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Jesuit influence on Mother Teresa

The association of the Jesuits with Mother Teresa goes back to the days when Mother was a member of the Institution of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), a religious congregation for women founded after the pattern of the Society of Jesus. The then Superior General of the Jesuits Fr. E. Mercurian, helped in defining the institute's spirituality. He gave them the unrestricted use of the Ignatian Constitutions with permission to change the textual wording from 'he' to 'she'. By virtue of her having been a Loreto nun, the Constitutions of St. Ignatius and his spiritual exercises have had great influence on Mother's spirituality and life.

Mother Teresa had habitually preferred Jesuits as retreat preachers, spiritual directors and confessors for herself and her Sisters. Many Jesuits of Calcutta Province were in close contact with Mother Teresa. They include Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, Cardinal Trevor L. Picachy, Frs. C. Van Exem, Julian Henry, Joseph Sanders, Edouard Le Joly, Camille Bouche, Anton Gabric, Jose Cukale, Josef Neuner, Shukaley, Lawrence Abello, Carl Dincher, Harden, Albert Huart, Moyeson, Jambrekovic, McGuiire, and Travers-Ball. Most of these Jesuits were Belgians who had made, like Mother Teresa, Kolkata their home.

Fr. Celest Van Exem was the earliest main adviser and supporter to Mother Teresa and for the foundations of the Missionaries of Charity, right from her days as Loreto Sister. He was the spiritual director to whom Mother Teresa confided her inspiration and who first sought to discern the authenticity of her experiences. He was the first to support Mother in requesting Archbishop Perier to begin the process for her to leave the Loreto Congregation. He made major contributions to the writing of the Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity. From the time of the foundation of the Congregation until his illness in the 1980s, he was a confessor and instructor of the novices. A few days before his death, he wrote to Mother Teresa, herself critically ill, that he had offered his life to God in exchange for hers and for her mission to China (which did not materialize).

Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, Archbishop of Calcutta, who cautiously approved the foundation of Missionaries of Charity, was the immediate one to whom Mother Teresa had to apply to leave the Loreto Congregation. He was her confidant and spiritual guide, as well as her Superior until she became Superior General of the new Congregation. He was the only Bishop who knew Mother from the time she arrived in India in 1929. Mother had an extraordinary, childlike confidence in the Archbishop as the spokesperson of God's will. In turn, he guided her with a truly extraordinary wisdom and prudence.

Fr. Julian Henry was a spiritual friend and close cooperator of Mother already from her days as Loreto sister. In 1949, as parish priest of St. Teresa's Church, he was the first to help Mother Teresa in her new apostolate, offering her a place to pray, rest and to run a dispensary. Before Mother had Sisters as companions, Fr. Henry used to send girls to accompany her. The Sisters of the first group to join Mother Teresa are grateful to Fr. Henry for all that he did in the early days to assist their apostolate, including the teaching of slum children to do carpentry.

Fr. Edouard Le Joly, right from the beginning and for many years, was giving instructions to the M. C. Novices. He had frequent contacts and dialogues with Mother. He has written many books on Mother. His books have been translated into at least 25 languages. He has been associated with Mother for more than 25 years. He was spiritual adviser to the novices at Mother House and to the Sisters preparing for their final profession.

Cardinal Trevor L. Picachy was spiritual guide, confidant, confessor and retreat director to MC Sisters. He was one of the most influential of her spiritual directors, in whom she confided a great deal. He gave much support and cooperation when he was Archbishop of Calcutta. He helped her in times of depression and low spirituality.

Fr. Camille Bouche took over from Fr. Le Joly. Mother had tremendous trust in Fr. Bouche. She took him to address the young sisters. He was one of the confessors of the novices, homilist and a spiritual guide. Fr. Anton Gabric, a Yogoslavian Jesuit missionary in 24 parghanas, was parish priest at Basanti. He persuaded Mother to open centers in rural areas. The Yugoslavian Jesuits went back to their country and spoke about their experiences to the local youth. Mother was among one of those youth when she heard about Calcutta. He was a person whom Mother Teresa admired and whose ideals she shared, including zeal for souls, love for poor and a willingness to "love until it hurts". Like her, Fr. Gabric saw the immediate needs of the poor and sought to bring Christ to them through material, as well as spiritual service. Fr. Gabric's personal practice of poverty was probably very appealing to Mother and when she was still in Albania, Fr. Gabric’s letters about the Calcutta missions inspired her.

Fr. Jose Cukale was from the same cultural background as Mother. Initially she worked with him. He was a good friend. At Mother's request he went to Armenia for one year to be chaplain of Sisters there. Fr. Josef Neuner, wrote the first article on Mother in German. He was retreat director for the sisters. He helped Mother to integrate her interior experience of spiritual darkness and to see its value as the spiritual side of her work for the poorest of the poor. Fr. Travers-Ball, became in 1965, the co-founder and first Servant General of the Missionaries of Charity (Brothers). After leaving the Society of Jesus, he developed the Brothers as a Congregation and helped them to live Mother Teresa's charism with their own distinct identity. Fr. Joseph Sanders, a canonist, didn't have much personal contact with Mother, but was important adviser of Archbishop Perier in the matter of foundation and MC Constitution.

Fr. Carl Dincher was a retreat preacher and a consultant. Fr. Lawrence Abello was one of the spiritual guides and confessors, homilist and consultant. During the last 11 years of her life he answered some of her correspondence requiring philosophical or theological explanations and helped her to write some of her speeches, especially the one she delivered at the prayer breakfast in Washington D.C., for U.S. Government officials. This speech was translated into several languages and, for the first time, expressed, in Mother's simple but transparent style of speaking the reason why contraception is evil. Fr. Harden was retreat director, who at Mother Teresa's request wrote a 'home-study course' on the Catholic faith for the Missionaries of Charity. Fr. Albert Huart was retreat director, one of the confessors and spiritual guide. Fr. Moyeson was a confessor at Loreto when Mother Teresa was a Loreto Sister. Later he encouraged her especially in the apostolate for the poor. Fr. Jambrekovic was the Jesuit parish priest at skopje during Mother Teresa's childhood. He had a profound influence on her in her youth. As her spiritual Father, he fostered Mother Teresa's vocation. Fr. Mc Guiire was retreat director and spiritual guide for many Sisters.

Many more Jesuits had frequented friendly contacts with her, giving retreats and talks, being confessors in Mother house and rendering other services. e.g. Frs. Robert Antoine, Pierre Fallon, Bishop Linus Gomes, etc.

According to a senior Calcutta Jesuit, "Mother Teresa was a saint and mystic. She was one of the great prophets of the option for the poor in the Church and in the world. Though a very orthodox Catholic (in some aspects pre-Vatican II), she had deep and spiritual relations with non-Christians in India and abroad. Her approach to the poor - reaching the poorest of the poor was necessary but not the only one. How to reform the system for more justice was not clearly emphasized or explicitly encouraged by her. The formation she favored for the Sisters might have been rather hasty and narrow."

In the words of Fr. Gerard Beckers, S.J., "Mother Teresa gave importance to every individual she met. She would still be talking to a "pagol" (mad person) even if some VIPs were waiting to see her. She had tremendous respect for persons. She was very close to the youth. She didn't stress on changing the society, but believed in not allowing people to go hungry. She saw Christ in the "poorest of the poor". She was very allergic to electronic gazettes. They took a long time to install a mike in Mother House.

According to Fr. L. Abello, S.J. "Mother Teresa derived her spiritual strength from her deep prayer life expressed by her adoration of Christ in the Eucharist and by her great devotion to Mary. Mother Teresa had a great sensitivity for the most needy and could identify the most neglected and unloved in a crowd. She went out in service to everyone regardless of caste, creed, social condition or any other consideration. Although she had zeal for evangelization and wanted to share her faith, religion was never a pre-condition for rendering service. Regarding her work, Mother Teresa was keenly aware that she was called to devote her whole energy and the energy of her followers to serve the poorest of the poor in their greatest need. Once a journalist asked her why she did not give a fishing line to the people to enable them to fish for themselves instead of only giving them fish all the time. Her answer was that she was called to serve those who cannot stand and who would not be able to use a fishing line. Once they could stand, the journalist should help them to fend for themselves - this was not her work".

Fr. Felix Raj, professor of economics at St. Xavier’s College, had, on many occasions, brought Mother Teresa in touch with Calcutta youth. “She was always inspiring and every time she met the youth, she had a message for them. Whenever I invited her for youth programmes, she never said ‘NO’.”

Fr. Raj narrated: "One day I went to celebrate Mass at Mother House. Mother usually sat next to the Chapel entrance. As I entered the Chapel, she stretched out her hand and touched my feet. I was taken aback and withdrew a little. She looked at me and shook her head to say "No". Later in the Sacristy she told me, "Priests are Christ's representatives for me. I respect them and seek their blessings for me and for my work". Fr. Raj adds, “Whenever Mother was invited by the All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF), an Indian Catholic youth movement, she never refused. She was always there as a source of inspiration and support. She always carried a message of love and service for the youth. The youth liked her and were drawn by her charism”.


The signboard in every MC Sister's Sacristy reads:

“Remember, O priest,
You should celebrate this Mass
As if it were:
Your First Mass
Your Last Mass
Your Only Mass.”

“I will always have time for the Jesuits”

In August 1990. A Jesuit scholastic, while writing about Mother Teresa and Jesuits, dropped in to see her not knowing that she was in retreat. She did see him. While he apologized for disturbing her, she just smiled and said, “I will always have time for Jesuits.” When she heard that the scholastic was from Calcutta, she became almost chatty and continued, “Being a priest is not enough, being a good priest is important…. The Jesuit vocation is a very special type of religious vocation, called to a great spirituality. The Society has given many saints to Mother Church. You are called to aim at nothing less….”

Cheryl Francis (Social Worker)
C/O Goethals Indian Library & Research Society
St. Xavier’s College
Kolkata – 700 016
Tel: 91-33-2280 1919



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