Before sainthood, Mother Teresa lit up the hearts of Minnesotans

| September 6, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, Missionaries of Charity Sisters Lilia Rose, Dominique, Tessilina and Mary Davis enjoy a laugh in their convent in south Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Missionaries of Charity Sisters Lilia Rose, Dominique, Tessilina and Mary Davis enjoy a laugh in their convent in south Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Joseph Johnson made a surprising connection in Rome with Mother Teresa in the 1990s before his ordination.

Mother Teresa inquired about his studies and where he would serve as a priest. Father Johnson, now pastor at Holy Family in St. Louis Park, shared it with her not expecting her to know about Minnesota.

“Her eyes lit up, and she repeated the word ‘Minnesota’ with such love,” Father Johnson said. “I never heard anyone say the name of our state with such love. You could tell that there is a real connection that, in her mind, she was remembering all the times that she had been here visiting the Kumps.”

The late Dr. Warren and Patti Kump of Golden Valley hosted Mother Teresa 10 times from 1965 to 1986. Father Johnson later ministered to the Kumps during his time as associate pastor at St. Olaf in Minneapolis.

Mother Teresa left a lasting impact on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in many different ways. That includes the presence of the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, as promised to Archbishop Harry Flynn at the time.

“Mother Teresa promised four sisters for Minneapolis and died before she could fulfill that promise, and so her successor reverenced the promise and sent four sisters,” Archbishop Emeritus Flynn said.

Sisters in Minneapolis formed by newest saint

During their formation with the Missionaries of Charity, Sisters Mary Davis and Mary Tessillina didn’t need to look far to see how to live out the religious order’s life since they learned firsthand from the foundress.

“Whatever she taught us, she practiced it first,” Sister Davis said.

Sister Davis recalled a visit of Mother Teresa’s to the U.S. that involved giving a talk at a large stadium. The sisters had breakfast with Mother Teresa that morning, and Sister Davis returned to the refectory only to find Mother Teresa wiping down a table.

“She did ordinary things for the sisters,” Sister Davis said.

Sister Tessillina said Mother Teresa’s witness enlivened her vocation. What Sister Tessillina learned of Mother Teresa both in meeting her and reading about her strengthened that desire.

“I used to tell everybody, ‘She’s a living saint, I want to join her,’” Sister Tessillina said.

Both sisters now serve in Minneapolis with two other sisters, caring for the poor and women with unexpected pregnancies. In the sisters’ convent hangs a maroon parka the Kumps gave to Mother Teresa to wear during any wintertime visits to Minnesota. In addition to the parka in the sacristy, the sisters have a picnic table from the Kumps’ home where Mother Teresa often interacted with the family members.

Such second-class relics remind sisters and guests of the close connection Mother Teresa had to Minnesota.

Mother Teresa’s home away from home

Patti Kump learned about Mother Teresa late one night while reading a missionary magazine and taking care of one of her infant children at the time.

She decided to write to Mother Teresa, who had yet to become known worldwide. A lifelong friendship developed. The Kumps soon witnessed Mother Teresa in the ordinariness of daily American life during her visits.

“She really lived the life of our household,” said Theresa (Kump) Leghorn, a daughter of Warren and Patti’s. “She had meals with us, she liked to chat with us and she loved to talk to us children and to interact with us.”

Mother Teresa did so while using that time as a spiritual retreat from her apostolate of serving the poorest of the poor. Leghorn recalled her parents asking the children to let Mother Teresa have space and quiet, which didn’t always work as the couple had planned.

One day, Patti Kump heard noise in one of her children’s rooms during Mother Teresa’s prayer time. Kump went upstairs to find out the cause and found her son playing with Match Box cars with Mother Teresa.

“They were driving the Match Box cars around in these grooves [in the carpet] and making car noises like you do when you’re a little kid,” Leghorn said. “My mom said, ‘oh Mother, I’m so sorry I didn’t want the kids to disturb you.'”

“‘And she [Mother Teresa] said, ‘no, no, that’s alright; I was meditating on the Christ child, and he came to visit me,'” Leghorn added.

Mother Teresa last visited the Kumps in 1986, but Patti visited Mother Teresa, too, and remained in regular contact. Mother Teresa even invited Patti to join her for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She had to decline because of family obligations.

The Kump family contributed much for aiding Mother Teresa’s mission. Patti helped found the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa in the U.S., who participate in the Missionary of Charity’s work through lay outreach to the poor.

“It wasn’t a fundraising group, it was more of sharing of the work and a showing of the love of Christ with others through their work,” Leghorn said.

Both Warren and Patti attended Mother Teresa’s beatification in 2003, which they contributed information to for the cause. The couple also brought up the unconsecrated hosts to St. John Paul II during Mother Teresa’s beatification Mass.

“That was one of the big moments of their lives,” Leghorn said. “They were so thrilled to be able to be there and be part of it.”

Visits with the Visitation Sisters

Mother Teresa also stayed with the Visitation Sisters in Mendota Heights, a connection that came about through the Kumps.

Patti and Warren had a daughter, Sister Marie Jaqueline, who served with the sisters at that time. The Visitation sisters remember well Mother Teresa’s visits.

“She was very, very gentle,” Sister Mary Denise Villaume said. “She was very kind to us. We were very privileged to have her stay here.”

Mother Teresa normally went there during her more public visits during the 1970s and 1980s. She again participated in their community life fully and even visited a dying sister.

“Mother Teresa whispered in her ear, ‘please remember my poor when you are in Heaven,’” Sister Mary Frances Reis said.

Sister Mary Paula McCarthy wrote a book about Mother Teresa, which included documentation of the saint’s visits to the community. Sister McCarthy also recalls Mother Teresa’s living of religious life being a moving witness for her though the two orders have distinct missions.

“I think I understand my own call better for seeing the difference,” Sister McCarthy said.

Visitation School seniors to this day get to see the room where Mother Teresa stayed in the retreat wing.

A visit to St. Olaf

Mother Teresa could draw a crowd before her fame had gone worldwide.

She spoke at St. Olaf on June 22, 1974, to a crowd at first anticipated as a small group in a side chapel. The attendance ballooned so much that the talk moved to the church’s sanctuary for a capacity crowd.

Mary Beth Liekhus, who attended the talk, recalled the saint’s actions and words toward a woman with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair as standing out the most. Mother Teresa fielded the woman’s question about how she could help with the mission.

“Mother Teresa responded gently, ‘my dear you are doing more for me than anyone else could ever do,'” Liekhus read from the St. Olaf 50th anniversary book, “In the Heart of the City: The Story of St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis.

Find Kolkata nearby

Dominican Father Joe Gillespie of St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis had something to ponder after his 35-minute meeting with Mother Teresa in 1994.  Mother Teresa had one last thing to tell him before he left the Kolkata convent.

“She said, ‘wherever you go, you must find your own Kolkata,’” Father Gillespie said.

Since his visit, Father Gillespie says he actively looks for those opportunities.

Father Thomas Joseph of St. Nicholas in Carver, who worked with Mother Teresa during 1996-1997 when he discerned the priesthood, noticed the great attention she gave to each person.

“She made you feel like the most important person in the world,” Father Joseph said.

Father Anthony Andrade of St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park volunteer with Mother Teresa during his seminary days. Father Andrade, similar to Father Joseph, saw firsthand Mother Teresa’s love for others.

“She’s in the midst of the people all the time, not sitting in a big office or anything,” Father Andrade said.

Her work began on her knees

Archbishop Emeritus Flynn met Mother Teresa for the first time in the 1970s during the saint’s visit to Washington D.C. As the rector at nearby Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Archbishop Emeritus Flynn invited her to speak to his 192 seminarians about poverty.

“Her message was very, very simple,” Archbishop Emeritus Flynn said. “She said, ‘the more you see Christ in the Eucharist, the more you will see Christ in the poor.'”

Though Archbishop Bernard Hebda met Mother Teresa once, he said he learned more of her from stories by the Missionaries of Charity he worked with from 1997-2009.

“Especially in my last years in Rome, I had the great opportunity to work with two sisters who had spent many decades with her, were very close to her, Sister Joseph Michael and Sister Gertrude,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Listening to their stories was really a wonderful way of gaining greater insight into Mother.”

Sister Mary Gertrude became one of Mother Teresa’s first sisters and provided medical care for the saint late in her life. Sister Joseph Michael served as a secretary to Mother Teresa.

“They really gave me great insight into how deeply, how much she would pray, but also that she was a great [spiritual] reader,” Archbishop Hebda said.

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