Mother Teresa: A tireless servant and saint

Father Patrick Delahanty captured this image of patients and volunteers during a quiet morning in Blessed TeresaÕs home for the dying in Kalighat, a neighborhood of Kolkata, India, on Dec. 7, 1981.
Father Patrick Delahanty captured this image of patients and volunteers during a quiet morning in Blessed Teresa’s home for the dying in Kalighat, a neighborhood of Kolkata, India, on Dec. 7, 1981.

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

The sick lie moaning on their cots as volunteers caress and comfort them, dressing wounds or inserting needles for intravenous feeding. The patients are divided by gender — men on one side, women on the other. A haze, created by nearby fires for cooking, hangs in the air; sunlight illuminates the haze on the side where the women lay.

On the shaded side, one man seems very ill. Three or four Missionaries of Charity are busy preparing lunch over the fire.

Mother Teresa takes her time visiting patients one by one.

A little while later, the man who seems so ill succumbs to death. He’s respectfully covered and quietly removed from the room.

On Dec. 7, 1981, Father Patrick Delahanty witnessed and photographed this scene at a home for the dying established by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in Kalighat, a neighborhood of Kolkata. He wrote about the encounter in his travel diary later that day. In the entry, he wonders:

“She has time for so many people. How does she do this every day? Her eyes are sunken and red. Maybe she’ll have some rest when we leave.”

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, above, who will be canonized on Sept. 4, walked down an alley in Kolkata, India, in late November or early December of 1981. Father Patrick Delahanty photographed the soon-to-be saint and life around Kolkata during a two-week visit to India. (Photo Special to The Record by Father Patrick Delahanty)
Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, above, who will be canonized on Sept. 4, walked down an alley in Kolkata, India, in late November or early December of 1981. Father Patrick Delahanty photographed the soon-to-be saint and life around Kolkata during a two-week visit to India. (Photo Special to The Record by Father Patrick Delahanty)

On Sunday, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, who died in 1997, will be canonized by Pope Francis.

Father Delahanty, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and an avid photographer, was one of several people from the now-defunct Ikonographics in Louisville who shadowed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity for a couple of weeks in 1981.

Mike Nabicht, then-president of Ikonographics, and Gaynell Cronin, a catechist and writer from New York state, conducted interviews. Others captured video and photos of the visit. The product of their trip was a film, called “Work of Love,” and a book, called “Words to Love By … Mother Teresa.”

Father Delahanty’s photos were used in the book, which was published by Ave Maria Press in 1982 and translated into several languages.

During an interview about the trip recently, the priest said, “It took a long time to get her to agree” to the project. Mother Teresa agreed when she was convinced the project wasn’t just about her, but rather about the Missionaries of Charity, their work and their spirituality, he said.

While the soon-to-be saint agreed to the project, she wasn’t pleased to be photographed, Father Delahanty said, noting “We were an interruption to her.”

When Father Delahanty arrived in Kolkata with his camera, she told the priest: “ ‘I’ve made an agreement with Jesus that when the shutter clicks, he releases a soul from purgatory,’ ” Father Delahanty recalled. One afternoon, after a full-day of shutter clicking, she turned to him and said, “ ‘Purgatory is empty; it will be full in the morning.’ That was her way of saying put the camera away. So I did.”

Father Delahanty captured meditative portraits of Mother Teresa and snapped candids as she walked Kolkata’s streets. He also photographed other Missionaries of Charity and the people of Kolkata — from children lined up to receive food and medicine from the Missionaries to cobblers piecing together shoes in the streets.

A child posed for Father Patrick Delahanty while waiting for food to be distributed by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, in 1981.
A child posed for Father Patrick Delahanty while waiting for food to be distributed by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, in 1981.

His diary describes a constant haze of yellowish smog in the air and a feeling that, try as you might, “you can’t get clean.” He describes a constant flow of people bathing in city fountains. Mother Teresa’s facilities — an orphanage, a school and homes for the dying and people with Hansen’s disease — were extremely clean in contrast, he said.

“There is no smell,” he writes. “Mother Teresa’s places are like oases in the desert.”

One Sunday morning, Dec. 6, after concelebrating Mass alongside a local priest, Father Delahanty noted in his diary, “(I) never cease to be amazed at the universality of belief in Christ. (It) really makes us one great family.”

Belief in Christ — that he is in each person — is the foundation of the work Father Delahanty witnessed in Kolkata, he said.

He noted that the Missionaries of Charity have a fourth vow (in addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience): “Wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor.”

She tells the Ikonographics crew in the book, “We do it for Jesus, to Jesus and with Jesus.”

Father Delahanty said, “What she makes clear is that everyone is a child of God. She would say to a husband and wife coming to volunteer, if you want to do this work, then you need to see in your spouse someone who needs love. And in your own community.

“She mentions, it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, a Hindu or a Muslim — all people — you are a child of God. When you see a child of God, you must smile. She always said that.”

When asked how others might help, she is quoted in the book as saying, “ ‘Just begin, one, one, one,’ she urges. ‘Begin at home by saying something good to your child, to your husband or to your wife. Begin by helping someone in need in your community, at work, or at school. Begin by making whatever you do something beautiful for God.’ ”

A man smiled after receiving rice from a Missionaries of Charity volunteer in Kolkata, India, in 1981.
A man smiled after receiving rice from a Missionaries of Charity volunteer in Kolkata, India, in 1981. (Photo by Father Patrick Delahanty)
Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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