Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., is shown during a pastoral visit to the Missionaries of Charity convent in Asbury Park where he celebrated Mass for the Sisters. With the Bishop is Father Jason Parzynski, the Bishop's master of ceremonies at the time. Ken Falls photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., is shown during a pastoral visit to the Missionaries of Charity convent in Asbury Park where he celebrated Mass for the Sisters. With the Bishop is Father Jason Parzynski, the Bishop's master of ceremonies at the time. Ken Falls photo
WASHINGTON – St. Teresa of Kolkata lived a beautiful and profound example of faith, hope and charity, orienting her entire existence toward God, and confident at end of her earthly journey that she was going home to the Lord, said Jim Towey, a former close friend and trusted adviser to the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

In a recent talk to members of the Mother Teresa Vocations Society – who pray for religious vocations in the Archdiocese of Washington – Towey shared fond memories of meeting and working for the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize-winner and offered vignettes of the diminutive, Albanian-born nun's path to becoming one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

He recently wrote a book, "To Love and Be Loved, a Personal Portrait of Mother Teresa," which details his life-changing volunteer service with the Missionaries of Charity, his friendship with the order's foundress and his firsthand witness to her tireless efforts in the last 12 years of her life to bring God's presence and love to the forgotten and poorest of the poor throughout the world.

"God delights in you. If you receive the love of God, then you will share this love with your neighbor," said Towey during his talk at the Church of the Annunciation in Washington. "Mother Teresa lived this. She recognized that God loves us in spite of ourselves."

Towey told the gathering that when he met Mother Teresa as a young lawyer in 1985, he was a "dispirited Catholic," who desired to encounter someone truly living the Gospel.

He found that in the person of Mother Teresa, who was then 75 and had already suffered numerous health and physical challenges. "She was everything I wasn't. (She was) focused and alive in Christ, living the joy of the Gospel," he said.

During that first visit, he embarked on what he thought would be just a tour of the home for the dying operated by the Missionaries of Charity, but Mother Teresa instead immediately put him to work washing a dying man infected with scabies. "It was the mercy of God that took me back to bed 46," he recalled. "I was too proud to tell sister I didn't want to go. There was Jesus waiting for me in that bed."

Towey, who eventually became Mother Teresa's legal adviser, said so often saints are reduced to their images in plastic statues or their lofty, supernatural lives, but Mother Teresa, he emphasized, was a real human being who liked to laugh, play pranks on her sisters and cried when her fellow religious sisters died. She also could be stubborn, loved poetry, singing, eating chocolate and sharing sweets with others, he said.

When Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1948, Towey said she did so with courage and in spite of her own inadequacies. "The Lord can take weakness and transform it. ... Each of us is called in the midst of our own brokenness," he said.

The Missionaries of Charity grew from the original group of 26 nuns to today's order which numbers 5,100 sisters, who operate shelters, hospices, soup kitchens and health clinics in 139 countries. In the Diocese of Trenton, the Missionaries of Charity reside in a convent in Asbury Park and are active in serving those in need in the town and surrounding area. The Sisters also assist with the religious education program in Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park. Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.

Towey said Mother Teresa in her vocation felt privileged to be a "spiritual mother" to the poor and her sisters. The Missionaries of Charity, he noted, should serve as role models in the 21st century world that "attacks and denigrates motherhood (and) blurs the lines between the sexes and the complementary nature of males and females."

During his talk, Towey recalled a trip he once took with Mother Teresa and the airplane ride became dangerously turbulent. He said he was terrified, but she remained perfectly calm and quietly prayed. He joked that if the plane had crashed and they both arrived at the pearly gates, he was going to tell St. Peter, "I'm with her."

As she neared death in 1997 at age 87, Towey recalled visiting his beloved mentor and friend for the last time. He rushed to her hospital bedside in Kolkata, where she lay dying, but she had the strength to tell him and her sisters, "I'm going home. I??'m going home to God." As Mass was celebrated at the foot of her deathbed, she never took her eyes off the Blessed Sacrament.

"She was oriented toward God and going to God," he said. "She said, 'The greatest aim of human life is to die in peace with God.'"

Towey encouraged those gathered – to look to the example of Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II, both of whom took up the cross of Jesus Christ and saw the salvific power of suffering physical and health impairments.

"Each of us has our own calling. We can spread love to those who are lonely and thirsting for acceptance," he said. "The title of the book, ('To love and be loved') is our own call, our own vocation."

Maureen Boyle writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.