Mother Teresa inspired seminarian

Robert Barnell
Robert Barnell

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata’s spiritual writings and deep prayer life have inspired Robert Barnell since he was in college.

After working with the Missionaries of Charity in 2011, Mother Teresa’s words became more meaningful to him.

Barnell, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, spent eight weeks working alongside the order Mother Teresa founded in Kolkata, India.

Pope Francis will canonize the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity on Sept. 4.

In 2011, Barnell, now 28, was a fresh college graduate, working in refugee resettlement in Indianapolis and discerning a call to the priesthood. A priest he met at a conference suggested Barnell might be interested in spending some time in prayer and service with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India.

“During that year working in Indianapolis, I had a period where I felt burned out. I felt lost. I started to read ‘A Simple Path’ by Mother Teresa. Somehow she really spoke to me,” he said in a phone interview last week.

One who wants to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity must only secure his or her own housing and simply show up at the Motherhouse, where you will receive an assignment, said Barnell, who is a graduate of St. Margaret Mary and St. Xavier High schools.

For the first four weeks, he worked at Nabo Jibon, a home for young boys and men who have mental and physical disabilities. The home — which means New Life in English — is run by Missionary of Charity Brothers, a group of men religious.

“We would talk and play with the boys. A lot were not mobile so we would push their wheel chairs,” he said. “We helped them at meal times since many couldn’t eat by themselves.”

The next four weeks he worked with volunteers in an unofficial ministry of the Missionaries of Charity. The volunteers visited Sealdah, one of the major rail stations in Kolkata, each day and looked for people in dire need.

“We would walk around and observe and look for people who were in need of care and help them get that,” he said. “This was really out of my comfort zone. I was hesitant to join the team.”

Barnell said that while he was nervous about this ministry, in the end, he was glad he did it because it was “great immersion into Indian life and culture.”

Though his time in India was full of cultural richness and opportunities for prayer, Barnell said it was not an easy period in his life.

“In some ways it was an agonizing time spiritually. On one hand I felt excited about the possibility of being called to be a priest. I also felt really inadequate, that I wasn’t the raw material God needed to be a priest. I felt really torn,” he said.

He said he felt a deep emptiness despite attending Mass and eucharistic adoration daily. One thing he said helped was remembering the words Mother Teresa wrote in a prayer for priests:

“It is not how much we really ‘have’ to give, but how empty we are — so that we can receive fully in our life and let him live his life in us.”

He decided he didn’t have to let his discernment to the priesthood be a burden, and he felt some sort of release, he said.

Barnell ended up applying to the seminary later that fall. He is now in his third year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Since his return from India, Barnell said he has maintained a devotion to Mother Teresa and finds great encouragement in her words. Reading her writings, Barnell said, helps him discern what things are important.

“I think there is something about her that speaks to me in our contemporary time. I do find myself reading her writings and feeling very at peace,” he said.

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