SHE WAS JUST A PENCIL IN THE HANDS OF GOD
Sr Rosario O'Reilly, B.V.M.
It is my privilege to have known Mother Teresa personally since 1947. In that year I worked with her for six months in the Bengali High School where she was Mistress of Schools. It was my first assignment in a Bengali Medium School and it was Mother Teresa who gave me my first lessons in Bengali. She was quite a challenging teacher. Her advice always was to learn 15 new words each day — putting these new words into sentences sometimes caused amusement!
She struck me as being a very zealous person, someone who would not spare herself in the cause of the poor. Although it was not according to our rule to visit families or the sick in hospitals in those days, Mother Teresa prepared her Catholic Action Group for the work. Each week they went, accompanied by Fr Henry, S.J. and these errands of mercy bore fruit in later years, when quite a few of these young girls joined the Missionaries of Charity.
In January, 1948, I was sent in charge of a Bengali Medium Primary School, a Day School about half an hour from our Loreto Convent at Entally. Each evening we met for tea about 4 p.m. and shared our experiences. What was my surprise, when one evening she broke the news that she was going out to work in the slums of Calcutta. She had all the necessary permissions from her Superiors and the Archbishop. God had given her a "Second Call" and she must answer it — to serve the poorest of the poor and live among them. She felt sure of her call, but where was it going to lead her?
With wonderful faith she set out on 18 August, 1948, for Patna Bihar, clad in a white sari with a blue border. She set off alone. Knowing her strength of character and strong purpose I felt that God, who had given the call, would give her the grace to carry it through.
She began training in dispensary work in Patna, with the American Medical Missionaries, and was a most assiduous student. She acquired all the knowledge she felt she needed, and in the middle of December she was back in Calcutta. She stayed with the Little Sisters of the Poor on Lower Circular Road, and each morning, Thursdays and Sundays excepted, she set out at 8 a.m. on her great mission to the poor. Her first field of apostolate was Motijil, a slum area, adjacent to Loreto Convent, Entally. Soon she had started a little school under a tree (the tree is gone, but the school still exists). That was nearly 50 years ago. Today this room is marked off as "Pobitro Stan", a holy place. There are numerous pictures of Mother Teresa from girlhood onwards, including those of awards received and of dignitaries met, in this room. (The honour of receiving awards meant little to
her, except that the proceeds would forward God's work of helping the poor). We were happy to give her a room in the school where I worked, so that she could carry on her dispensary work for the poor who flocked to her in large numbers. Some voluntary workers joined her, including a doctor, and medicines were donated in response to her earnest plea for the poor. Those were difficult days for her.
Right from the beginning, Mother saw the need of helping some families who did not have even one decent meal a day. She arranged to collect from better off families food they could spare at the end of each day, and so began the feeding programmes which help so many destitute families today.
On the feast of St Joseph, 1949, just three months after Mother had answered her "Great Call", the first postulant knocked at her door for admission. It was a great joy to Mother Teresa that somebody believed in her work and felt called to share in it. It seemed also an affirmation of God's approval. After this, other candidates came for admission, and within two years, when permission was received to start a novitiate, a group of girls was ready to begin their religious training.
It has been a happy privilege to have been close enough to Mother Teresa from 1947 to 1955, to see how the tiny seed sown in Motijil, just half a century ago, has grown into "Something Beautiful for God", — a world-wide Congregation of sisters and brothers, touching and transforming thousands of lives, bringing Christ's love and compassion to suffering humanity. Truly the Almighty has done great things through her. The work is his, as she herself so often said, and she was just a pencil in his hands.
Weekly Edition in English
15 October 1997, page 8
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