Remembrance: Five Marylanders who had come into contact with Mother Teresa have remarkably similar feelings about being in her presence.


September 06, 1997|By Ken Fuson and Arthur Hirsch | Ken Fuson and Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

To President Clinton, she was "one of the giants of our time." Other world leaders yesterday called her an "angel of mercy," "a symbol to the world."

But Mother Teresa, who died yesterday of a heart attack, was more than a symbol to thousands around the world, individuals whose lives she touched through 50 years of work on behalf of the poor and suffering. Here are the recollections of five Marylanders who were touched by her spirit.

It was 6 a.m., dawn in Calcutta, when Sean Callahan first met Mother Teresa. He had been invited to her home for Mass.

Outside, as he approached the home, smoke filled the air. Callahan and the others walked down a narrow alleyway filled with rain from the monsoons. They climbed some stairs to a small room with a concrete floor and burlap sacks to kneel on.

In one corner, Mother Teresa kneeled, surrounded by sisters in her Missionaries of Charity order.

"Nuns started singing over the sound of the trolley cars and the hawkers," Callahan recalls. "It was surreal and it was very spiritual.

"Her room was 20 feet away. She had no fan, no screen or air conditioning. Just a single cot with an office next to it where she greeted people. She blessed each of us and gave us a little medal."

Meeting a saint is not something one soon forgets.

"It's intimidating, awe-inspiring and humbling all at the same time," he says.

Callahan, the director of human resources for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, worked two years in Calcutta beginning in June of 1994. He had many opportunities to talk to Mother Teresa and watch her in action.

In a country with a tiny Catholic population, "here was a woman who had been adopted as an Indian citizen, as a daughter of India," Callahan says. "They were very proud of her."

In Calcutta, Callahan worked with Mother Teresa's order, helping to clean the sick and dying. This was a time when a plague was sweeping through the country.

"You somewhat feel like you're protected around her."

One time, he says, Mother Teresa told him that she was battling more than poverty.

"She thought people had an emptiness in their life," he says. "Her mission, really, was to get into people's hearts. She said people have a hole in their heart. Her sisters were to fill that hole with love and kindness.

"It's so humbling to be around somebody like that."

Callahan says Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity will continue her work.

"She was a living saint and you can't just replace a living saint, but there are a lot of people like Mother Teresa in that group.

"At the same time, she doesn't die. Mother Teresa's spirituality definitely lives on. That spirit can't be extinguished. We'll all carry a piece of her heart with us."

On Dec. 9, 1995, Mother Teresa traveled to Emmitsburg to give a speech at Mount St. Mary's Seminary. Two-thousand people turned out to hear her urge them to serve the poor and pray for people suffering with AIDS.

Before her public remarks, she spent about an hour in the chapel with 180 seminarians and members of the faculty. She led the rosary, handed out medals bearing images of the Virgin Mary and spoke for awhile.

She spoke about "the importance of prayer, a closeness to Christ and to Mary," says Father Kevin Rhoades, St. Mary's rector. "It was simple, yet profound."

It wasn't difficult to persuade Mother Teresa to visit during her trip to Washington that year, Rhoades recalled yesterday. All they had to do was ask.

"She didn't hesitate to accept," he says.

Rhoades had met Mother Teresa in Rome, when he was a graduate student at Gregorian University in the 1980s. He had seen her three or four times at the shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity. She had already achieved an international reputation by then, yet she was always approachable, Rhoades says.

"She puts you immediately at ease," he says. "She had a great sense of humor and a great smile."

Always, her presence radiated strength and peace, says Rhoades.

"It's similar to what I felt when I was in the presence of the pope. A person who is really at peace. Who is close to God," he says. "Some people who are ready to be with the Lord when they're dying, it's kind of like that. Really filled with God's spirit."

Ken Hackett met Mother Teresa a half-dozen times. He walked away newly inspired each time.

"She was a saint, is a saint and the people she worked with are truly selfless," says Hackett, executive director of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore.

That agency was one of the first U.S. charities to recognize Mother Teresa and support her work. Catholic Relief Services and the Missionaries of Charity have worked together for 40 years, and Hackett says the relationship will continue.

"She really had a wonderful saintly way about her that was so gentle. If you met this woman, you'd know why people love her," Hackett says. "What she has done showed the world just a

superb element of the real charity: love."

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