Family of orders carries on legacy of service to the poor

St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity today is made up of nearly 5,000 sisters. They do their work in more than 750 houses and institutions located in well over 100 nations. The remarkable ministry of these sisters is a beautiful part of Mother Teresa’s legacy, now nearly two decades after her death.

But her legacy extends far beyond that. During her life and in the years since, people of all walks of life and living in various circumstances felt called to imitate her love and service. Beginning very early on, several communities and organizations grew out of the original Missionaries of Charity to extend Mother Teresa’s work in different directions and to allow more people to become engaged with it.

Variety of groups

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers, an order of consecrated men, began in 1963. Mother Teresa chose as its leader an Australian Jesuit priest, Father Ian Travers-Ball, who took the new name Brother Andrew and led the order for its first 20 years. The brothers do work very similar to the sisters, and oftentimes alongside them. Where feasible, the sisters have worked more directly with women in need, while the brothers have served men. The brothers typically wear normal clothing, distinguished only by a crucifix they wear pinned over their hearts. According to the order, there are 420 brothers working in 69 communities in 21 countries.

Later, she established the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Sisters, and then a similar order of contemplative brothers. Members of both congregations spend more time engaged in contemplative prayer than the sisters in the original order, but uniquely, their rule also allows for some time each day spent in direct service to the poor.

With the help of an American priest, Father Joseph Langford, Mother Teresa established an order for priests, as well: the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. Members live out Mother’s charism as ordained, consecrated religious men.

She also established the Lay Missionaries of Charity (LMC). As members, married and single people profess private vows annually and as appropriate to their state of life — (conjugal) chastity, poverty, obedience and free service to the poorest of the poor. American LMC leader Barb Kralik explained to Our Sunday Visitor, “Our vows are juridically private, meaning that they are received by God, not into the hands of a superior; however, the vows must be made in the context of a public Mass.”

Kralik, who lives and works in the Pittsburgh area, noted that members live these vows in a variety of ways. American LMCs, she said, “strive to quench the hunger and thirst of Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor by serving in community food pantries, running soup kitchens, delivering food to the poor and needy; we shelter the homeless by assisting in finding housing for them; we may visit the sick, the homebound or imprisoned, or provide companionship to orphans and those with disabilities.”

There are currently 1,660 professed LMCs, 379 of whom live in the United States.

Missionary zeal

But Mother Teresa’s spirit extends even further. Also during her life, she established the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, a loose organization of laypeople who want to help the poorest of the poor and adopt Mother’s spirituality without the permanent commitment involved in the above organizations.

A woman smiles as she is greeted by a member of the Missionaries of Charity at a home for the elderly in Nepal in 2015. CNS photo

She created the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers for people who want to be engaged in her work by prayerfully offering their own suffering to God to help those doing direct ministry. Mother Teresa saw great value in suffering borne in this way. She once explained to the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers in a letter, “In reality you can do much more while on your bed of pain than I running on my feet, but you and I together can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

Still another structure she initiated is the Corpus Christi movement of priests. This is an organization of diocesan priests who wish to remain in diocesan ministry but nourish their work and spirituality by the spirit and example of Mother Teresa. It is made up today of around 500 priests around the world, 60 of whom live and work in the United States.

“Mother Teresa was very concerned about priests and the holy Eucharist. She said, ‘If there is no priest, there is no Eucharist, and if there is no Eucharist, there is no life in the Church,’” Father Pascual Cervera told Our Sunday Visitor. Father Cervera is the international coordinator of the Corpus Christi priests movement. He began working with Mother Teresa as a seminarian in the early 1980s and was later ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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Father Cervera noted that being a Corpus Christi priest does not entail a lot of formal commitments and disciplines, as more formal structures do, but simply is intended to help priests to focus their lives on prayer before the Eucharist and serving the poorest of the poor. “Most important for us is Mother Teresa’s example of missionary zeal, to go in search of souls,” he said.

“Mother’s life is like a mine still under exploration,” Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of St. Teresa’s canonization cause, told OSV. “We are discovering new elements, new riches. The good thing is that Mother is not only helping people by the impact of her example, but also that she is still active from heaven interceding many graces for people in need.”

If Father Kolodiejchuk is right, then the members of each of these organizations are surely the miners and explorers who are carrying riches out to share with the world and especially with its poorest people.

Barry Hudock writes from Minnesota.

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