So what, then, would the newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta think about the media buzz surrounding her recent canonization?
“I thought about that, and I don’t think she’d be embarrassed as long as it wasn’t about her,” said Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, celebrating a Mass of thanksgiving at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Sept. 4. “As long as people understand that St. Peter’s piazza was filled today because of Jesus, and this cathedral is filled to overflowing today because of Jesus, and her picture is in the paper because of Jesus.”
Indeed, Jesus was central to everything St. Teresa did, Archbishop Vigneron said, and that — more than her steadfast commitment to the poor or the melt-your-heart smiles she would give to anyone she passed — is what makes her a saint.
“God gave her this charism of sharing the thirst of Jesus, of having the zeal of a Missionary of Charity, putting herself at the service of the rejected poor who loved Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I thank God for that, and the Church thanks God for that.”
Mother Teresa, who was canonized Sept. 4 by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, set an example for everyone to follow precisely because everything she did was out of love for God, the archbishop said.
Mother Teresa “saw Jesus in his most needy and most broken in the people who were lying in the streets in Calcutta, and she acted,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “She lived a life that shows us what God expects from each one of us.”
As her fame spread worldwide, followers would often fly to Calcutta with the intention of volunteering alongside her, but St. Teresa would send them back instead, Archbishop Vigneron said, with explicit instructions to “find your own Calcutta.”
“She used to say … find your own place where people are alone, where they are not loved, where their dignity is not appreciated, where they feel abandoned, and show them the love of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “Make time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and ask Jesus, ‘Where are you sending me to be your missionary of love?'”
The sisters, who assisted in the Mass by carrying a large portrait of St. Teresa and her relic during the opening procession, stayed after the liturgy to greet parishioners and well-wishers, many of whom offered heartfelt congratulations at their founder’s canonization.
One of those who attended the Mass was Marlene Elwell, former executive director of Legatus and a parishioner of St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills.
Elwell said she had the opportunity to meet St. Teresa during visits to Rome and Washington, D.C., and experienced firsthand the humble saint’s disdain for attention while working with then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to try to award St. Teresa a peace prize for her work.
“Really, the challenge was to convince her to accept this peace prize,” Elwell told The Michigan Catholic. “She finally agreed if I promised there would be no fanfare, no photographers, etc. Of course, this was the secretary of state and they were all excited Mother Teresa was coming, and I had to say ‘no cameras.'”
“The stunning thing for those who had never met her before was that she had a shawl sweater on, and it had little holes in it where a moth had eaten through. And that was a common comment from the women who were all dressed up, ‘Look how humble she is; she even has holes in her sweater and she doesn’t mind wearing it like that,'” Elwell said.
After the Mass, Fr. Daniel Jones, a professor of Church history at Sacred Heart Major Seminary who worked with St. Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, gave a presentation about the spiritual implications of Mother Teresa’s work.
Reflecting on St. Teresa’s “spiritual darkness,” a period during which the saint could not feel the presence of God despite her fervent prayers, Fr. Jones said Mother Teresa nevertheless refused to abandon Jesus.
It’s a message that resonates with many, said Eric Knoerr, who came to the cathedral to offer his own prayers to the new saint.
“I came down because I believe that it’s wonderful to celebrate such a saint who gave to everybody she came in contact with,” Knoerr said. “If we could all just follow even a piece of what she did, this could be heaven on earth.”