From the Chicago Tribune on July 15, 2016
Dressed in Mother Teresa's signature white sari with blue stripes, the Missionaries of Charity work to maintain and preserve their founder's ministry to the poor. To inspire their work, every convent houses one of her relics.
On Thursday, a drop of her blood kept at the convent and women's shelter on West 24th Place in Pilsen went on display to the public for the first time at a Roman Catholic parish in Chicago.
Parishioners at St. Bride Catholic Church in South Shore will host the relic for a week before it moves to St. Ita Catholic Church in the Edgewater neighborhood.
The relic's debut in two urban parishes celebrates the renowned nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner's canonization as a saint coming up Sept. 4 and seeks to remind the community of its responsibility to help the poor and marginalized.
"We realized what a chance it was to bring some hope to the South Shore," said the Rev. Bob Roll, pastor of St. Bride, who said six gunshots rang out in front of the parish Thursday morning as the florist delivered a bouquet to accent the relic on display. "Every time you hear about the South Shore, it's a shooting."
Pope Francis approved Mother Teresa for sainthood in December, nearly 16 years after her death at age 87 in eastern India, where she served most of her life. After joining the Sisters of Loreto, an order devoted to education, in 1928, she was inspired to start the Missionaries of Charity order, which was established in 1950. The order now has more than 850 houses and shelters around the world, including two in Chicago plus a soup kitchen.
Noreen Duggan, house mother for the Missionaries of Charity convent in Pilsen, said that because many other religious orders and Catholic faithful look to Mother Teresa for inspiration, the relic has ventured out of the Pilsen convent's confines into other venues including nursing homes, other orders' houses, and suburban and city parishes.
Since January the relic has been on display at a nursing home and convent run by the Little Sisters of the Poor and Santa Maria del Popolo parish in north suburban Mundelein.
"All people claim Mother Teresa," Duggan said. "To see the emotion and the pain and the intercession they're asking for is absolutely humbling."
The Rev. Richard Fragomeni, professor of liturgy and preaching at Catholic Theological Union, said the relic can be an inspiration to anyone who knows her story.
"The story is what inspires you to turn to her," he said. "Most of us lived within that story, because many of us knew (of) her when she was alive."
With popular figures like Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II, it's common for relics to be venerated even before the church declares that person a saint, said Fragomeni, adding that a strand of Mother Teresa's hair can be found at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii.
St. Bride parishioner Van Bensett helped bring the relic to his home parish. Raised Presbyterian, he said he was familiar with only two Catholics while growing up in Michigan — Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
"I knew who she was from the time I was pretty young, and I was always interested in her because of her work with the poor, just seeing all the great work that she did," he said.
Bensett converted to Catholicism shortly after he moved to Chicago and married into the faith. During a drive through Pilsen one day, a Missionaries of Charity sign outside St. Procopius parish caught his eye. Inside, he met sisters of the order's contemplative branch. He soon became a regular volunteer. Earlier this year, he accompanied the relic to a parish in Michigan and was blown away by what he witnessed.
"The fourth vow of the Missionaries of Charity is true and wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor," he said. "When you're in the presence of Mother Teresa's relic, she's still doing it. That was something that I hadn't really realized before. … A relic gives other people the opportunity to realize that."
Bensett wanted to bring that experience to St. Bride — a poor parish of about 125 families whose building has been in disrepair for some time.
"On the South Side you always feel like you're more forgotten than other parts of Chicago," Bensett said. "One of the important things about Mother Teresa is she reminds people that they're loved and they're not forgotten."
The Rev. James Clavey, a priest who has lived at St. Bride since a brain injury a few years ago, said he felt her presence as he prayed in front of the relic shortly after its arrival Wednesday night. He's grateful that Mother Teresa found her way there.
"It's a place Mother Teresa would feel called to," he said, "because of the honor of serving the poor."