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Official portrait of Mother Teresa unveiled in Washington

Catholic organisations in Washington DC celebrated the canonisation of St Teresa via public exhibitions

A portrait of St Teresa of Calcutta was unveiled at the St John Paul II National Shrine in Washington DC on the eve of her canonisation.

Artist Chas Fagan, assisted by two members of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity congregation, unveiled his oil painting, “St Teresa of Calcutta: Carrier of God’s Love,” on September 1.

The painting was chosen as the official canonisation portrait. It was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus printed more than one million prayer cards with the official portrait. They will be distributed at the canonisation Mass and given to Missionaries of Charity and the people they serve around the world.

The artist said that he, like millions of people around the world, admired Mother Teresa for her loving service of the poor and her humility. Fagan, who has painted and sculpted portraits of US presidents, said capturing the essence of the nun known around the world was a daunting task.

He explained that he found his “hook” with a simple quote of the saint-to-be that someone shared: “Joy is strength.” He said the phrase helped him feel like he knew Mother Teresa and guided the composition and the expression that he painted on her face.

“Every time I lifted up the brush, that quote was going through my head. Mother Teresa lived that. She was a diminutive, yet earthshaking figure,” the artist added.

Fagan said he spent about a month on preparatory sketches before beginning the portrait, which took about six weeks to complete. “Mother Teresa brought joy to my studio, to my home. Now I will miss her company,” he said.

The painting shows Mother Teresa smiling warmly and looking to the side, with a subtle halo over her head. She is wearing her community’s trademark white sari-styled habit with blue trim. A member of the Missionaries of Charity serving in Charlotte, North Carolina, posed for the artist so he could capture the folds of their distinctive habit accurately.

Elsewhere in Washington, a collection of thousands of items belonging or related to Mother Teresa has been put on display at The Catholic University of America.

The collection has a copy of Mother Teresa’s 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, autographed by the founder of the Missionaries of Charity herself. There are also two copies of the Marvel Comics illustrated biography of her life, issued in 1983, one year after Marvel successfully published a comic-book biography of St John Paul II.

There also are, in a burlap bag, 2,000 tiny coins bearing Mother Teresa’s likeness struck for the United Nations for its 1975 observance of the Year of the Woman.

Even without the coins, there are an estimated 10,000 items in the collection, according to Shane MacDonald, an archives technician at the university who spent four months organising and cataloguing the materials.

With Mother Teresa’s canonisation set for September 4, the collection will represent the archives’ first collection dedicated to a saint, MacDonald said. While Catholic University has the chairs St John Paul II used when he celebrated Mass in Washington, it does not represent a detailed collection like that for Blessed Teresa.

Many items came from Eileen Egan, who had worked for Catholic Relief Services, the US bishops’ overseas aid and development agency, when it was founded in 1943 as War Relief Services during World War II. As part of her work in Asia, Egan was told of a nun in India who was ministering to the poor.

Egan travelled to Calcutta in 1955 and met Mother Teresa. She was convinced of the value of the nun’s work among the poor in the city’s teeming slums and struck up a friendship with her.

The friendship led to a correspondence stretching over four decades. MacDonald, who has read much of the letters from Mother Teresa to Egan that are in the collection — Egan’s part of the correspondence appears lost to history — said Egan became an advocate for Mother Teresa’s ministry. It was Egan, for instance, who convinced the reluctant Macedonian-born nun, a virtual unknown, to travel to Las Vegas to address the NCCW.

MacDonald told Catholic News Service that Mother Teresa, who had entered religious life with the Sisters of Loreto, expressed similar unease about returning to Ireland, where she had ministered before the war, for the first time in 30 years because she was uncertain of her reception.

Egan, who routinely obtained travel documents for others because of her work at CRS, also did so for Mother Teresa as she coaxed the nun to travel more to spread her message of love and mercy, MacDonald said. She later wrote a definitive biography of the future saint, “Such A Vision: Mother Teresa, the Spirit, and the Work.”

As Mother Teresa’s ministry began to captivate the imaginations of people, support organisations for her and the Missionaries of Charity sprang up in the United States, Malta, Germany and elsewhere. Their newsletters are also part of the collection.

So too are seldom-seen photographs of Mother Teresa, some in colour but many in black-and-white, as she crisscrossed the world, opening new Missionaries of Charity communities in far-flung countries and speaking before attentive audiences.

Not everything in the Mother Teresa Collection is tucked away in dark temperature-controlled rooms at the University. A sampling of some of the items was put on display at the university’s student centre prior to the canonisation.

Scholars are welcome to view and study the materials. MacDonald said some of the visitors have been high school students working on class projects. “This is one way to make history come alive for them,” he said.


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