St. Teresa once walked among us; quietly and faithfully, her sisters still do
by David Waters, Commercial Appeal
Mother Teresa’s sisters live among us so quietly and so faithfully we don’t even notice.
And that’s fine. The four Missionaries of Charity who live in a convent in North Memphis aren’t here for us.
They have been here since 1989 “to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls.” Those words are in the rules of their religious order, founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa.
Teresa, one of our most human beings, will be canonized Sunday as St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Saturday, four of the sisters she sent to Memphis attended a Mass of Thanksgiving.
“A saint once walked among us,” Monsignor Val Handwerker, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, told those who gathered for the mass.
He was referring to Mother Teresa’s visits to Memphis in 1988 and 1989.
She came the first time at the invitation of then-Bishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who asked her to open a mission home in Memphis.
The bishop and Rev. J. Peter Sartain, now archbishop of Seattle, showed her possible locations in North Memphis.
At each site, she found a flower bed and pushed into the dirt a Medal of the Immaculate Conception, an oval medallion dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
One side of the medal depicts Mary; the other side a cross arising from a large letter ‘M’.
“She said a prayer asking the Blessed Mother to help her make the right choice,”Sartain wrote years later.
In 1989, Teresa returned to Memphis to open the home at the corner of Seventh and Keel. She also spoke at a mass at the Mid-South Coliseum.
“Let us get together in this beautiful city,” Teresa told 9,500 people at the mass. “Let no man, no woman, no child feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for.”
Teresa never returned to Memphis, but her missionaries have been here ever since.
The four wisps of women spend their days caring and praying for their neighbors in North Memphis. They fill their nights with silence, at least as much silence as their neighborhood will allow.
They live in poverty themselves, owning nothing more than their simple robes and habits, a pair of sandals, a crucifix and a rosary.
They share their meals, provided daily by God through the kindness of strangers. They share their home, provided by the Church, with women and children who need emergency shelter.
Every day they walk the neighborhood and knock on doors looking for shut-ins and others they can help.
One day 14 years ago, they knocked on Tiffany Kelly’s door at the old Oaks Manor housing project.
Tiffany was in the second grade. She was living with her mother, who suffers from Lupus, and her older sister.
She’d never heard of the Missionaries of Charity or Mother Teresa. She just knew the slight, quiet women wearing long blue and white habits and robes were there to help.
They looked like angels to her.
“I was used to the environment of violence and bad examples,” said Tiffany. “I heard gunshots every other night. They appeared angelic and brought a spirt of peace. This is when I recall my childhood changing for the better.”
The sisters helped Tiffany’s mother enroll her two daughters in Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Catholic School, a new Jubilee school on their neighborhood.
They went with Tiffany on field trips to movies and museums. They worked with her in summer programs.
They told her about Jesus and Mary and taught her how to pray.
“The most peaceful moments I remember is going into their prayer room and praying in silence,” Tiffany said last week. “This is where my faith in God strengthened.”
Tiffany went on to graduate from Memphis Catholic High, thanks to the Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust. She’s in her final year of nursing school at UT-Martin.
“I want to help people,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for the sisters of Mother Teresa, and the supportive environment they provided, I don’t think I would have made it.”
Four years ago, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina celebrated a mass for thousands of children.
“Who told us that we can find Jesus in those most in need?” he asked the children.
“Mother Teresa!” they replied.
“And what did Mother Teresa have in her arms?,” Cardinal Bergoglio asked. “A crucifix? No — a child in need. So we can find Jesus in each person who is in need.”
Sunday, Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Bergoglio, will canonize St. Teresa of Calcutta.
“She should have been a saint a long time ago,” Tiffany said.
Contact columnist David Waters at email@example.com.