Growing up near Mother Teresa: “To us, she was already a saint”

Hedley Morris and wife Teresa. (Photo by Agnieszka Ruck, BC Catholic - CCN)

By Agnieszka Ruck, B.C. Catholic

Canadian Catholic News

[Vancouver – CCN] – He was about 10 years old when he first met St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Hedley Morris grew up attending the first Sunday school opened by the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Back then, Mother Teresa was a common sight on the streets of his neighbourhood.

“When we were growing up, to us she was already a saint. She was doing such good work,” said Morris. “You could see the holiness and dedication. It was so obvious.”

He would often see the Missionaries of Charity, in their iconic white saris with blue stripes, reciting the Rosary as they walked down the street. Later, as he grew up, Morris would hear objections hurled at the work the sisters were doing and speak in their defence.

The Feast Day of St. Mother Teresa is marked on Sept. 5.

“Jesus and his followers had his detractors, and so did she,” he said. “My brother and I always said to her detractors: ‘Walk in her shoes for one month, in the humility of Calcutta, and then you will change your mind. After that month, stay back when a monsoon hits. And if you still have anything bad to say about her, then you are really hard-hearted.’”

He moved to Canada in 1981 and is now a member of St. Paul’s Parish in Richmond, BC, but he never let go of his admiration for the woman who changed his hometown and the world.

“She was a living example of God’s love. She was a conduit, and a very good one at that.”
Since their foundress was canonized three years ago, the Missionaries of Charity serving in Vancouver have made rare exceptions to their otherwise silent service among the poor. On one day a year they offer a banquet after Mass on or near her feast day Sept. 5.

Morris arrived for that special event this year with his wife, a woman not from Calcutta but with a strong devotion to the city’s famous saint.

“I pray to her every day,” said Teresa. She said she was given the name Theresa when she was baptized as an infant, but changed the spelling to Teresa some years ago. She carries a prayer card with an image of Mother Teresa everywhere she goes.

“She’s a really good example of charity and love, so I just pray to her so that I can be a little bit like her. Not all, but a little bit.”

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, who celebrated the Mass, said in his homily Mother Teresa showed the world that sainthood isn’t about doing extraordinary acts or elaborate gestures.

“Mother Teresa was able to do much good to those in greatest need, for she saw in every man and woman the face of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“She knew that we are all willing to love in the abstract – even the poor, sick, addicted, disabled – but we draw back in the concrete, before the flesh and blood people on the street, the sick in our communities, and the lonely in our families,” he said. Then, quoting her: “It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home.’”

He also described Mother Teresa as a “contemporary witness” to the dignity of human life. “We honour her memory when we accompany, respect, and console the suffering and dying among us.”

Local Missionaries of Charity singing at Mass. (Photo by Agnieszka Ruck, BC Catholic – CCN)

Honouring Mother Teresa, whether in life or after her canonization, has always been a joyful event for Sister Christena Angela Barwa, MC.

The Missionary of Charity said she always knew she wanted to become a sister, as four of her aunts were nuns. But it was during her high school years, after she read a book about Mother Teresa’s work, that she caught a six-hour bus to a mission run by the woman and announced she wanted to join.

The sisters kindly told her to go home and finish her high school studies before making such a big decision. She did just that.

As a novice, she was deeply moved by recollections led by Mother Teresa. “She used to tell: ‘Be only all for Jesus through Mary. Cling to Mary, she is your spiritual mother. She will guide you. She will lead you. She will direct you. Nothing to worry about. The first is to be faithful to your vocation.’ This most inspired me.”

When the sisters learned that Mother Teresa, who was often travelling, was coming to visit the convent, it became full of joy.

“When Mother was coming, everybody would know,” she said. “When Mother was coming, all the sisters, it didn’t matter what they were doing, they would leave all the work. The bell was ringing, and Mother was coming in. The big black board, they would draw a picture and flowers and a welcome. Mother, you could see how she enjoyed it. Everyone started singing and rejoicing.”

Mother Teresa visited the Archdiocese of Vancouver in 1988. She was canonized a saint of the Catholic Church in 2016.