FROM ALBANIA TO INDIA AND FAR BEYOND, MOTHER TERESA’S JOURNEY INCLUDED A BRIEF STOP AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO
The process leading up to the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the shortest in modern history. In early 1999 — less than two years after her death — Pope John Paul II waived the normal five-year waiting period and allowed the immediate opening of her canonization cause. In 2003, he beatified the Albanian-born nun, one of the most iconic Catholic figures of the 20th century and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In December 2015, Pope Francis announced her impending sainthood after recognizing a second miracle attributed to her.
On Sept. 4, 2016, as USD Magazine went to press, Pope Francis celebrated her canonization in Rome at a joyous event that was expected to draw the largest crowd to the Vatican during this Holy Year of Mercy.
“Mother Teresa is an important counterpoint to the current culture, which is frequently referred to as a throwaway culture. She valued every person and the dignity of every person, particularly those who were the outcasts of society,” says Center for Catholic Thought and Culture Director Jeffrey Burns. “The poorest of the poor, the untouchables, those that other groups would not acknowledge, became the center of her ministry. She recognized that they are beloved of God. Her role was simply to channel that love to these people who had been forgotten by society. That’s really the most important lesson of her life, to call us back to the unity of all of us.”
One of several special events that marked Mother Teresa’s canonization, on Sept. 25, 2016, Founders Chapel was the site of the debut of a musical composition in her honor, composed by Thomas Bough. Additionally, University Ministry offered a “Spirituality is Served” community dinner; one of the primary themes was Mother Teresa, the canonization process and a reflection on the spiritual heroes in our lives.
On May 31, 1988, Mother Teresa brought to the University of San Diego her “simple message, that in serving the poor, we serve God.” Following is the cover story that ran, nearly three decades ago, in what was then known as U Magazine.
Her saga began more than 40 years ago. It was on a train to the Indian city of Darjeeling in 1946 that Sister Teresa, a young nun born of well-to-do Albanian parents, heard her call. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor whilst living among them. It was an order.”
She wasted no time in following that order, opening her first school a couple years later on a bare patch of ground in the slums of Calcutta. From that humble beginning, this wee nun’s efforts have multiplied a thousandfold. Today, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and thousands of volunteers bring the basic necessities of life to the hungry, ill and homeless in 71 countries around the world. Her organization operates leper colonies, AIDS facilities, schools, soup kitchens and homes for the dying and destitute.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner brought her simple message — that in serving the poor we serve God — to USD on May 31, 1988.
The small crowd gathered outside the University Center waited expectantly, clutching cameras in anticipation of her arrival. They were ordinary-looking men and women who spoke quietly to each other in the bright sunlight.
“She hasn’t crossed the border yet,” said a security guard stationed outside the building.
She would be late then, for her appearance at a luncheon organized by her coworkers’ organization. Somehow, it seemed appropriate. The sick, the hungry and the dying certainly pay no attention to the rest of the world’s ordered existence.
Some 45 minutes later, the calm was shattered by an excited voice in the crowd: “She’s here.” The bystanders surged toward the curb. The door of a cream-colored sedan swung open and Mother Teresa of Calcutta climbed out, unhesitant, clasping a rosary, and moved to greet her faithful.
Her white sari — trimmed with three rows of blue — was wrapped around her head and stopped just above her dark eyebrows. A heavy blue sweater was buttoned against the breeze. Bare, sandal–clad feet propelled her toward her greeters.
Dozens of camera shutters clicked, and dignitaries leaned down to shake the tiny, stooped nun’s hand. She smiled and raised her head, exposing her eyes to the light. What wonderful eyes! They gleamed, filled with a mixture of love and passion and wonderment and, yes, determination.
She stopped suddenly as a young woman edged through the crowd, clutching a small child. Mother Teresa reached out to the boy, first cupping one hand under his chin, then placing a hand on either side of his head and blessing him. Then she resumed her journey toward the University Center, the crowd pressing in around her on all sides.
Once inside the building, her waiting coworkers greeted her with enthusiastic applause. Mother Teresa stepped to the microphone and spoke in a quiet, yet forceful voice, belying her 78 years and diminutive physical stature.
“Jesus came to give us the good news that God is love, and that He loves you and He loves me. ’You are precious to me,’ He said. ‘I love you.’ He wants us to love one another as He loves each one of us,” she said.
She told a story about a man in India who came to her house when his son was gravely ill. The man said the life-saving medicine his son needed was available only in England. As they talked, another man delivered a basket of half-used medicine to Mother Teresa. In the basket, on top, was the type of medicine the desperate man needed for his son.
“I stood in front of that basket,” she said, “and I was thinking, ‘Millions and millions and millions of children in the world, and God’s tender concern was for the little child in the slums of Calcutta.’ And he has the same love for each one of you, here and everywhere.”
She spoke without pause for nearly 20 minutes. No one stirred except for the photographers, whose cameras whirred and hummed. She asked her listeners to work for the rights of unborn children, to teach children to pray, to share the joy of loving and to treat the poor with compassion and dignity.
“Before you go to sleep at night, hold out your hand, and count out on your fingers what you have done that day for God,” she challenged her listeners
Mother Teresa blessed her audience, then she and several of her sisters were escorted to a university van, which slowly drove down Marian Way to Torero Stadium, where an overflow crowd of more than 6,000 cheered and clapped exuberantly as it spotted one of the world’s most recognized faces inside the vehicle.
The cheering intensified as Mother Teresa stepped out of the van and slowly wended her way through the crush of well-wishers and media to the stadium’s platform. Blue and white helium balloons filled the bright skies, released by children in greeting, and Christ the King Catholic Church choir members raised voices in joyful welcome.
Following the invocation, Vice President and Provost Sister Sally Furay moved to the podium and told the assembly how USD shared Mother Teresa’s commitment to serving the needy.
“USD is committed to volunteerism as a significant component of students’ education,” she said. “Prominent among the learning experiences in which USD students participate are opportunities to volunteer in the service of those who have less.”
Judy Rauner, director of USD’s volunteer resources, detailed the university’s commitment to service. “Throughout the school year, USD students volunteer as adult literacy tutors, as builders of homes for the needy in Tijuana, as mentors for at-risk junior high students, as referees and buddies for disabled athletes in the Special Olympics, as tutors in Southeast San Diego and partnership schools, as friends to lonely and sick senior citizens, as servers in the Catholic Workers soup kitchen, as interns and student teachers preparing for service careers, and in many other ways. During this past school year, approximately 1,600 of our USD students volunteered to give tens of thousands of hours of their time to community service.”
University trustee Anita Figueredo, the regional link for the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa and a longtime friend of the famous nun, introduced Mother Teresa. “I hardly know where to begin,” she said. “This is supposed to be some sort of introduction, but how do you introduce Mother Teresa? In the first place, she doesn’t like biographical notes. She says they’re of no consequence.”
At 5 feet 1 inch tall, Figueredo seemed at least a head taller than her famous friend. She continued, “I can tell you that Mother Teresa saw the poverty around her and decided that she, one person, must do something about it.
“Any of us, any sensible person — Mother Teresa is not sensible, she is endowed — would have known that it was a nice thought, but what can one person do? But Mother doesn’t think that way. And she’s teaching the rest of us not to think that way.”
Those remarks were followed by the conferral of an honorary doctorate of humane letters upon Mother Teresa. Sister Furay read the citation: “In honoring Mother Teresa, the University of San Diego honors God who has gifted her with insights which animate her life and work. The University of San Diego is particularly privileged to honor Mother Teresa for exemplifying to the world that there will be peace when we live by her conviction that God is love in action, and that in serving the poorest, we are directly serving God.”
Then, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor officially welcomed Mother Teresa to San Diego. The mayor admitted she had intended to present the keys to the city to its honored guest: “But I thought, what does Mother Teresa want with the keys to the city when she already holds the keys to heaven?” An emotional stadium burst out in applause.
The mayor presented Mother Teresa with a rosary her own mother received nearly 30 years before. The Rosary, blessed by Pope John XXIII, had been a gift from the nuns who ran O’Connor’s high school.
Finally, the climactic moment arrived. Mother Teresa stepped up on the footstool at the podium and momentarily surveyed her listeners — mothers, students, the elderly and businessmen — many with tears in their eyes.
She used the significance of the day — May 31, the Catholic Church’s Feast of the Visitation, which commemorates Mary’s visit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth after Mary learned she was to bear Jesus — to speak out against abortion. Elizabeth’s baby, according to scripture, leapt in his mother’s womb at the coming of Christ.
“Strange that God used an unborn child to proclaim the coming of Christ,” said Mother Teresa. “And we know what terrible things are happening to the little unborn child today, how the mother herself kills her own child. And how abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace because it destroys two lives, the life of the child and the conscience of the mother. Let us, for one second in silence, thank our parents for wanting us, for loving us, for giving us the joy of living.”
Human beings hunger not only for bread, but also for love and dignity, Mother Teresa said. And to make it easy for us to love one another, Jesus proclaimed, ‘“Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’”
Where does this love of fellow humans begin? In the home, Mother Teresa answered. “By praying together. Families that pray together stay together. And if you stay together you will love one another as God loves each one of you. Therefore, let us thank God for this great love.”
She related the story of a couple in India who decided to forgo the customary wedding feast and give the money to her instead. “And I asked them, ‘Why did you do that?’”
“We love each other so tenderly that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve,” they responded.
“Have you experienced the joy of loving?” Mother Teresa asked the stadium throng. “By sharing until it hurts? If you just give out your abundance you don’t feel that sharing. So give until it hurts. This is the joy of loving.”
She closed by urging the crowd to find time for prayer. “Works of love,” she said, “are always works of peace, of joy, of unity. And prayer gives us that joy, because prayer gives us a clean heart. And a clean heart can see God. So let us learn to pray.”
She directed a final blessing to her audience, greeted small children brought on stage to present her with flowers, then joined in with 6,000 other voices in reciting the daily prayer of the coworkers of Mother Teresa:
“Make us worthy Lord, to serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day their daily bread, and by our understanding and love give peace and joy.
“Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace, that where there is hatred I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is despair, I may bring hope, that where there are shadows, I may bring light; that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
“Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand than to be understood; to love than to be loved; for it is by forgetting self that one finds; it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen.”
The enchantment was broken. Helping hands helped Mother Teresa descend the platform stairs. She disappeared beneath a swarm of photographers and soon re-entered her van. The multitudes clapped and cheered and waved and cried, then turned to file out of the stadium. It was another sunny day in America’s Finest City. — John Sutherland
In 1991, then 81-year-old Mother Teresa of Calcutta was admitted to a local hospital after she was stricken with pneumonia while working with the poor in Tijuana. At the time, Msgr. Daniel Dillabough ’70 was chancellor for the Diocese of San Diego; he is now USD’s vice president of mission and ministry.
“When Mother Teresa was in the hospital at San Diego’s Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, Bishop Robert Brom and I went out to visit her.” said Msgr. Dillabough. “While we were visiting, the phone rang. The nurse picked it up and said that the Holy Father was on the line, Pope John Paul II.
Mother Teresa ripped off her oxygen mask and grabbed the phone and said, ‘Bless me, Holy Father, bless me.’ We could hear him saying, ‘I bless you, Mother and your Sisters.’ And then she said, ‘I love you, Holy Father, I love you.’
He said something back to her and she put the phone over her heart and looked at all of us, gathered around her bed — Sister Nirmala (her successor), a nurse, me and the bishop — and she said, ‘He loves me too.’
I thought that was such a powerful moment. Here are two of the most important people not only in the Church, but for what they’ve done all over the world, and the most important thing for them was to say at that moment was, ‘I love you.’”
During her hospital stay, Mother Teresa’s endless devotion to the poor inspired a number of American doctors to promise to staff mobile clinics in Tijuana, working in conjunction with the Missionaries of Charity community in Tijuana, one of hundreds of convents her order established around the world.