As Mother Teresa is raised to the dignity of sainthood this weekend, memories of her visits to Brooklyn are still vivid in our minds.
The Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, have two convents here in Brooklyn. One is located in Our Lady of Victory parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the other is a contemplative house in Our Lady of Lourdes, Bushwick.
Lourdes was the first to be established. The convent at Victory was turned over to the Sisters in 1991 when Msgr. Joe Nugent was finishing up his pastorate there.
“I have a lot of pleasant memories of Mother Teresa,” says Msgr. Nugent, now administrator of St. Paul-St. Agnes in Cobble Hill.
He recalls a conversation with Bishop Thomas V. Daily who asked him if he knew of any convents that were available because Mother Teresa was looking for space in the diocese.
Msgr. Nugent told Bishop Daily that he was celebrating Mass for the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx that afternoon and Mother Teresa was scheduled to be there, so he would speak with her.
He invited her to come to Bed-Stuy and have a look. The one proviso was that the Sisters would have to be willing to care for young pregnant women who did not want to abort their babies but had nowhere to go.
“I told her that if the Sisters worked with the girls, then the convent was theirs,” says Msgr. Nugent.
“Mother threw a Miraculous Medal into the garden and said, ‘Let’s see what the Blessed Mother wants,’” explained Msgr. Nugent. “They moved here in 1992 and have been doing good works here ever since.”
Msgr. Nugent recalled another time that Mother Teresa visited one of her Order’s brothers who was staying in the attic of Our Lady of Victory’s rectory.
“She wanted to see his quarters. But this was right after her heart attack and she couldn’t walk up the stairs. So I said to her, ‘Mother, you’re so small, I will carry you.’ She said, ‘Oh no, you won’t,’” says Msgr. Nugent with a smile.
At the time, Msgr. Nugent was housing homeless alcoholic men in My Father’s House. Mother Teresa stopped by and wanted to see the men.
“She wagged her finger at them and said ‘I hope you’re grateful that you have a priest with you that loves Jesus enough to love each and every one of you.’ Wow, was I overcome by that!” says Msgr. Nugent.
Then there was the time that Msgr. Nugent had celebrated the 5:30 a.m. Mass for the Sisters at Lourdes. “She came into the sacristy after Mass and asked for my blessing. She went to kneel down and I said, ‘Oh no, don’t kneel down.’ She said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ She knelt down and I gave her my blessing. I then knelt down and told her, ‘Now, give me yours.’ She said a prayer and then she kinda whacked me across the head.”
Msgr. Nugent, who remembers Mother Teresa as “a nice, loving grandmother,” says he is not surprised that she is being recognized by the Church as a saint.
“In my heart of hearts, I always knew she was a saint already,” he says.
“The Church is recognizing a great woman and the wonderful way that she cared for the poorest of the poor and that her sisters continue to do, following in her footsteps.”