“One must really have suffered oneself to help others.”

During the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976 I had the opportunity to attend the liturgical arts exhibit at the old Philadelphia Convention Center. Please keep in mind that I was still a student at Bishop Neumann High School and was still a mere 16 years old. Somehow or another I managed to get over to the exhibition with an I.H.M. Sister that had once taught me in grade school, Sr.Margaret Peter. We wandered around the exhibition space for a while and just as we were preparing to leave the exhibition random chaos began all around us. There were people, reporters, television crews and a lot of buzzing about. I remember that both Sister and I were jostled in the crowd. At that point I happened to realize that I was standing next to an old woman in a white habit, it had a blue stripe. The woman held out her hand and took my own hand and just simply said, “God bless you. Please pray for the poor! With those few words and a quick handshake, the crowd was gone, the woman in the white and blue habit was gone and Sr.Margaret Peter I.H.M. was standing in an absolute “awe” as the crowd passed by. Being the typical 16 year old that I was, I remember thinking…”Nice lady…who the heck was she?” As I said that I was told by Sr.Margaret Peter precisely that the woman was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Well being as dense as a brick, I asked her about this woman, and what she did, and where she was from et cetera, et cetera. All I really knew when the whole episode was over was that she was a famous religious, worked in India with the poor, and had a warm handshake and really deeply magnetic eyes. What struck me as most remarkable however was the seemingly strong sense of tranquility that was around this woman, even though complete pandemonium was swirling all about her. I sensed that this woman really had it together and must have been important. After all, crowds and television crews followed her…that must have made her important.

I really never thought about her again until I entered Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in the fall of 1978, September 5 to be precise. I noticed this woman’s photo in the Seminary’s main hall…by the clock that would be our call to every activity. It hit me at that point…this was the woman I had briefly met a few years back during the Eucharistic Congress. At that point it all came together…Mother Teresa, her ministry, her work with the poor, the  and her (later did I learn) her honorary D.D. from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary…the same place in which I was now a freshman in college.

Well September 5 is a significant event in my life as it commemorates my first day as a seminarian, my first day at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and the first day that I got to meet some of my original Seminary classmates. Little did I know was that this date and these people would change my life in significant manners over the next 29 years, and these fellow students would become life long friends, associates and in many cases accomplices in all sorts of activities. Little did I know that, September 5 would also be the date on which the woman I quite literally bumped into during the 1976 Eucharistic Congress would be called home to God after a remarkable life and ministry to the world’s truly poor and destitute population.

If I had just a few thoughts about all of this, I would say simply this: You never know where or when you will meet potentially future saints, and you should never dismiss people you meet as just some old lady in a white habit with a blue stripe. My brief encounter with this woman has given me many moments to reflect on the unfolding power and mystery of God’s plan of salvation for each and every one of us. I also think quite a bit about Sr.Margaret  Peter, I.H.M., I later learned that she had been a teacher to one of my new Seminary classmates at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. The world was quite suddenly a smaller place and there was another connection between 2 seminary classmates…in Sr.Margaret Peter.

On September 5, 1997 Teresa of Calcutta completed her earthly ministry and never realized that her handshake and few words of greetings affected a 16 year olds perspective on theological revelation of God’s unfolding plan. This author never thought that Teresa of Calcutta would be considered “Beata”, nor did he ever anticipate the fact that his vocation in life was not to ordination to Catholic priesthood, but to be a husband and a father and a blogger J

Mother Teresa’s life affected many people in subtle ways. A brief encounter with Hugh McNichol in 1976 contributed to his ongoing wonderment and awe about her life and ministry and the entire mystery of God and our Catholic faith. September 5 will continue to be a remarkable day in the events of my life because it was on that day that Mother Teresa of Calcutta entered into eternal life and left a tremendous mark on the world’s understanding of the poor and our need to provide comfort to all of the world’s needy. It is also a remarkable day in salvation history for the Universal Church because a faithful servant was welcomed home to the eternal reward promised to each and every one of Christ’s faithful followers.

I am very sure that Teresa of Calcutta is indeed praying for not only the poor, but for all of us that are “poor” in so many different aspects in our earthly understanding of God’s plan for each and every one of us. I am thankful to have encountered this “other Christ” in a brief moment in chronological time in 1976. I am extremely thankful that she is now in eschatological time with God praying for each and every one of us. September 5 is a remarkable day for me…especially more remarkable because I can say,”Teresa of Calcutta!” pray for us!

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