Mother Teresa’s presence is felt again in Massachusetts

Iconic nun’s relics viewed in Dorchester

By Marissa Lang
Globe Correspondent / June 19, 2010

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Peggy Randall can still remember seeing her.

Stooped and wrinkled, Mother Teresa emerged from a New Bedford convent on a Wednesday afternoon in 1995 to greet countless people who had gathered to catch a glimpse of the iconic nun. Randall was among them.

“To see that little tiny person come out and greet so many people was unbelievable,’’ said Randall, a Brookline resident. “She had an aura, a light about her. When you were in her presence you just had the sense . . . that everything can and will someday be OK.’’

Yesterday, while viewing Mother Teresa’s relics on display at the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish on Columbia Road in Dorchester, Randall said, she felt Mother Teresa’s presence again.

“There’s this closeness you can feel just being there with her possessions,’’ said Randall, who visited the church with her daughter, Leslie, 45, and aunt, Pat Noan, 87. “This peaceful, calming feeling just took over.’’

Dozens of people visited the church yesterday to pray and venerate Mother Teresa and the items on display: a drop of her blood, a lock of her hair, her worn and tattered sandals, her rosary, and a crucifix she wore until her death.

Yesterday marked the third stop on the relics’ tour of dioceses where the Missionary Sisters of Charity, a religious order founded by Mother Teresa, are active. Today, the relics will be displayed at St. Lawrence Martyr Church in New Bedford, immediately following the 7 a.m. Mass until 3 p.m. After that, said Sister Mary Ajay, they go on to New Jersey.

The items are touring the world in anticipation of the centennial anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth, which will occur on Aug, 26.

In the morning, the church was quiet except for the occasional click of a camera. Most people bypassed the pews next to the relics, opting instead to gather around the objects, taking photographs, and reading the descriptions. As the day went on, more people began to fill the pews in the church. Many knelt and prayed with their rosaries in hand. Some wiped away tears as they touched and kissed the relics.

“I didn’t expect it, but when I got closer, my eyes welled up with tears; I felt her presence,’’ said Joumana Cafferty, 53.

Some said the experience helped them rethink their values.

“It made me realize now that the things I thought were important — a new car or other material things — aren’t really important at all,’’ said Jim Flahive, 68, of Brighton. “So many people don’t even want to look at another person any more, and Mother Teresa’s message was always to love one another and help one another. That’s what matters.’’

Mother Teresa, who lived from 1910 to 1997, was an Albanian nun famous for working with poor and sick people in the slums of Calcutta. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2003, and is now a candidate for canonization (the process through which the Catholic Church recognizes sainthood).

Although the turnout was a fraction of the thousands that came out when the nun was in Dorchester 15 years ago, Ajay said more people showed up than she anticipated.

Ajay and the other sisters handed out information leaflets about Mother Teresa’s message, and silver medals with her image and the words “Pray for us’’ inscribed on them to all who approached the relics.

Schoolchildren from Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy next door stopped in to view Mother Teresa’s objects during the day. Some of the children, who ranged in age from 7 to 14, said that they know of the nun only from school and that seeing her modest belongings brought her to life.

“I’ve always heard a lot of amazing things about her,’’ said Aolani Perilla, 14, an eighth-grader who lives in Harbor Point. “Those shoes she wore while she did God’s work, they really make you appreciate who she was.’’

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