The Mother House is our next stop and it is where Mother Teresa slept. Her tiny room is up a narrow stairway and has a bed and a small stack of cubicles used as mail slots for the other sisters. There is a small chapel in the center of the compound. Mother Teresa’s body is entombed here. Her monument is a simple, large stone slab covering her casket with the words, “Jesus, you know I love” in the center of the floor. There is an alter to Jesus in the front of the room. A small stream of people enters to pay tribute, to pray or to sing. There is a row of benches against the wall and some people are sitting; a few are writing in their journals or reading from their bibles.
There are other rooms on this first floor and a large area in the middle blocked off by curtains and marked “private” where the sisters bathe. Most of the bedrooms are upstairs around the perimeter and one can see the whole bottom level from upstairs. It is very open and lovely. There is a soft breeze blowing and some of the sisters are moving about. There is a woman from the village sitting on a bench outside one of the rooms with her son. She has a twisted hand which she is trying to hide. She must be waiting for one of the sisters.
We meet Sister Nirmala. She is the new Mother Superior, but she doesn’t want to be called Mother. The Sisters are only comfortable calling Mother Teresa, Mother. She is a quiet woman and she asks us about our family. She blesses us and gives us a charm and some literature about Mother Teresa. She turns to go about other tasks and we are taken to meet Sister Margaret Mary. We are in her open office that is in front of her little bedroom. Here we have the luxury of sitting under the only electric ceiling fan. We listen to her story.
When Mother Teresa came to Kolkata to start the Sisters of Charity she needed twelve women to devote themselves to the work in order to become an official order of the church. Margaret Mary was and is number 12. There are only four of the original twelve left. Sister Bernadette was number 7 and passed away just 2 days before our visit. Sister Margaret Mary was grieving her loss saying that they had been together for 51 years. She told us that Sister Bernadette had showered and looked lovely when she lay down and went to be with Jesus.
Margaret Mary was 17 when she left Bangladesh for Kolkata. She was studying to be a nun and had heard of the new order called to serve the poorest of the poor. Her heart was thrilled and she set out. The boat she was traveling on sank and she was rescued by fishermen. It took her 5 days to get to Kolkata. She survived off of watermelon, a fruit that she did not care for but was all they could get because it grew along the shore and supplied both water and food. Her father was working in Kolkata at the time and Mother Teresa asked him to come every Sunday to visit because she was certain that Margaret Mary would not be able to survive and would have to be taken home. She told us of a time when she was so tired that her legs would not move. Mother put her arms around her and asked her if she could just take one small step with Jesus. She did. Then Mother said, ” how about one more step with Jesus”. In this way, they both walked the distance to their rooms.
We could hear singing in the chapel as we looked back one last time before we stepped outside and got into a waiting car. I looked at the literature that Sister Nirmala gave to us. There was a card signed by Mother Teresa that said.
The fruit of SILENCE is Prayer
The fruit of PRAYER is Faith
The fruit of FAITH is Love
The fruit of LOVE is Service
The fruit of SERVICE is Peace
(artists rendering of Dove)