The month of September is very dear to the Vincentians world-wide, because during this month the feasts of St. Vincent de Paul, St. John Gariel Perboyre, Bl. Frederic Ozanam, Bl. Louis Joseph Francois, Bl. John Gruyer, and Bl. Peter Rene Rogue are celebrated. This year the month of September is something very special not only for Vincentians but also for the Universal Church. On September 4, 2016 Pope Francis officially declared Mother Teresa, who heroically put into practice in her life the teachings of Jesus Christ, as St. Teresa of Kolkotta. There is no exaggeration in saying that there is the face of St. Vincent de Paul in Mother Teresa.
St. Teresa of Kolkotta, by blood was an Albanian, by citizenship, an Indian and by faith, she was a Catholic nun. Though small of stature, rocklike in faith, she perfectly did well the mission entrusted to her of proclaiming God’s thirsting love for humanity, especially for the poorest of the poor. She was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje as the youngest child of Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu. She was known Gonxha Agnes who at the age of eighteen, moved by a desire to become a missionary, left her home in September 1928 to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland. There she received the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In December, she departed for India, arriving in Kolkotta on January 6, 1929. After making her First Profession of Vows in May 1931, Sister Teresa was assigned to teach at St. Mary’s School for girls. On May 24, 1937, Sister Teresa made her Final Profession of Vows, becoming, as she said, the “spouse of Jesus” for “all eternity.” From that time on she was called Mother Teresa. She continued teaching at St. Mary’s and in 1944 became the school’s principal.
On September 10, 1946 during the train ride from Kolkotta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Mother Teresa received her “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” On August 17, 1948, she dressed for the first time in a white, blue-bordered sari and passed through the gates of her beloved Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor. On December 21 of the same year she went for the first time to the slums. She visited families, washed the sores of some children, cared for an old man lying sick on the road and nursed a woman dying of hunger and TB. After some months, she was joined, one by one, by her former students and that was the origin of the congregation of Missionaries of Charity. It was erected into a diocesan right on October 7, 1950 and of pontifical right on February 1, 1965. In order to respond better to both the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, Mother Teresa also founded the Missionaries of Charity Brothers in 1963, the contemplative branch of the Sisters in 1976, the Contemplative Brothers in 1979, and the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984.
During the years of rapid growth the world began to turn its eyes towards Mother Teresa and the work she had started. Numerous awards, beginning with the Indian Padmashri Award in 1962 and notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, etc., were the recognition of her selfless service to the poor. Mother Teresa’s earthly life came to an end on September 5, 1997. Her tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage and prayer for people of all faiths, rich and poor alike. Mother Teresa left a testament of unshakable faith, invincible hope and extraordinary charity. Her response to Jesus’ plea, “Come be My light,” made her a Missionary of Charity, a “mother to the poor,” a symbol of compassion to the world, and a living witness to the thirsting love of Jesus. She was beatified in October 2003 and was canonized on September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis.
St. Teresa of Kolkotta had Vincentian Roots in her endeavor to evangelise the poor. I am very glad to learn from Fr. Cherian Kariankal, CM that it was he who was the confessor of St. Teresa from 1996 till the day of her departure to the heavenly abode. Fr. Cherian still remembers the time of hearing her last confession. It was on September 5, 1997 at 5:30 pm and that evening by 9.30 pm she passed away. I am also happy to learn from Sr. Theresa Marillac, DC that while she was in Philippines in 1963-1964, St. Teresa of Kolkotta visited the Daughters of Charity in Philippines to learn about the conferences and holy rules of St. Vincent de Paul. She stayed with them a few weeks. She had lot of influences from the Vincentian Charism. Most of her talks on the service of the poor are very similar to that of St. Vincent. She also learned about the effective intercessory power of the Miraculous Medal. In 1974, while she visited the diocese of Berhampur in Odisha, she happened to see at the scarcity of the Cathedral the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal belonged to the Daughters of Charity. On request the then bishop presented her the statue which is still found in the mother house of Missionaries of Charity. She cherished to have a very special devotion to Miraculous Medal. Therefore, she and the members of her religious communities began to distribute Miraculous Medals to everyone especially to the sick. Many miracles were attributed because of the use of this medal. The power of Miraculous Medal helped her to reach at the peak of her sanctity. That is why she recommended the devotion to Miraculous Medal to her followers and to all whom she met. Even one of the two miracles that propelled Mother Teresa towards sainthood is of Monica Besara, who claims that, a picture of Mother Teresa and wearing of the miraculous medal had cured her ovarian tumor.
What was unique in St. Vincent de Paul was that he always looked at the human person as a whole – as much a spiritual, moral, political, social, cultural entity, with aspirations that include also the economic. Therefore all his service mainly directed for the integral and sustainable development. But in St. Teresa of Kolkotta she concentrated more on to provide immediate relief for the suffering poor. What is common in both of them is that both not only committed themselves for the service of the poor but also had tremendous belief in collaboration for effective service to the poor.
As Vincentians let us be proud of St. Teresa of Kolkotta, who really lived the Vincentian charism. She is a role model for all of us as how to articulate Vincentian charism in a concrete manner in this 21st century. If our fundamental option for the poor is appropriately prioritized, there is no doubt we can be like St. Teresa of Kolkotta and poverty can be eradicated substantially from the world. Certainly we can expect the powerful intercession of Sts. Vincent and Teresa of Kolkotta for our own perfection and also for all our endeavours to change the lives of the poor in a sustainable manner. While wishing you all Happy Feast, I remain
Your brother in Christ
Fr. Francis Puthenthayil, CM
National Coordinator of Vincentian Family in India