NEW HAVEN – To Saint Francis of Assisi is attributed the adage, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” The 13th-century saint certainly influenced the social order of his day. On Sept. 4, however, Pope Francis will canonize a person whose life and example inspired many in our own era. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, known more commonly as Mother Teresa of Kolkata, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, soon will be raised to the honors of the altar during a ceremony and Mass outside St. Peter’s Basilica that is expected to attract the largest gathering for any event during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Born Aug. 26, 1910, in Macedonia, Mother Teresa knew from a young age that she was meant “to go out and give the life of Christ to the people in the missionary countries.” During her first 20 years in religious life, Mother Teresa was a member of the Sisters of Loreto serving in India.
Then, on Sept. 10, 1946, she received an inspiration – “a call within a call” – to form a new religious community. She was permitted to follow this call independently at first. She opened several school and medical facilities, attracting followers as she did so. Her order was formally established Oct. 7, 1950. Within its first 10 years, the Missionaries of Charity had 52 outreach centers in Kolkata. As of December 2015, her order had more than 4,500 sisters in 758 houses across 139 countries.
In addition to the active sisters, Mother Teresa founded four other branches of the Missionaries of Charity family: a contemplative branch of sisters (June 1976), active brothers (March 1963), contemplative brothers (March 1979) and priests (1984).
Though Mother Teresa suffered from various ailments later in life, she continued to lead the Missionaries of Charity until March 1997, when her successor was elected. Mother Teresa died Sept. 5, 1997, at age 87. Although the sainthood process usually cannot begin until after a five-year period following a person’s death, Pope John Paul II waived that norm in 1999, allowing her cause for canonization to open. On October 19, 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified, with her feast day established as Sept. 5. Pope Francis approved a miracle through her intercession on Dec. 17, 2015, as the final step toward declaring that Mother Teresa a saint.
The soon-to-be saint, internationally renowned for her devoted service to “the poorest of the poor” was not a stranger to Connecticut. She had a long-time relationship with the Knights of Columbus and visited the organization’s New Haven headquarters in 1988.
Her community has a house in Bridgeport, with a dozen Missionaries of Charity sisters stationed there.
The Knights of Columbus established a friendship with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in 1987 by responding to Mother Teresa’s plea for help for her soup kitchens. The K of C later introduced printing services for the Missionaries of Charity, including the community’s constitutions, daily prayer book and other devotionals. Mother Teresa was the inaugural recipient of the Knights’ highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award, at its annual convention in New York in 1992.
In all, Mother Teresa was recognized 124 times, receiving the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the John F. Kennedy International Award and the first of honorary degrees – a Doctorate in Humane Letters – from The Catholic University of America, all in 1971. Subsequent awards included the Templeton Prize for “Progress in Religion,” the Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), the Order of Merit (from Queen Elizabeth), the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize.
At the Knights of Columbus supreme convention in Toronto last month, the organization announced the commissioning of a new painting of Mother Teresa by renowned artist Chas Fagan. The portrait will be the official image of the saint, with a reproduction of it displayed on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during her canonization.
At the convention, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause, expressed “deep gratitude to the Knights for all these years of close friendship.
“By definition, friendship is mutual,” he continued. “We help each other, inspire each other all for, as Mother would say, ‘the glory of God and the Good of the people.’”
The Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven has as part of its permanent collection a bronze statue of Mother Teresa carrying a dying child, commissioned of Tommaso Gismondi.
The museum will host a display, “Mother Teresa: Saint of the Streets” in her honor from Aug. 20 to Nov. 6. The Fagan portrait will be on display at the museum on the Sept. 4 canonization date.
Also that day, writer, speaker and EWTN television host Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, who enjoyed a decade-long friendship with Mother Teresa, will offer a reflection on the saint’s spiritual life and legacy. Ms. O’Boyle is the author of more than 20 books on faith and family, including Mother Teresa and Me and The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross.
The museum is located at 1 State St. in New Haven and is open 10-5 daily with free admission and parking.
More information is available at 203-865-0400 or kofcmuseum.org.