Missionaries of Charity have been bringing Jesus to Peoria for 25 years
At the Sept. 10 diocesan celebration to give thanks for the life of St. Teresa of Kolkata and observe the 25th anniversary of her community’s arrival in central Illinois, some of the choicest seats in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria will be reserved for the poor.
The new saint wouldn’t have it any other way, according to the Missionaries of Charity.
“She always wanted the poor people to have the best place when we had a celebration,” Sister M. Angeles, MC, told The Catholic Post in the days before Mother Teresa was canonized.
Sister Angeles is one of four Missionaries of Charity who share the house on Hancock Street, near St. Mary’s Cathedral, that has been the community’s home since coming to Peoria in 1991. Also ministering in the cathedral neighborhood in their familiar white and blue saris are Sister M. Rosetta, MC, the local superior; Sister M. Lucenta, MC; and Sister M. Teresa Jose, MC.
They do not have a television or radio, so Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, invited them to view the canonization Mass at his residence on Sept. 4.
While the worldwide community serves in a variety of ways — from caring for people with AIDS and unwed mothers to operating soup kitchens and homeless shelters — the main apostolate in Peoria is visiting people in their homes, nursing homes and hospitals and tending to their needs. That includes material help when they’re able, but the Sisters said much of the poverty they address is spiritual poverty.
“Our main concern when we visit the families is to bring Jesus to them,” Sister Angeles said. “We pray with them and we encourage them to go back to church if they have been away from the church. We read the Scriptures with them. We encourage them to register their children for the catechism (classes).”
Last year they worked with 200 children and their summer camp in July drew about 130 children. Religious formation classes begin again on Sept. 17.
Sister Rosetta added that they also encourage people to receive the sacraments. “For some of them it has been many years.”
TAKING JESUS TO POOR
The Sisters said this is what Jesus asked Mother Teresa to do — bring the poor to him and take him to the poor. What makes it possible for them to do this is Mass, spiritual reading and four hours of prayer every day.
Each diocese that sponsors the Missionaries of Charity is asked to provide a house with a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament can be reserved and exposed. In fact, the community’s primary celebration of Mother Teresa’s canonization was a full day of eucharistic adoration on Aug. 18.
“Mother used to say that Jesus in the Bread of Life and Jesus in the broken bodies of the poor — we have to make that connection all the time,” Sister Angeles explained.
“She also used to say we receive Jesus in holy Communion the way Mary received Jesus at the Annunciation,” she continued. “She ran in haste to give Jesus and we do the same. At holy Mass we receive Jesus and then we go in haste to give Jesus to the poor.”
For many years, the Missionaries of Charity had a soup kitchen in the former St. Mary’s Cathedral Hall, but that closed last year when the building was declared unsafe and demolished. Now they give dry goods away once a month from the Bishop Franz Center. This is offered with prayer, as well as health screenings by Faith Community Nurse Peggy Jacques.
Sister Angeles said the more she studies Mother Teresa, the more she sees how her foundress’ heart burned with the desire to help people understand how beautiful and precious they were in God’s eyes and how much God loved them.
“That’s what moved her to do even the smallest and humblest acts of love for each person,” she said. “I think that’s what the world needs to know, that God loves them. That’s why Mother spent her life doing that.”
Everyone is called to share that love, but not everyone is called to do it the same way, the Missionaries of Charity said.
“She used to say, ‘What you do I cannot do and what I do you cannot do, but all of us together can do something beautiful for God,’” Sister Angeles recalled. “We do it in our own way, whatever vocation of life we have.”