was Dan's money, but we had all signed the note with our addresses. We were later to receive a letter from one of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity with a prayer card. Each had a favorite prayer of Mother Teresa written by Cardinal Newman. Each was signed by her.
As Mother Teresa walked past me I gently placed my hand on her shoulder just wanting to touch her. She turned around, thinking I wanted her attention. I said, “God bless you.” She thanked me and continued walking. I did the same with Dorothy Day.
I have met Merv Griffin and Harrison Ford, but I knew this was special. I knew I would always remember that day in 1976 when I met Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Little did I know I was to meet Mother Teresa again, more significantly.
‘Who Will Help Me?’
In 1980 I had just arrived in Rome to study theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum.
One day, a student from India at the Czechoslovakian seminary and I went to an early morning Mass at the Missionaries of Charity convent. There was Mother Teresa kneeling on the floor in the back.
Afterward, we were able to speak with her. I was allowed to talk to her privately about my vocation. Then Mother Teresa and I returned with a few others who attended the Mass. Mother Teresa clapped her hands together and asked, “Who will help me today?”
I would. And did.
Mother was opening a house for mothers and babies in need. I got into a car and was driven to a section of Rome some distance away. Mother Teresa had been given a school. The Sisters and the volunteers had done some work but much more had to be done. We had two days. At the end of the second day the bishop would come to say Mass and dedicate the house.
During one of my jobs I was removing the paper off of the metal frames of beds with Father Joseph Langford, who was to found (later that day!) the Priest Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. A group of co-workers had been founded for lay people some years before.
Mother found us and told us the novices could do that. She had other jobs for us. For me the greatest moment was when Mother Teresa couldn't open a window and asked me to do it and stood beside me as I tried.
Dorothy Day was elderly and using a cane. Mother Teresa turned around and took her by the arm. What a beautiful moment! Mother Teresa helping Dorothy Day up the stairs.
That window had no chance! I was determined to get it unstuck and opened! And I did.
We were given lunch by the Sisters, who ate in another room, in private.
Sometime later Mother Teresa and Father Langford left. They had an errand to do … an audience with the Holy Father! Father Langford presented the rules of the Priest Co-Workers for Pope John Paul II's approval. He approved, on one condition: That the Pope himself could be the first member.
When Mother Teresa and Father Langford returned, he showed us the white rosary the Holy Father had blessed and given him. Father went to help finish getting the chapel ready. I can remember him carefully measuring on the wall to line up the pictures of the Stations of the Cross.
My job in a hallway was to screw the glass globes back on to the hanging light bulbs. As I stood on the ladder Mother Teresa stopped to talk. Finally, it was time to leave. Mother asked me if I had money for the bus back to the seminary. I did. But even on such a busy and eventful day she thought to ask.
The second day there was more work to do. I must tell you that after a short while the awe of being with Mother Teresa was replaced by the feeling that I was with my Italian grandmother. I even once called her Sister instead of Mother.
Amazingly, by evening all was ready.
With a few others, I went outside to meet the bishop at his car. He asked me who would win the presidential election: Carter or Reagan. I had no idea.
The bishop said the Mass. He placed the Blessed Sacrament in the small tabernacle. The tabernacle was placed where it is in every convent of the Missionaries of Charity: beneath the crucifix and the words of Jesus — “I thirst.” Mother placed her hands on the heads of the Sisters who would remain. This is her blessing for her Sisters.
It was over. A new work of the Missionaries of Charity had begun. I took the bus back to the seminary.
Throughout my four years in Rome I volunteered at the soup kitchen Mother Teresa's Sisters had nearby on Via Carlo Cantaneo, near Rome's large train station.
When it was time for a profession of a group of sisters, Mother Teresa would be there. Once, when my parents were in Rome, they were able to meet her and I took a picture of the three of them.
In 1983 I was called by Jesus to found a contemplative monastic community for men thoroughly dedicated to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This call was confirmed and recommended in writing by Cardinal Augustine Mayer when I met at a Vatican office with this former Benedictine abbot from Germany.
But I wanted someone else's “blessing.” I heard Mother Teresa was again at her convent next to the Church of St. Gregory. I went. She was meeting with her Sisters. When the meeting was over she came out into that hallway.
I handed her a paper telling about what the Monks of Adoration would be. I mentioned Eucharistic adoration being very important. Mother Teresa responded, “very important, very important.” Then I bowed my head and said, “Your blessing, Mother.” She gently placed her hands on my head, praying that God would bless me.
That was the last time I saw her. I was to return to America and read many books about her or books compiled of sayings from her talks. I was to watch several times the excellent documentary by the filmmakers the Petrie sisters (see page 18).
On Oct. 19, when Pope John Paul II beatifies Mother Teresa, it will be a special day for me. I will not be in Rome, but the Holy Father will proclaim Mother Teresa a blessed in Rome, the heart of the Church, the place where I was blessed to spend so much time with her.
It was a great privilege to spend so much time with a saint — a saint who helped Dorothy Day up the stairs; a saint who asked me if I had change for the bus.
Brother Craig Driscoll founded the Monks of Adoration and can be reached at [email protected]