Mother Teresa influenced countless believers while she was alive. One such person was Father Patrick McCloughlin. He describes the powerful impact she had on those who met her: "It was like meeting Christ. You wanted to fall to your knees and adore her." He should know: this soon-to-be-saint changed his life.
As a young man living in London, Patrick saw Mother Teresa on television. He was so moved by her simple message of compassion and hope for the downtrodden that he gave up his comfortable life-style to follow her.
Patrick McLoughlin was born in Northern Ireland. He had graduated from the College of Business Studies at Queen's University in Belfast and was enjoying the life of a single professional when he first saw her. "Instead of talking about helping people," he says, "she did something."
Wearing his pinstriped suit and tie, Patrick ventured into the inner city of London to visit one of Mother's group homes for the "down-and-outs." His friends thought he was crazy. Patrick made it as far as the street where the home was located. Overwhelmed by people who are often perceived as bums and derelicts, he recalls going back home, where he had a "hot bath and a couple of gins."
A Powerful Presence
The desire to help grew stronger. Two months later Patrick returned to the same street. He knocked on the door of one of the group homes, clutching all his worldly possessions in two plastic bags—he had given away everything else that he had. This time he stayed.
"Don't think of me as St. Francis," he states emphatically. "It was something I had to do!"
Three weeks later, he regretted having given away his brand-new stereo. For two and a half years, he worked as a volunteer with men who were in the advanced stages of alcoholism. He washed them and says he helped them "sift through the bureaucracy and make sense of their lives."
During that time, Mother Teresa came to visit three or four times. What impressed Patrick most was the way she treated people: "She was the same with the drunk on the side of the road or with the cardinal. She had a way of looking at you with such intensity that you felt you were the only person in the room."
But she set stringent guidelines for her programs. The men could stay only until they got back on their feet, then they had to leave. One day, Patrick and some colleagues approached Mother Teresa about providing counseling for the men. She was adamant: "If you want to counsel, there are other programs you can choose."
The Great Work Begins
Patrick says he decided go to Calcutta "to see where Mother Teresa's work began." Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. "People have a romanticized view of this woman and her work in Calcutta." But, he explains, "Calcutta is a hellhole. Children are born, live and die on the streets. During the monsoon, raw sewage flows through the streets up to your knees."
Patrick describes living in a house with the Brothers of Charity: "We slept on the floor surrounded by cockroaches. The toilet was a hole in the ground. Showers were nonexistent. We washed from a single faucet and were drenched immediately from the heat and the humidity. The stench from the sewage was ever present."
Patrick spent a year in Calcutta. For a time, he worked with people who had Hansen's disease. He says, "Patients lined up by the thousands. We'd dole out bowls of rice while nurses pricked each person with needles. We did it day in and day out."
In the midst of the stench and the degradation, Patrick witnessed cases of quiet dignity. For several days, he noticed one woman who quietly took her bowl of rice and disappeared around the corner. One day, he followed her. She walked behind the railway shed to a large concrete sewer pipe where many families lived. There Patrick saw a mother and two children who were dying. The woman he followed was sharing her meager meal with them.
He also worked at Kalighat, a hospice for the untouchables—the poorest of the poor. Although both men and women were housed there, she made it very clear that the sexes must be segregated. The sisters worked only with female patients, the brothers with the men. There Patrick ministered to the dying men and their physical needs. Although he couldn't speak their language, he communicated through his eyes and hands. "All their lives, these men were outcasts, shunned by their own people. To be touched by white Europeans was unheard-of. They had a sense of awesome thanks and gratitude."
It was during one of his last visits with Mother Teresa that his life would be forever changed. She asked if he had thought about becoming a priest.
"Since she thought I could," Father Patrick recalled, "I decided to think about it." Twelve years later, he was ordained a diocesan priest in London.
When he was in Calcutta at the ordination of a priest, Father Patrick said of Mother Teresa, "She is living in Christ's consciousness. She has long ago died to the ego and lives solely for her people." As dignitaries were being seated in the cathedral, she appeared with people from the streets who were blind, disabled and ill. She ushered them to the best seats in the front. Patrick found himself seated next to a man in the advanced stages of Hansen's disease.
"This gesture shouldn't have been surprising," the priest notes. "After all, these people were her friends. Her life was spent in service to them. When she looked at them, she saw Christ in each of their faces." He had no doubt that she would be canonized.
Although Father Patrick's journey has taken him far from her community in Calcutta, he has devoted his priestly ministry to living out her ideals. Following his ordination, he was pastor at an inner-city parish in London's East End for six years. During that time, he celebrated the Eucharist with the Missionaries of Charity there.
Then he ministered for five years in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, serving at St. Joseph-Southgate in Colorado Springs and conducting retreats.
Father Patrick has recently come full circle, returning to London for a year-long sabbatical. He dreams of returning to Northern Ireland to bring the true gospel message of love and compassion to his people.
Maria Faulconer is a freelance writer who loves to read and travel. Previous careers of this Colorado Springs resident include teaching high school English.