In his hands, the Rev. Thomas Joseph gently cradled a simple rosary, pausing to reflect on the woman who had given the beads to him, along with a lasting message.
It was 1996, in Calcutta, India. Holding his hands in hers, Mother Teresa asked Joseph to repeat, “I will, I want, with God’s blessing, to be holy.” Joseph now shares those words of wisdom with his congregation at St. Nicholas Church in Carver.
He plans to honor Mother Teresa during mass on Sunday. In Rome on Sunday, nearly 20 years after her death, Mother Teresa will be canonized, becoming an official saint of the Catholic Church.
Joseph, 44, was a volunteer for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity during the time she was called the “living saint.” He said he wanted to meet her and share her vision of charity.
She sent him to Tijuana, Mexico, to study for the priesthood. That led him eventually to his church on a hilltop overlooking the town of Carver, which has seen a steady growth of its Hispanic congregation.
“One of the greatest Christians, I met, in the 20th century,” he said. “There are all kinds of opinions of how to live your Christian life, who is right and who is wrong. I always look back to my personal inspiration, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”
When he first encountered Mother Teresa, Joseph had not even realized it. He jokingly said that he expected there to be trumpets or applause for the sister; instead she passed through the halls like every other nun.
She helped Joseph demystify his faith, he said.
“Mother Teresa was very clear that she was not a perfect person,” he said. “When Mother Teresa was mad, you could see her face turning red. She is a reminder that saints ... are ordinary people.”
Joseph said he is finishing up a book that will share how Mother Teresa influenced him, in hopes of continuing to keep her memory alive.
“For the rest of my life, I will never be tired of repeating the name, Mother Teresa,” he said. “In spirit, I am representing her.”
Outside the church doors, Joseph erected a stone in memory of unborn children with Mother Teresa’s image carved next to an image of a child. Joseph is working to have a prayer garden constructed on the church property. He asked for help from the community to fund the million dollar project. He said he learned the gift of begging from Mother Teresa.
He includes Mother Teresa’s words any chance he can.
“I always tell people among her many sayings, she always used to say let no one come to you, and go away not feeling better and happier,” he said.
Joseph is not Mother Teresa’s sole link to Minnesota. She visited multiple times from the 1960s to the ’80s, often stopping by the Visitation Monastery in Mendota Heights. The Visitation school is highlighting Mother Teresa’s memory throughout the school year. Each year the school selects a virtue for students to focus on.
“This year, we chose the virtue of living in the present moment, and it is inspired by Mother Teresa,” Anne Williams, director of Salesian studies at the Visitation school, said.
Mother Teresa’s own book stirred some controversy with her revelation that she had experienced doubt about her faith and a long period of hopelessness toward God.
“Mother Teresa, in her life, she went through so much darkness,” Joseph said. “She went through so many struggles, in modern day, we might even call it a depression. But that never gave her a justification to make people around her feel bad.”
Once his book is done, Joseph hopes to travel to Mother Teresa’s tomb to hold mass for her. For now, he will continue to spread her love with his parishioners.
“Not everyone is called to act like Mother Teresa,” he said. “It is to have her spirit. The spirit she has has power in every aspect of life.”