It was an October evening in the late 1980’s. Mother Angelica, Bill Steltemeier, Sr Margaret Mary, Sr Raphael and myself were standing in JFK Airport in New York, waiting to board a Pan Am flight to Rome. Seeing two Missionaries of Charity also waiting ahead of us, I pointed them out to Rev. Mother, “Oh, look Mother they’ll be on the same flight as us!” No sooner had I made the observation, then a PR person for Pan Am came up to Mother and said, “Aren’t you Mother Angelica?” As soon as she answered in the affirmative the woman said excitedly “Wonderful! We also have Mother Teresa on this flight, and we would like to upgrade you and your group to first class, as we have done with Mother. Mother doesn’t like it, but we don’t give her a choice.” The lady spoke with a smile that said we didn’t have a choice either.
Before anything else could be discussed we found ourselves being ushered onto a fairly empty aircraft, and there sitting near the entrance of the plane was Mother Teresa of Calcutta! She immediately got up and greeted Mother Angelica and the rest of us. I couldn’t believe that these two amazing women were together on the same flight, one who attended to the corporal works of mercy, and the other the spiritual works and…that I was on the flight with them! Needless to say, this was possibly the only journey in my life that I felt absolutely no fear of any mishap!
I assumed that after the introduction that would be pretty much that for the rest of the trip, with perhaps these two spiritual giants speaking alone to each other. Mother Angelica and Mother Teresa did sit together and speak for some time, but then, to my joy, in her kindness she sat with Sr Margaret Mary and myself and spoke to us. Her words, as always, were simple yet powerful, some things we had heard a hundred times before, but somehow, out of her lips, the words took on a new and greater meaning because of her great holiness. She took her time and spoke to each one of us with a thoughtful attentiveness that made one feel regarded and loved.
During the remainder of the trip as she sat with her sisters ( and a brother), one felt her immense prayerfulness of heart, it was a great sense of the cloister that she carried with her. It was clear how she managed to accomplish so much: by her constant attention to and deep union with her Lord. The Reverend Billy Graham once said of Mother Teresa, “When she walked into the room to greet me I felt that I was indeed meeting a saint.” He was of course right!
We arrived in Rome and said our good-byes. How grateful I was for the opportunity to have met this wonderful woman, a true daughter of the Church, who stopped at nothing to do God’s Will, bringing the light of Jesus to so many dark and hopeless places, just as He asked her, “Bring me into the dark holes of the poor. Come, carry me, I cannot go alone.
There is little doubt in my mind that she will be no less tireless in interceding in heaven for those who ask for her help than she was whilst on earth, for as she once said, “I’m not going to sleep in heaven, but I’m going to work harder in another form.” She is another member of that great crowd of witnesses whom St Paul speaks about in Hebrews 12, praying for us and urging us ever forward. We join the Church and the world in thanking God for the canonization of this great intercessor for us. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!