Forty years ago last month, a certain future saint visited Camden’s Sacred Heart Parish, enlightening a community, its pastor and a future mayor.
On Aug. 7, 1976, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta visited the South Camden community.
“At 4 p.m., she came,” remembered Msgr. Michael Doyle, then, as now, the parish pastor.
“I will never forget the sight of her stepping out in front of Sacred Heart in her sandals and sari, her white habit with its beautiful border of blue. Beautiful she was. And the smile! It was made in heaven. The pure goodness of her life brought heaven to earth,” he said.
The seeds of her visit were planted a few months earlier when the pastor introduced himself to her outside a Philadelphia church she had been visiting.
“When I approached Mother Teresa, God helped me to think of myself as a little nobody,” Msgr. Doyle recalled. He ran after her and said, “I am Michael Doyle from Sacred Heart Church in Camden, a very poor city near Philadelphia. I’d like you to come and pray for the women of Camden.”
And she said she would come.
“Hearing the miraculous words ‘I will come’ filled me with gratitude to God,” the priest remembered. “Mother Teresa was the holiest person I ever met.”
Not many were told of Mother Teresa’s impending arrival in the Diocese of Camden. “No T.V. (or) newspaper (reporters), dignitaries, civil or religious,” the priest said.
“Word of mouth was our only media. Our communication was as weak as whispers, yet the church was packed when she arrived … old, young, and many children.”
Flowers were gathered from around the neighborhood to create a lei for the honored guest. An 8-year-old school student, who had tragically lost her parents, presented it to Mother Teresa.
“Mother Teresa embraced and blessed the child,” Msgr. Doyle said, adding that the student, Dana Redd, grew up to become the current Mayor of the City of Camden.
The lei, currently hanging in the rectory, will be displayed on the altar at a 9:30 a.m. Mass this Sunday, the day of her canonization.
“Do everything you can to keep love alive,” Mother Teresa told the faithful at Sacred Heart.
In the weekly bulletins leading up to her canonization, Msgr. Doyle has published remembrances of that special day for today’s faithful to follow her humble, loving and passionate example.
“May this holy woman of the world transform you and me into better persons,” he wrote.