September 16, 2016

St. Teresa of Calcutta’s witness, life of faith inspire readers

(Editor’s note: In celebration of Mother Teresa’s canonization on Sept. 4, The Criterion is sharing stories from people who have met her and/or been inspired by her to serve people in need.)

By John Shaughnessy

Having lost five babies during different stages of being pregnant, Carol Heckman turned for help to a woman who had known darkness and suffering in her own life.

“I spent a lot of time praying to Mother Teresa to intercede for me and ask our Lord to provide for the safe delivery of my daughter,” recalls Heckman, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

Her prayers were answered on Feb. 3, 1998, when she gave birth to a girl—a child she named Teresa.

“Ever since, I have been praying to Mother Teresa for the health and safety of my Teresa, of her siblings, Anna and John, and of all God’s children.”

Now the mother of three college students, Heckman watched the television coverage of Mother Teresa’s canonization with great joy.

“I thought back to the times and the ways that she influenced me, and the way I try to live my life. I was impressed enough by one famous quote attributed to her that I began my dear father’s eulogy with it: ‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’

“There is little doubt that she lived those words every day of her adult life, as did my beloved father. Although I fail often, I strive to follow their example.”

‘She became my role model’

During her 17 years as a public health nurse for the Marion County Health Department, Cecelia Kiley gained inspiration from a picture of Mother Teresa that she had pinned to the wall of her cubicle office.

“Although I had never met Mother, her fame as a servant to the poor captured my attention,” recalls Kiley, a member of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“I wanted to emulate this angel of mercy as a public health nurse. Out in the community, I saw poverty at its worst. In many cases, it was even dangerous to enter a home. It was at these times that Mother Teresa inspired me to see Christ in those I was serving.

“Today, I feel honored and blessed that my special role model was recently canonized a saint.”

‘If you love her, let her go’

Cathy Sullivan’s surprising journey to entering the Catholic Church began in 1997 after she read the book, Mother Teresa: A Simple Path.

In fact, the then-member of the Methodist Church was so drawn to the story of Mother Teresa’s “love of God and acceptance of all people” that she read the book six times in a row.

The book also led the Batesville resident to an interest in learning more about the Franciscan sisters, who lived in the nearby community of Oldenburg. Her interest in the Catholic faith grew even stronger when she taught physical education classes at St. Louis School in Batesville. Attending school Masses with the children led her to want more.

“I attended 6:30 a.m. Mass alone, sat in the back pew, and didn’t tell my husband at first because I didn’t think he would understand,” Sullivan recalls. “After attending Mass and crossing my arms for the blessing for six years, I couldn’t take not receiving holy Communion any longer.

“I wanted to have Communion every day, and I wanted to attend Mass every day, and the Catholic Church had what I wanted. And Mother Teresa and the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg influenced me by their lifestyle.”

Yet, she also didn’t want to go against her husband, Tom, who didn’t yet share her call to the Catholic Church.

Then came the influence of Father Daniel Mahan, who became the pastor of St. Louis Parish in 2002.

“I invited Father Mahan to our home after Mass, and he talked with Tom and me about my calling,” she says. “He told Tom that it would be a huge sacrifice when the Lord was calling me to the Catholic faith for me not to be able to enter. After my husband had a sleepless night, the next morning he said the Lord spoke to his heart and said, ‘If you love her, let her go.’ So two weeks later, I was set to enter the Church on Aug. 10, 2002.”

During those two weeks, Tom scheduled a meeting with Father Mahan at the rectory.

“Tom told Father Mahan that he could not handle us worshipping in separate churches,” she says. “He asked Father Mahan to allow him to surprise me and enter the Church with me.

“Long story short, Tom surprised me, and we took the vows on that morning. Afterward, I was fixed on the eyes of my husband for two weeks in awe of what he did for us. He attended RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] in the fall, and I had been given instruction from the Sisters of St. Francis for six years.”

The journey of their Catholic faith continues. So does her appreciation of the woman who set her on this faith journey.

“St. Teresa of Calcutta has my allegiance. I hope to meet her face to face in eternity one day. Blessings to her powerful witness.” †

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