Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of the world's most admired religious figures, is scheduled to help dedicate a convent for her order of Roman Catholic nuns this afternoon in East Baltimore on her first visit to this city.
The 81-year-old superior of the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded in India in 1950, will be driven to Baltimore from the American headquarters of the order in the Bronx, N.Y.
She plans to attend a special Mass for invited guests at 3 p.m. in St. Wenceslaus Church, at Ashland and Collington avenues.
Afterward, at about 4 p.m., she and Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler will lead a Eucharistic procession around the corner to the formerly vacant convent of the parish in the 800 block of N. Collington Ave., where four members of the Missionaries of Charity recently took up residence.
They have established a small hospice for dying AIDS patients on the top floor. Two of the nuns are from India, one is from Italy and the fourth is from the United States.
A spokesman for the archbishop said the public is invited to assemble in front of the building, renamed the Gift of Hope Convent, which will be blessed in a ceremony. Mother Teresa, a tiny woman who always wears a white sari trimmed with blue stripes, has agreed to speak to the public briefly from the convent steps.
Archbishop Keeler took obvious pleasure in announcing what he said was Mother Teresa's unexpected visit.
She has been in frail health, and it was not known yesterday whether she would return to New York soon after the dedication or spend the night in the Collington Avenue convent.
"A new chapter in the rich history of the archdiocese begins this week as Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity bring to the poor of our city the Gift of Hope," the archbishop said from his office at Baltimore's Catholic Center on Cathedral Street. "In ministering to the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus, she brings to all of us in the community a witness of faith, and a compelling challenge to love.
"To Mother and her sisters, we pledge our prayers and support for the work they begin this day. We ask their prayers for our own service of faith, hope and love."
Beyond ministering to people afflicted with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in their own hospice and elsewhere, and visiting the sick at Johns Hopkins and other local hospitals, the exact nature of the work of the Missionaries of Charity in Baltimore has not been defined.
This becomes the 21st Roman Catholic diocese in the United States -- the 13th U.S. archdiocese -- where Mother Teresa's nuns have opened a convent.
The four resident sisters first moved to Baltimore in April, living temporarily in the old St. Alphonsus convent on Saratoga Street near Park Avenue before the vacant St. Wenceslaus building was turned over to them.
At a time when many older Roman Catholic religious orders for men and women are in sharp decline, Mother Teresa's has been growing fast.
The total number of sisters worldwide who have taken the strict vows of poverty of the Missionaries of Charity -- receiving only the barest subsistence to work among the poor and sick in 98 countries -- was put at 3,516 last year. That number was up from 2,573 in 1989.
In the United States, they operate 17 soup kitchens, 14 emergency shelters for women, six shelters for unwed mothers and two shelters for men in addition to religious education and after-school and summer camp programs for children.
In recent years, Mother Teresa has turned her attention to the AIDS epidemic and has opened hospices for AIDS patients in New York, Philadelphia, Washington -- and now Baltimore.
Archbishop Keeler said Mother Teresa's decision to open the Gift of Hope Convent has received support from men and women of other faiths as well as Catholics.
An ecumenical organization, the International Association of Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, was formed in 1969 to receive financial and other assistance for her various ministries, which began among the dying on the streets of Calcutta.
Born Agnes Ganxhe Bojaxhiu in Macedonia, the daughter of Albanian peasants, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She accepted it "in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society."
In her acceptance speech, she criticized nations that had legalized abortion, saying they were "afraid of the unborn child."
She has had two heart attacks, and was hospitalized for several months in California late last year and early this year. In March, she was described as back to a "normal schedule" at her convent in Calcutta.