Archbishop: St. Teresa wouldn’t mind cameras because ‘it was always about Jesus’

Mass-goers greet and congratulate the five Missionaries of Charity sisters in attendance during a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Sept. 4. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

Mass-goers greet and congratulate the five Missionaries of Charity sisters in attendance during a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Sept. 4. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — Despite her larger-than-life personality packed into a smaller-than-small stature, Mother Teresa was never one for media attention.

Sr. Brunetta, MC, carries a portrait of St. Teresa of Calcutta in procession to begin a Mass of thanksgiving for St. Teresa's canonization Sept. 4 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

Sr. Brunetta, MC, carries a portrait of St. Teresa of Calcutta in procession to begin a Mass of thanksgiving for St. Teresa’s canonization Sept. 4 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

She spent her time, after all, with those who received little to no attention at all — the poorest of the poor, those on the margins of society for whom the cameras never rolled.

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.

A bust of St. Teresa of Calcutta is seen near the sacristy of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

A bust of St. Teresa of Calcutta is seen near the sacristy of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

“She did what she did not because she wanted to start a movement, her own kind of peace corps — as worthy as that is,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Not because she had in mind a worldwide project, a religious order of men and women spread throughout the world, as worthy as that is. She was all in for Jesus. It was always about him and only him.”

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?'”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron delivers his homily during the Mass of thanksgiving.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron delivers his homily during the Mass of thanksgiving.

For the five Missionaries of Charity in attendance at the cathedral for the Mass of thanksgiving, Detroit has been “their own Calcutta” for many years. Still, following Mother Teresa’s example, the sisters declined media interviews before and after the celebrations.

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 Missionaries of Charity wear wide smiles as they greet Mass-goers afterward.

The Missionaries of Charity wear wide smiles as they greet Mass-goers afterward.

Elwell recalled the frail nun’s utter disregard for material possessions surprised even those who knew her reputation.

“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.

Five Missionaries of Charity pray during a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of their founder, St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Five Missionaries of Charity pray during a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of their founder, St. Teresa of Calcutta.

“For Mother, a smile might have been the most ascetic act she did because of the darkness she experienced for so many years,” Fr. Jones said. “That’s what drew Mother on, her desire to satiate the thirst of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In her canonization, I think that’s the message she would like to go forth in the world.”

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.”