“She was very concerned for the poor. She was very anxious to do something for them, and it was beautiful. That is why she was close to me.”
“Unless life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile.” —Saint Teresa of Calcutta
When I first arrived at the shelter for unmarried, pregnant women in Washington, D.C., to start my position as a live-in housemother for the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s Sisters), I wasn’t quite sure what to think. The home was a lovely house located in a ritzy upper class neighborhood, complete with a white picket fence and a classy front door. I was only 21 and I had only been Catholic for a few months, but I knew enough to wonder how a house like this wound up as a shelter for one of the most austere religious orders in the world.
Soon after I settled in, I found out that the house had been given to the Missionaries of Charity by Princess Diana — or something of the sort. She had worked with Mother Teresa to found the shelter, a pro-life home for pregnant women seeking to adopt their children rather than abort them. Princess Diana? I remember thinking. Isn’t she over in Wales? What would royalty have to do with a tiny, wrinkly, homey nun that owns ten things to her name – at best?
The short of it is that Mother Teresa cherished a profound and touching relationship with Princess Diana. Fascinatingly, Mother Teresa died only six days after Princess Diana had been killed in a car accident in 1997. Immediately after Diana’s death, Mother sent a condolence message that said, “She was very concerned for the poor. She was very anxious to do something for them, and it was beautiful. That is why she was close to me.”
Over the years, the two iconic women met with each other from time to time. They once held a meeting at a convent in New York. Mother Teresa left the meeting embracing the hands of Diana, who helped the frail nun down the steps onto the sidewalk. In February 1992, at a Missionary of Charity convent in a working-class district in Rome, they prayed together. In fact, Princess Diana was buried with a rosary given to her by Mother Teresa. They were, apparently, dear friends, despite the fact that their lifestyles sharply contrasted one another.
The Princess of Wales lived a fairy tale life of luxury and fame that turned grim in the end, and then ended suddenly. She suffered through an unhappy marriage and bore the pain of public humiliation, yet strove to be charitable to others when she could and was known for her acts of kindness. Mother Teresa lived a life based on crucifying solemn vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Charity, in imitation of the most humble Virgin of Nazareth and her Son, who had “nowhere to rest His head.” Mother Teresa became one of the most admired persons of the modern world – even winning a Nobel Peace Prize – by renouncing what the modern world idolizes, such as material things, comforts, and public acclaim.
Their relationship reveals not only the compassion for the poor that Princess Diana held in the recesses of her heart, but also, I believe, the openness to authentic evangelization that Mother carried with her wherever she went. Mother Teresa was not only passionate about helping the poorest of the poor and tending to the intimate spiritual needs of her Sisters, but she was also willing to befriend anyone that Almighty God placed on her arduous path. She was firmly orthodox, and her very faithfulness to the truths of Catholicism made her open her heart to a great variety of people from different cultures and religions.
After spending nearly three die-hard, beautiful years living with the Missionaries of Charity, I am not surprised at all by Mother’s friendship with someone like Princess Diana. Mother was open as they come to whatever Jesus asked of her, whether it be making friends with high government officials, spending hour upon hour in Eucharistic Adoration, rocking an orphan to sleep, or picking up over 60,000 dying people off of the streets of Caclutta. During my time with her Sisters, I witnessed saints-in-the-making who treasured the Will of God like a starving man before food — they truly saw His will as their daily bread. The women they housed in the shelter often brought with them tremendous pain, and the Sisters bore it on their shoulders with a joy that necessarily came from on high. In those years, I saw the Sisters act as angels of peace to all kinds of people from all walks of life; pregnant women with AIDS to babies with prostitutes for mothers to innocent, lonely souls deserted by nearly everyone they knew. They were not strangers to sin or the struggle against faults; but they were striving to embrace the spirit of Mother Teresa, as they sought to be “only, all for Jesus,” as she taught them.
Today and always, may Mother Teresa’s extraordinary legacy of loving mercy — with princesses and paupers alike — live on in our own hearts.