‘Post’ readers share memories of, experiences with St. Teresa of Kolkata
When Mother Teresa was canonized at the Vatican on Sept. 4, hundreds in the Diocese of Peoria recalled being in the presence of a saint. Thousands of others in central Illinois of all faiths continue to be inspired by the words and actions of the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity who served “the poorest of the poor.”
St. Teresa of Kolkata and the Diocese of Peoria share several remarkable links, including:
- Long before she became world famous, the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women was among the first groups to support her work in India. Mother Teresa came to Henry to express her gratitude to 500 representatives of the organization in 1960.
- In 1992, Bishop John J. Myers invited members of the Missionaries of Charity to serve the needy in the neighborhood of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Their presence continues two decades later.
- And on Dec. 10, 1995, nearly 1,000 people crowded St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria for a Mass attended by Mother Teresa and during which members of her religious community renewed their vows. All present would receive a Miraculous Medal from her hand before she left to visit OSF Saint Francis Medical Center to thank staff for their care of an ill member.
So when The Catholic Post invited readers to share memories and personals stories about Blessed Teresa, we heard plenty. Here are some examples:
DID SHE INTERCEDE FOR THE WOMEN’S CARE CENTER?
Did Mother Teresa intercede on behalf of the Women’s Care Center in Peoria?
“She was directly involved in the opening of the Women’s Care Center,” said Christine Dennis, president of the board of the pro-life center that has been educating, counseling and supporting women in need from a location next to Peoria’s abortion facility since 2013. “And I want everyone to know I believe it’s true.”
She recalled being new to the Peoria area in the spring of 2007 and attending the Diocese of Peoria’s Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. As she was walking to her car after Mass, Dennis saw members of the Missionaries of Charity, who serve in the cathedral neighborhood, and “chased them down.” She told them of her desire to open a Women’s Care Center in Peoria and asked for their prayers.
The Sisters assured her of their prayers, and advised Dennis to put a miraculous medal on a property that would be selected for the center.
“We prayed a novena every year,” said Dennis, including with a second class relic of Mother Teresa. Eventually the best site became clear, but “we needed a miracle,” since the cost was $400,000 before needed renovations.
The miracle happened, support was found, and in the weeks before the center’s opening — as a trench was being dug around the property and landscaping was being pulled up — Dennis saw a shiny object that had been unearthed.
“I knew what it was from 50 feet away,” said Dennis of the Miraculous Medal. “It was shining bright as the sun.”
The center now has Miraculous Medals on site in several places.
MSGR. PRENDERGAST GOT ADVICE FROM THE FUTURE SAINT
When Msgr. John Prendergast was studying in Rome to be a priest of the Diocese of Peoria during the mid-1970s, he was part of the North American College’s apostolate to the Missionaries of Charity. His service included working with the brothers in Calcutta during the summer of 1973.
In an interview last year with The Catholic Post when he was granted senior status after a 39-year priestly career, Msgr. Prendergast — pictured with Mother Teresa in 1976 — told how the Missionaries of Charity tried to recruit him to be spiritual director for their house of formation after his ordination. Msgr. Prendergast told Mother Teresa that Bishop Edward W. O’Rourke would not allow him to stay and suggested she write him a letter.
The future saint’s advice? “No, Father, you should always do what the bishop wants you to do, because that’s what God wants you to do.”
IN THE AUDIENCE IN BOMBAY, INDIA
ROCK ISLAND — Dr. Clement P. Cunningham, a retired Rock Island family physician who has been a leader in the Catholic Medical Association for more than six decades, met Mother Teresa when they both attended a Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, India.
Dr. Cunningham gave a presentation on natural family planning during a session hosted by the Catholic Health Association of India. In the audience was Mother Teresa, accompanied by a group of Missionaries of Charity.
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“I did meet her at that time but I don’t recall our conversation,” said Dr. Cunningham, a member of St. Pius X Parish now in his mid-90s. But something else has stayed with him through the decades.
“Whereas my wife and I had four or five-star hotel accommodations, we felt terrible that Mother Teresa and her group slept rolled in a blanket on a cold, hard floor,” he told The Catholic Post.
Years later, the two met again during Mother Teresa’s 1995 visit to Peoria “when she placed her special medal in my hand.”
PERU PASTOR USES QUOTE DURING CURSILLO WEEKENDS
Father Harold Datzman, OSB, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Peru, is pictured with Elaine Becker of LaSalle with a bronze statue of Mother Teresa at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet. Father Harold told The Catholic Post that he uses a Mother Teresa quote comparing God’s grace to an electrical current and Mary to a wire when he gives talks at Cursillo weekends. Mother Teresa challenges all to “ask Our Lady to come into our lives and to make Jesus use us to go around the world and continue connecting the hearts of people with the current, who is Jesus.” (Provided photo)
“WE ARE PENCILS IN THE HAND OF GOD”
EAST MOLINE — Mary Lou Lohman remembers when Mother Teresa came to the Quad Cities in 1976 to receive the Pacem in Terris Award given by the Diocese of Davenport.
“The local newspaper reported that at the ceremony she chose not to eat the banquet fare but asked for a bowl of soup instead, so that she could eat like the people she served,” recalled Lohman, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Silvis.
On a shelf in Lohman’s home is a quotation of Mother Teresa done in calligraphy. It reads: “We are all pencils in the hand of God.”
TWO MEDALS RECEIVED WITHOUT ASKING
As a member of the diocesan staff, Donna Ward of the Office of Finance had a place reserved in St. Mary’s Cathedral when Mother Teresa visited Peoria on Dec. 10, 1995. Like hundreds of others, she stood in line after the Mass to receive a medal from the hands of the future saint.
Because Ward’s daughter could not attend, “I was thinking ‘I wish she would give me two’ rather than the one medal she was giving out,” recalled Ward.
“When I got to her she looked in my eyes, smiled, and gave me two,” she said, adding “I will never forget that moment.” Everyone she later asked said they received only one.
“How blessed I was,” said Ward. “But you know, if I just got one I would have given it to my daughter.”
“YOU CAN’T DO WHAT I DO. I CAN’T DO WHAT YOU DO”
It was 1982, the year that Albina Aspell became editor of The Catholic Post after eight years as a reporter and assistant editor. She and Father John Dietzen, former Post associate editor, were in Jerusalem on a Holy Land tour with about 20 other Catholic press editors.
After returning from touring Masada, the call came to Aspell’s room: “Mother Teresa is in the gift shop.”
It turns out she was actually in a room next to the gift shop, accompanied by Msgr. John Nolan, then head of Catholic Charities. Catholic editors knew to grab their cameras. Father Dietzen took a photo of Aspell with her, and Aspell returned the favor. The photos are printed here.
While they are lasting memories, so is the message Mother Teresa would share with the editors after they had toured one of her homes in Amman, Jordan. Aspell admits to being intimidated during the tour because those assisting “were so much stronger” than she felt.
“You can’t do what I do,” Mother Teresa told the editors. “And I can’t do what you do.”
“She made me feel better about the whole thing,” Aspell recalled this week, calling Mother Teresa “gentle, genial, and pleasant” and “the one person I admire most.”
A MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY CARD FROM MOTHER
LA SALLE — Millie Arellano hesitated to answer The Catholic Post’s request for local stories about Mother Teresa because the one in her family with the strong connection to the saint was her mother, who died a year ago at the age of 103.
“Before she died she wrote her autobiography,” said Arellano, a member of St. Patrick Parish in LaSalle, about her mother, Dr. Remedios GoQuiolay Arellano, who lived in the Philippines.
Among the book’s chapters was one dedicated to important people she met — including three future saints, Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio, and Mother Teresa.
Dr. Arellano was president of the Asian federation of Catholic doctors, and she met Mother Teresa during three different medical congresses. At the final one, in 1991, Mother Teresa asked Dr. Arellano her birthday.
“Mom was surprised that on her birthday that year she received a birthday card from Mother Teresa,” said her daughter.
Dr. Arellano’s recollection of Mother Teresa included inspiring words Mother Teresa shared during a 1978 congress in Bombay. “A doctor’s vocation is very much like what Jesus did when He went about doing good and healing the people,” said Mother Teresa. “To prove that He loved the world, He had made Himself the hungry one; He had made Himself the sick one; He had made Himself the naked one; He had made Himself the homeless one; so that you and I could do the same.”
SNEAKY MOVE LEADS TO MEMORABLE MOMENT
CANTON — Joyce McGhee knows it was sneaky thing to do, but for her the pay-off of having a front-row view when Mother Teresa spoke at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria in 1995 was worth taking the chance.
On Dec. 10, McGhee was at OSF Saint Francis visiting her uncle, who had been in a serious accident. Word began to circulate that Mother Teresa, following a celebration at St. Mary’s Cathedral that morning, would come to the medical center to thank staff for the care they gave to a member of the Missionaries of Charity.
“They said it was for employees only,” recalled McGhee, who is a member of St. Mary Parish in Lewistown. “Being an adventurous soul, I got by the door to get a glimpse.”
After getting that glimpse, she took it a few steps further.
“When everyone was filing in, I did, too,” she told The Catholic Post. McGhee made it all the way to the front row of the packed auditorium. She doesn’t remember all that was said, but recalls their eyes met.
“It gives me goosebumps to think about it now,” she said. “Being in her presence is almost overwhelming. It brought tears to my eyes. It still does.”
GIFTS BRING LETTERS, FRIENDSHIP TO STREATOR RESIDENT
The Catholic Post received the following email from Paul Ahearn of Streator:
In 1985 I was at the library, looking for a good mystery to read. I came across a book on Mother Teresa, who always fascinated me.
My mother passed away in 1982 and I had her diamond rings which I bought for her in my youth. It was a difficult thing to do, but I sent my Mom’s rings to Mother Teresa. I think she appreciated it — so much so that she sent me a letter on Sept. 24, 1985.
Since that time, every time I’d send a donation to the Missionaries of Charity I’d get a letter back from Mother Teresa. We’d write back and forth up until 1997, the year she passed away. That year, she sent condolences because my Dad passed away. She also wrote a letter and asked me to pray for her. She knew her health was failing.
I feel very humbled that Mother Teresa was and is my friend. I am very unworthy to have such an honor. I still send donations for the Missionaries of Charity. Their address is: 335 East 145th St., Bronx, N.Y. 10451.
I’ve given most of my letters that I treasured from Mother Teresa away. Mother Teresa always said she wanted people to remember Jesus our Savior and not her.
Thank you, Mother Teresa, for being my friend and a friend to all of us.
A LOVING LETTER IN RESPONSE
The Catholic Post received the following email from Agnes Christmas, Danville, president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women:
When our daughter Eve was a very young girl, she sent a get-well note when we heard that Mother Teresa was very sick. Eve received a loving response letter which we saved. However, we are not sure whether it came directly from Mother Teresa or someone on her staff in her office.
INSPIRED BY MESSAGE, EXAMPLE
The Catholic Post received the following email from Barbara Rutkowski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin presented the Pere Marquette Discovery Award to Mother Teresa on June 13, 1981. The university’s highest honor was also presented to Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Apollo 11 astronauts, among others. The award honors those who advance humanity or make an extraordinary breakthrough.
I was fortunate to attend this ceremony honoring her followed by a Mass. The arena and auditorium were filled to capacity. During the presentation ceremony, Father John P. Raynor, SJ, then president of Marquette, said, “Like Pere Marquette, Mother Teresa does indeed map the unknown regions of man’s need to give and receive Christ’s charity.” In response, Mother Teresa said, ”I am most unworthy to receive this honor, this award. But I receive it for the glory of God and in the name of our poor people — the unwanted, unloved, uncared for.”
Her example has inspired me to continue serving my local parish, preserving history, and tutoring children.
Two callers shared favorite sayings of Mother Teresa.
For Adelia May, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Galesburg, a quote on a daily calendar has stuck with her: “I hope, I wish, with God’s help, to be holy.” “I say it every day before my rosary,” she told The Catholic Post.
Mary Joy Feeney of Rock Island, meanwhile, knows the wisdom of Mother Teresa’s saying that loneliness and being forgotten are the greatest poverties. A widow and now 86, Feeney says that as we age we “have to learn to be alone and accept.” She keeps the saying taped inside her cupboard door.
ORDAINED A MISSIONARY OF CHARITY FATHER
Peoria native Darren Dentino, a Bergan High School graduate and one of 10 children of Mike and Margaret Dentino, is now a priest of the Missionaries of Charity serving in Guadalajara, Mexico. A 1998 Catholic Post feature on then Brother Dentino (shown with Mother Teresa in an undated photo) told how the musician learned of the community during a “Come and See” two-week experience in 1992. He spent 12 years in formation serving the poor in Mexico and Kolkata, India, and studied for the priesthood in Rome, where he was ordained 12 years ago.
“It’s not so much the work we do,” he told The Catholic Post in 1998, when his studies were augmented by visits to AIDS patients and assisting with a youth group at a neighboring parish. “It’s that we’re happy to do it.”
Father Dentino traveled to Rome to witness the canonization with other priests of his community.