By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
The world-renowned woman being canonized this weekend once thanked Bishop McManus – when he tried to thank her.
And Bishop Reilly recalled being silent with her – and hearing of a time when she wouldn’t stop talking.
The bishops shared memories of their own and other bishops’ encounters with Blessed Teresa of Kolkata as her Sept. 4 canonization approached.
In the 1980s, Bishop McManus said, he was studying for his doctorate in Rome and living at the North American College’s Casa Santa Maria. He and other clergy there celebrated Masses for Mother Teresa’s sisters and novices in the area.
On Nov. 1, 1985, some novices were making their first profession before embarking for Cuba, the bishop said. He said communist President Fidel Castro had been saying he wanted Mother Teresa’s sisters to serve there, but would not allow priests to enter the country. Mother Teresa said, “No priests, no nuns.”
Finally arrangements had been made for sisters to go to Cuba. Mother Teresa came to Rome for their profession and to accompany them. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, celebrated Mass for their profession. Bishop McManus was one of those who joined him.
“I was having my picture taken with Mother Teresa,” the bishop recalled. At that moment, the cardinal came in, and the nuns looked in his direction instead of at the camera!
Bishop McManus said he thanked Mother Teresa for the privilege of celebrating Mass for her sisters. He said she put “the first finger of her right hand right in front of my face.” She said: “No. Thank you. If they did not receive Jesus every day they could not do the work that they do.” (The nuns received Jesus in the Eucharist because the clergy celebrated Mass for them.)
Asked what that encounter was like for him, Bishop McManus noted that Mother Teresa’s reputation was international. He said he left thinking, “I’ve just been in the presence of a saint.” It was very humbling and inspiring, he said.
Bishop McManus also recalled an encounter Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of Providence, with whom he served as auxiliary bishop, had with Mother Teresa. He said Bishop Mulvee asked her if she had any advice for him as a bishop.
“Mother Teresa said with a little smile, ‘Don’t get in God’s way,’” Bishop McManus said, adding, “It’s good advice for any bishop or priest.”
Bishop Reilly’s personal recollection of Mother Teresa wasn’t of what she said, but of her silence.
“I met her in New York,” he said. She was speaking for a dinner for highly respected people, though she wasn’t going to eat there herself. She was given a large sum of money, a certain amount for each person there, he said, adding, “That was very impressive to me.”
He said he was in the car someone else drove to transport her, and she was very quiet. So he didn’t say much either. She wasn’t the type of person to just have a conversation with, he said; one was just taken up with her presence.
A conversation between her and the pope made other people nervous, however, Bishop Reilly said, recalling fragments of a story another bishop told him.
That bishop was asked to referee when Mother Teresa was hospitalized in his diocese. The pope was expected to call her, but she was in no condition for a long telephone conversation!
“He was nervous as anything,” Bishop Reilly said of the other bishop. “As soon as the phone rang she pulled that thing (her breathing apparatus) off.”
After she talked with the pope a bit, the doctors urged the bishop to take the phone from her. She took it back. The bishop had to get on the phone and essentially tell the pope to hang up, because Mother Teresa couldn’t talk too long!