A Teenager, Mother Teresa and Cardinal Newman

Mother TeresaA Teenager, Mother Teresa and Cardinal Newman

I saw the saint (Mother Teresa) on three occasions. No, not Mother Teresa of Avila, but another giant like her. The encounters if one could call them such were very short and also very powerful.

The first occasion was when I was about to start sophomore year in high school in Philadelphia in 1976. The archdiocese celebrated a Eucharistic Congress attended by Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). Pope Paul VI was ill and unable to attend but he addressed the congregation via satellite. A papal legate represented him, and Card. Wojytla, later Pope John Paul II, also attended with other Polish bishops as well as Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

My sister, who volunteered at the diocesan youth department, helped to organize the meeting with youth. We had a Youth Mass at the Spectrum Sports Arena, and for some reason Mother Teresa washed the feet of a few youth – I was one of them. I don’t remember much, but I know now that a saint touched my feet. Here is the link to an excellent piece on that memorable Eucharistic Congress.

Earlier in the week Mother Teresa spoke of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and of the St. Francis Prayer Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Years later, as a college student, wandering through the streets of Rome, I turned a corner of a narrow street and was almost run over by a group of thirty or so people, and trailing them was a small nun. She passed very close to me, and she was looking with kind and penetrating eyes, as she did. We did not speak, but the chance encounter was another memorable moment in my life.

The third time I saw Mother Teresa was, shortly afterwards, at the Basilica of Santa Sabina (named after a noble woman and convert martyred in the year 125) on the Aventine Hill. The church was filled to the brim, mostly with youth, and the little nun came up the podium. For thirty or so minutes she spoke slowly and deliberately about Christian love – about love for those around us and for the poor, and how God provides when we give to those in need.

She lived a holy life and she is now a saint in heaven. Pope Francis will canonize her on Sunday, September 4, 2016. We too are called to live holy lives, weak and sinful as we are but trusting in God and striving to love more each day. Jesus wishes to shine in us and through us.

There is a prayer that sums up a lot of the spirit lived by Mother Teresa. She had her sisters pray it each day after Holy Communion. The prayer, addressed to Jesus, was originally written by Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890). An adapted version reads:

Dear Jesus

Help me to spread your fragrance wherever I go.

Flood my soul with your spirit and life.

Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly

that my life may only be a radiance of yours.

Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with

may feel your presence in my soul.


Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as you shine,

so to shine as to be a light to others.


The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine.

It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise you in the way which you love best,

by shining on those around me.

Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example,

by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do,

the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you. Amen.

(Adaptation from Mediations and Devotions)




6 Comment(s)
  • Barbara Wyman Posted September 4, 2016 10:15 am

    WOW!!!! This is an amazing story! Imagine, to have one’s feet washed by St. Mother Teresa! Little could anyone know that these chance encounters might nurture a young vocation, so we are doubly blessed. That prayer from Cardinal Newman is a very good one to pray daily for those of us who work in the public, among many people — people or students who always see and observe us, even if we don’t get a chance to speak to them personally about Jesus. Thank you for this moving post. Deo Gratias! Barb Wyman

  • Lisa Mladinich Posted September 6, 2016 7:12 am

    A beautiful prayer! Thank you, Father Juan! And what thrilling encounters with this wonderful saint. It struck me that, when she spoke publically, as you wrote, she spoke slowly and deliberately. She let God shine through, rather than using a lot of words or razzle-dazzle. A great lesson.

  • Cecilia T. Gadenz Posted September 7, 2016 7:30 pm

    What a unique experience you had with the newly declared Saint Teresa of Calcutta! A vocation to dedicate your life to the Lord and spread His message came indeed out of that encounter. You have a special Saint in Heaven interceding for you! I was familiar with the beautiful prayer to Jesus written by Blessed J.H. Newman, but your adapted version makes it easier to read and memorize. Thanks be to God!

    • Fr. Juan Velez Posted September 7, 2016 7:53 pm

      Yes, what a beautiful prayer, but I was not the one to make the adaptation.

  • Colleen France Posted September 10, 2016 8:57 am

    Thank you for this beautiful piece on St. Teresa of Calcutta. Having your feet washed by her…pure Providence! The prayer truly captures her mission and being…if we all could try to shine just a spec of His radiance…the world would be such a different place. Prayers for more heaven on earth!

  • ROSY COSTAS Posted September 12, 2016 8:22 pm

    Que maravillosas experiencias sus encuentros con Santa Teresa de Calcuta, Padre Juan! No hay duda de que han sido bendiciones especiales de Nuestro Senor para usted.

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