One of Father Brian Kolodiejchuk’s favourite memories of Mother Teresa is the time they ate burgers and fries outside of a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in San Diego, California, during a 1996 visit to the U.S.
It’s a simple memory of the “ordinary, motherly” woman that he knew for more than two decades.
Now known as St. Teresa of Calcutta, she founded the Missionaries of Charity and the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1950. Today they have more than 5,000 nuns and 35 priests worldwide.
“Some (saints) excel in some virtues. I would say first, Mother Teresa excelled in faith, and the other one is humility,” said Kolodiejchuk, a Missionaries of Charity Father and the postulator — or official promoter — for Mother Teresa’s cause for canonization in 2016.
Kolodiejchuk was on a week-long visit to Alberta, where he spoke at a retreat for priests of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton. He also visited parishes in Edmonton, Calgary, and St. Paul, sharing memories and stories of Mother Teresa’s life and her Christian witness.
“She’s not just admirable, she’s imitable,” said Kolodiejchuk, a Ukrainian Catholic priest born in Winnipeg.
“This emphasis (she had) on love, on service, on ordinary things, extraordinary love, those are all things we can apply. She used to say directly to her audiences, ‘You don’t have to go to Calcutta to find the poor.’ Mother can inspire them and they can in a difficult moment say ‘Oh, if Mother Teresa could do it, I can do it’. Or even better, (pray) ‘Mother Teresa, help me to do this!’”
She was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, in what is now North Macedonia, and joined the Sisters of Loreto at 18. After moving to India to learn Bengali, she taught there for almost 20 years, until she felt called to serve the poor in Calcutta in 1946.
Four years later, Mother Teresa received Vatican permission to create the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation devoted to caring for “the poorest of the poor.”
Kolodiejchuk shared many stories about Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta. A man once asked her if Jesus was like her, because of the love and care she gave to him. Another told her that while “he lived like an animal on the streets, he was now dying like an angel, loved and cared for,” Kolodiejchuk said.
Annette Valstar said hearing the stories of Mother Teresa’s love for others, and learning about the miracles attributed to her, strengthened own faith.
“I was quite interested in the miracles, so that was probably one of the things I will remember. And talking about her mercy and her love, and how love is action and sacrifice, I like that a lot,” Valstar said after Kolodiejchuk’s June 16th presentation at St. Theresa Parish in Edmonton.
Santo Chines, the youth minister at St. Theresa’s, added: “This was a saint for our days, and so you feel the action of God in our life even nowadays. For me, it’s good to hear and to feel that God is around us.”
Kolodiejchuk also talked about Mother Teresa’s “spiritual darkness,” which she chronicled in Come Be My Light, a collection of her private writings. While she first felt the love of Jesus when she started her work in Calcutta, Mother Teresa spent many years in a spiritual depression. She was worried that Jesus didn’t love her.
This “darkness” is misinterpreted as a lack of faith, Kolodiejchuk said. Instead, it was a time of strengthening her relationship with Jesus.
“For anyone — and for all of us — to reach real intimate union with Jesus involves purification. Mother Teresa went through this.”
While Kolodiejchuk was blessed to know Mother Teresa while she was alive, he began to know her more deeply while studying her life and the miracles attributed to her.
In 1998, on the one-year anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, a young Indian woman’s abdominal tumour was healed after a Missionaries of Charity sister placed a medal on her stomach. In 2008, a Brazilian man’s brain abscesses disappeared overnight while his wife prayed to St. Teresa.
Kolodiejchuk said his responsibility for Mother Teresa’s canonization was his greatest challenge and knowing that she’s now a saint made it all worthwhile.
“I used to say, ‘I have the Church history and the world looking over my shoulder,’ because if you made a big mistake, everyone would know,” he said. “I just thankfully had good help and just focused on one step at a time.”