CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN

Members of Mother Teresa’s 
Missionaries of Charity, 
including Sister Tanya at right and Sister Lizen at left visit with residents at the order’s Gift of Peace home in  Washington. 
St. Teresa of Calcutta, who founded the home in 1986, was canonized on Sept. 4.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Members of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, including Sister Tanya at right and Sister Lizen at left visit with residents at the order’s Gift of Peace home in Washington. St. Teresa of Calcutta, who founded the home in 1986, was canonized on Sept. 4.
On the night before Mother Teresa was canonized, six of her Missionaries of Charity and three volunteers headed out on their usual Saturday evening run to serve the homeless on the streets of Washington, D.C. Since other groups often provide food to the street people, the sisters usually pray and talk with the homeless women and men they meet, as a simple gesture of love, friendship and faith to those whom society often seems to regard as invisible.

But on this night, to celebrate Pope Francis’s impending  declaration of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s sainthood on Sept. 4, the sisters and their helpers distributed McDonald’s meals of hamburgers, French fries and Cokes to 60 homeless people. One man saw them and said happily, “Mother Teresa!” and they explained they were her sisters.

“For me, it’s just seeing Jesus in the poorest of the poor, seeing them face to face,” said Sister Tanya, the superior of the Gift of Peace home operated by the Missionaries of Charity in Northeast Washington, who described the special blessing of bringing Christ’s love to the homeless in the nation’s capital.
One homeless man was in a wheelchair and had a chess board on his lap, and Sister Tanya and the other sisters challenged him to a game of chess, and she said he laughed heartily at the bad moves they made in the game.

For the poor served by the Missionaries of Charity in Washington, Mother Teresa’s presence continues in the outreach of the sisters and their volunteers. In addition to staffing the Gift of Peace home, the sisters operate a soup kitchen at the Queen of Peace home in Southeast Washington, where they also have a convent for contemplative nuns.

Four days before St. Teresa of Calcutta’s canonization, a group of residents at the Gift of Peace home sat on the porch after lunch, enjoying a mild late summer day. The 51 women and men there, like the 32 Missionaries of Charity who serve them, come from varied countries and backgrounds and form a community, a home. Mother Teresa opened the Gift of Peace home 30 years ago primarily as a hospice for people dying of AIDS, but now it serves the poor, elderly and homeless, along with some people with AIDS and other terminal illnesses.

Tebo Aloysius, a 69-year-old native of Cameroon who  taught English literature in college and worked in international development, praised the Missionaries of Charity for continuing Mother Teresa’s work there and around the world. “For her to be canonized Sunday is a source of pride for us living in this place,” he said. “… It’s as if I know her. She lived a life that we should copy.”

Another resident, Joseph Sam, 57, is Baptist and from Ghana and formerly worked as a security systems analyst at the World Bank. Now he has diabetes and other health challenges, and he has found a home and friends at Gift of Peace. Since moving there, Sam has read books about Mother Teresa. He said no other organization comes close to serving the poor the way that her Missionaries of Charity do, and he believes her canonization is long overdue. “She’s touched millions all over the world,” he said, noting how St. Teresa and her sisters are a living example of Christ’s words in Matthew 25. “The Bible says, I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me water…”

Nearby, Gift of Peace resident Celso Parasa, who is from El Salvador, had a simple explanation for Mother Teresa’s life.  “She loved Jesus Christ, that’s what happened,” he said.

Alwyn D’Souza, who worked as a machinist in India, smiled when asked what it meant to see someone from his country   declared a saint. “It’s big, big for all of us here,” he said.

Frank Corbett, a Washingtonian who worked in sanitation, said he appreciated the joyful and prayerful spirit of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. “They pray for you, and you pray for them,” said Corbett, who is Baptist.

The sisters’ prayerful spirit and their loving care of the poor is also appreciated by Roy Dixon, a 63-year-old native of Nigeria and former restaurant worker now living at Gift of Peace. “They help everybody. They’re gentle and kind,” he said. Like several of the other men, he said Mother Teresa’s canonization was a cause for celebration at the home. “It’s good news. She’ll be able to pray for us in heaven,” he said.

On the day of the canonization, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville celebrated a Mass at a tent set up outside the Gift of Peace home that was attended by 300 people. A banner celebrating her canonization hung outside the house, along with flags from Albania – St. Teresa’s home country – and India – where she established her religious community in 1950 and began serving the poor and dying in Calcutta.

Early the next morning on the first feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta – on Sept. 5, the 19th anniversary of her death – Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout celebrated a Mass for the sisters, residents and volunteers at the Gift of Peace chapel, and afterward, the sisters lined the downstairs hallway and serenaded him with a song about St. Teresa of Calcutta. At the Mass, he had encouraged those who continue the new saint’s work to “bring that mercy and love of God to others in simple and great ways, in all that we say and do… (and) to have our eyes focused on Jesus, and to see Jesus in those we encounter, especially the poorest of the poor.”

Before St. Teresa was canonized, some of the Missionaries of Charity serving at the Gift of Peace home reflected on the legacy of their spiritual mother, Mother Teresa. Sister Tanya, who worked with St. Teresa, said she loved the poor and her sisters with a mother’s love and a motherly heart, showing people how to be pure and holy, and how “to see the person of Jesus in each other, and to love each other as God loves us.”

St. Teresa’s legacy continues through “our prayer and our humble works of love,” said Sister Josefa, who is from the San Francisco area.

Sister Mareja, who is from Connecticut, was a teen-ager visiting the Missionaries of Charity’s house in Rome when she met the future saint. “I could feel the presence of God that radiated from her. That touched me profoundly in my heart. That was the beginning of my vocation,” she said.

A former resident of Arizona, Sister Bethel is preparing to take her final vows as a contemplative member of the Missionaries of Charity. Like the residents of the Gift of Peace home, she said that St. Teresa of Calcutta will be an advocate for them in heaven. “She’ll be interceding powerfully for us. There will be such an ocean of grace for our sisters, for our poor people, for our Church, and for our world,” she said, adding that now praying for St. Teresa’s intercession will be a matter of “Ask Mother!”

She said that the Gift of Peace home was appropriately named, because Jesus restores peace to the hearts and souls of the residents. The sisters join the residents for daily Mass and Bible study in the morning, and then for Adoration and praying the rosary together in the afternoon. “There’s a beautiful family spirit,” she said.

The sisters and volunteers from the Gift of Peace described how Mother Teresa had a presence, and a spirit   of authenticity, that moved people. Washington attorney Shep Abell, who has volunteered there for nearly three decades, remembered how he encouraged the noted lawyer and fellow member of the Order of Malta, Edward Bennett Williams, to come with him to Southeast Washington and meet Mother Teresa. “She’s a living saint!” he told Williams, who responded, “I know, they’re the worst kind!”

But Abell said when Williams met the diminutive nun, he immediately offered to help her and her sisters however he could. “I think he’s the greatest trial lawyer of my generation, and he melted like a snowball!” Abell said, smiling.

When Mother Teresa’s sisters began serving the poor in Southeast Washington in 1981, Margaret Trone joined a group of parish volunteers to help the sisters at their soup kitchen “and learn their ways.” When the Gift of Peace home opened in 1986, she helped clean windows, mop floors and visit with residents. “I got to know them and love them,” she said.

Inspired by the future saint’s example, Trone joined the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. “We wanted to be like her, to try to be holy. That’s what we’re all called to do,” said Trone, a member of St. Jane de Chantal Parish in Bethesda who was interviewed just before she headed  to Rome to attend Mother Teresa’s canonization.

She too remembered St. Teresa’s presence, her prayerfulness and determination to get things done when it came to serving the poor and forgotten. Trone recalled witnessing Mother Teresa stopping to pray a novena of Memorares after an airline refused to let her check 27 boxes that were earmarked for orphans in Romania. After the prayers were said, the airline officials relented, and the boxes were on their way.

“I knew Mother was a saint from the minute I met her,” said Susan Feeley, a volunteer at the Gift of Peace home who is a parishioner of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington. Feeley, who formerly taught English at Fordham University in New York, met Mother Teresa in that city, and the future saint asked her to teach English to the sisters, who came from many countries.

Over the years, Feeley has taught various courses to the Missionaries of Charity, and since moving to the Washington area two decades ago, she has volunteered at the Gift of Peace home, where her duties have included cleaning bathrooms, but more importantly, visiting with the people who call that place home. “You sit and talk with residents. Mother taught us to take them seriously, to know God is in them. You have to be busy with the work of God,” Feeley said.

All of the convents and homes of the Missionaries of Charity are touchstones, to Mother Teresa and to Christ, she said. “Love happens inside these walls, real love.”

Greg Zingler, a New Jersey native who has been a live-in volunteer at the Gift of Peace home for the past six years, said, “When you’ve lived with the sisters, you’ve lived with Mother.” He said the atmosphere there reflects St. Teresa, including her famous saying, “Do small things with great love.”

The volunteers said Mother Teresa’s work can be carried out by Catholics in their everyday lives. The first time Abell met her, he said she told him “she thought there was greater poverty in the wealthier countries of the world, but it was a spiritual poverty and loneliness – a lack of love.”

Before attending the canonization ceremony for the saint she once knew, Trone added, “Mother said you don’t have to go to Calcutta. Look around with your family, your neighbors, the people in your workplace. You can share that cheerfulness and joy and love for each other.”