My time with ‘Mother,’ now St. Teresa of Kolkata

| Alyssa Bormes | September 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

It was 2004, and I was volunteering. Sister Edward would assign me tasks, and I never knew what to expect. There were days of washing dishes and days of cleaning bedrooms. There was one wonderful thing; my friend, Ellie, was the best at laundry. Since we were volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, there were no washing machines. Ellie did it all by hand, and I never begrudged her this.

We were in Rome, and Mother Teresa had been beatified in 2003. One of Sister Edward’s jobs was to care for some of the relics of Mother, and from time to time, I was able to help her.

Now, when I imagine someone working with the relics of a saint, I picture a room with all sorts of ornate woodwork, monks prayerfully bending over beautiful desks with the glow of library lamps illuminating their work, and perhaps some other monks chanting in the background. Sister Edward chuckled when she said, “That’s what you would think, but it is nothing like that.”

Instead, we were in an office that would more appropriately be called a closet. There were a few white plastic folding tables and two or three sisters working at them.

On the first day I was to help with the relics, Sister Edward was giving me instructions rather quickly. Then she saw the look on my face, and everything slowed. She sat down, picked up a white piece of cloth, held it to her lips for just a moment, and then told me that it was the collar of the dress that Mother wore under her sari, her habit. She then pressed the collar into my hands and said, “Here, sit with Mother for a while.”

My breath was gone, time stood still. I’m just a girl from South Dakota who led a rather terrible life before coming home to the Church, and Mother Teresa was very different from that. Yet, here we were together through this simple relic, and the power of Christ.

In addition, there were little pieces of Mother’s hair and swabs of cotton with Mother’s blood that were saved near the end of her life as she received medical care. Handling them was absolutely humbling each time.

Now and then, there would be an item that didn’t have a clear provenance, in which case it would be buried or burnt. First class relics would be reserved for reliquaries. Second class relics, like small pieces of cloth, would be put into special holy cards with little windows. But from time to time, there would be a relic that didn’t exactly fit into a category. Stumped, Sister Edward would wonder aloud, “What are we going to do with this?”

With a twinkle in my eye, I would reply with a sense of authority, “Well, in all my time working with relics. . . .” Each time, this would make us laugh out loud. But better yet, it made the little French nun sitting behind us quietly giggle.

The closet ‘turned’ office didn’t have any marvelous woodwork, shimmering lamps or chanting in the background. However, what it did have was the beautiful and bold Sister Edward, the gentle, quiet sister from France, one exuberant, funny woman from the Midwest, and laughter. In short, there was joy.

She is St. Teresa of Kolkata, a member of the communion of saints. The opportunities to volunteer with her have not ended; they have only just begun, and there are plenty of places that need joy and mercy, and it will take all of us to help her.
St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!

Bormes, a member of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, is the author of the book “The Catechism of Hockey.”

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Category: Everyday Mercies, Featured