Encounters With Mother
For numerous people, meeting Mother Teresa was a pivotal turning point in their lives
Dozens of men and women personally affected by St. Teresa of Calcutta were interviewed for the new Knights of Columbus-produced documentary, Mother Teresa: No Greater Love. Some knew her well, and some met her only once. Here are just two of their stories, in their own words.
Sister M. Bernice grew up in Baltimore and joined the Missionaries of Charity after reading a 1975 Time magazine article about Mother Teresa. At their first meeting, Mother Teresa gave Sister M. Bernice her religious name; at their second meeting, Mother led her and other sisters straight into gunfire in order to have a word with the leader of a Chicago gang.
The very first time I met Mother Teresa was when she gave me my name. I was accepted into the aspirancy in the Bronx, and then Mother came. My [vocation director] asked me to ask Mother if she could give me a name. So Mother was coming down the hall and I approached her. I said, “Mother, I don’t have a name.” She looked at me and said, “What is your mother’s name?” I said, “My mother’s name is Bernice.” Mother put her head down to pray; then she lifted it up and put her two hands on my head and blessed me. She said, “Your name is Sister Mary Bernice.” As I continued my aspirancy, I remembered that moment. Even when they taught me the bells, I was always in the wrong place — instead of the study room, I was in the chapel. But I used to say, “Mother blessed me and gave me my name. I’m going to go on.”
The second time I met her was when we left New York to go for postulancy in Chicago. It was a terrifying experience. The gangs had taken over that area. We were surrounded by five high-rise apartments and we could see the rifles surrounding us, shooting at us every day.
We notified our Mother and she came. We were so relieved to see our Mother because we thought she would take us out of there. But that morning she called us together for one of the biggest lessons on love that I have ever known. She said, “Sisters, I sent you here to love. I don’t care if they’re killing. We came here to love. We can turn hate into love.” And then she said, “Take me now to the door where they are shooting us.”
“They stopped shooting at us. They became our best friends. This is what Mother taught me and the sisters — to love until it hurts, even if they want to kill you.”
We could not believe it. As we were walking toward the door, all these buildings surrounding us, the rifles were pointed out and kept shooting at us. Not one bullet touched us. And when we reached the door, this big man said to Mother Teresa, “Mother, you can’t come in here. I have business in here.” And Mother put her head down. And she looked up at him and she said, “I too have business in here. Let us make a deal.” The man was so shocked that Mother would speak this way. He said, “You can come in here, Mother. I can’t stop my business. But I will protect your sisters.”
After that, as soon we would walk by, the guy would say, “Cease the fire. Let Mother Teresa’s sisters pass.” But as soon as we stepped by, boom, boom, boom. I went in that building every day for one year and came out safely.
Mother Teresa did another beautiful thing. She said, “Sisters, invite the gangs to eat in the soup kitchen. Let them come in and eat first.” So we served the gang that was shooting at us. They stopped shooting at us. They became our best friends. This is what Mother taught me and the sisters — to love until it hurts, even if they want to kill you.
Mother Teresa’s highest characteristic was her merciful love for everyone. She wouldn’t care if they were a killer or robber or drug addict — they’re children of God, and they have an opportunity to go into heaven.
‘THE FACE OF GOD’
Jim Wahlberg encountered Mother Teresa when he was a Massachusetts state prison inmate in 1988. The 22-year-old was serving time for home invasion and had spent years addicted to alcohol and drugs. Hearing Mother Teresa speak was a turning point in his life, leading him toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Today, Wahlberg is a speaker, writer and advocate for people struggling with addiction, as well as executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation.
The priest, Father Jim Fratus, comes to me, very excited, and says, “Mother Teresa is coming to this prison.” I said, “Oh, that’s fantastic, Father, that’s so great. Who is Mother Teresa?” Over the course of the next two weeks, I did a little research and sort of understood the magnitude of what was happening. Or at least I thought I understood the magnitude. But I really didn’t; I had no concept of what it would mean to me.
The day came, and I was walking through the quad when I saw a group coming in the front door. At a certain point, they kind of parted, and here’s this little woman. And as they get closer, I see that this is Mother Teresa. I became aware of a couple of things: I became aware of her sweater because it looked like it was 200 years old. And then I looked down at her feet. If her sweater looked like it was 200 years old, her shoes look like they were 1,000 years old. I felt as though I was seeing true humility.
Mass was in the gymnasium. There was a stage that served as the altar, and I remember the cardinal sort of beckoning Mother Teresa. He had a special chair for her, he wanted her to come and sit with him. She humbly refused and instead stayed there on the floor, with her sisters, with the inmates.
“I’ve always looked at it like God sent Mother Teresa there specifically for me. The way I’ve always joked about it — but it’s really not a joke — is that God sent his number one assistant on earth for me.”
I remember her being there on her knees and me looking over. And I can tell you that there was a sense for me that I was looking at the face of God. It was that profound for me.
Then the time came for her to speak. And the words that she said changed my life. She got up and she just told us the facts. And the facts were that we were children of God, that Jesus Christ died for us — and that we were more than the crimes that we committed, that God loved us. And I gotta tell you that there was a moment when the 800 people there seemed to be gone, and she was talking to me and only me.
The rest of the day is a little foggy. I remember going back to my cell and not really being able to sleep — and when the doors opened the next morning, kind of running back to Father Fratus and saying to him, “Father, I don’t know what’s going on. But I need to know more about the God that she’s talking about. And not the God that I was raised with. I need to know more about this Jesus that she’s talking about.” He immediately kind of laughed. He said, “We’re gonna teach you more about this Jesus,” and he just embraced me.
I’ve always looked at it like God sent Mother Teresa there specifically for me. The way I’ve always joked about it — but it’s really not a joke — is that God sent his number one assistant on earth for me. Because I am as broken and as in need as those people in Calcutta if I don’t have God, if I don’t have Christ.