A book, Prophetess of our Time, captures the saint's personality by speaking to two of her priest-friends
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is to be canonised this Sunday. To commemorate this event, Gracewing is advertising several books about her. One that includes lavish colour photos is Prophetess of our Time by Linda Schaefer (£14.99). The author, a freelance photojournalist, describes a trip to Rome in 2003 for Mother Teresa’s beatification, as well as a later visit in 2012.
What is particularly interesting about her book are the long, taped conversations she had with two priest-friends of Mother Teresa: Mgr John Esseff SJ, who got to know the Missionaries of Charity when he was sent to Lebanon in 1984, and Fr Benedict Groeschel, who first met Mother Teresa in Manhattan in 1968 and who remained friends with her for the next three decades.
Each saint is unique and in these interviews we glimpse the distinctive personality of this small Albanian Sister, whose life work, centred in Calcutta, meant serving the “poorest of the poor” through the Order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity.
According to Mgr Esseff she was, in the words of the Gospel, “as gentle as a dove and as cunning as a snake.” He recalled how she always saw the individual in front of her, whether it was “the poor…or a soldier or a psychiatrist. She went right to that person.”
Political correctness was not in her lexicon: she once turned down a member of her Order who wanted to volunteer for an integrated, inter-racial community she was planning in post-apartheid South Africa, telling her, “You are not black enough.”
Fr Groeschel was forthright about her appearance when he first met her: “Her face looked like a baseball hit her”. Then she spoke “and the room disappeared.” As the person meant to liaise between Mother Teresa’s projects and the archdiocese of New York, he added wryly, “I always tell people I had 285 arguments with Mother Teresa and lost all of them.”
In his view what characterised her was “prayerfulness” and “absolute charity… and she always seemed to know what to do in a difficult situation, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Mentioning other people he had known who he felt had similar saintly qualities, Groeschel listed Cardinal Cook of New York, Fr Solanus Casey, Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House, and Dorothy Day. Just as he recognised with Mother Teresa, Christ himself has to “live within them”.