Legacy of St. Teresa of Calcutta Endures in the Diocese of Brooklyn

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By Paula Katinas

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — September 5th marked the 25th anniversary of the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta, but in the Diocese of Brooklyn, fond memories of the woman known simply as Mother Teresa remain.

Mother Teresa (1910-1997), founder of the religious order Missionaries of Charity, came to the diocese a number of times. In 2016, 19 years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Francis and became St. Teresa of Calcutta.

One of her visits to the diocese took place 30 years ago, in 1992, when Mother Teresa came to Our Lady of Victory Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant to dedicate Queen of Hope, a new convent-mission house for the Missionaries of Charity.

Bishop Thomas Daily, the bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese at the time, celebrated Mass at the dedication.

Located around the corner from the church, Queen of Hope is still active today with four resident sisters who help pregnant women and mothers with young children who have nowhere to turn. The sisters provide the women with a place to stay, giving them food and shelter as well as baby clothes and other necessities.

It was during that 1992 visit that Mother Teresa encountered Yvonne Samaroo, a volunteer who cooked for the sisters. Mother Teresa even bestowed a gift on Samaroo, a small medal of the Blessed Mother, a keepsake she has cherished since.

Samaroo, 85, retired a few years ago due to heart complications and no longer cooks for the sisters. However, because her Catholic faith is very important to her, she attends Mass every morning in the basement chapel at Our Lady of Victory, where she sometimes runs into the sisters.

She revels in the memory of her special meeting with the diminutive future saint, who stood just 4-foot-11 inches tall.

“It was something so remarkable because I never thought that I could meet a woman like that,” she recalled as she waited for Mass to begin on Friday, Sept. 2. “You know, she was so small, so simple. Nobody would have believed that she could have done all the things she did.”

The medal Mother Teresa gave Samaroo was deeply meaningful, she said, adding, “I really love the Blessed Mother. I pray to her every day. I say the Rosary every morning before I leave the house.”

All these years later, she still has it, explaining that she keeps it in a safe and secure place in her home.

Sister Mary Lizen, M.C., who currently serves in the Queen of Hope house, said Mother Teresa had a wonderful way of making every person she encountered feel special.

“If she was talking to you, she was looking only at you and listening to you. She wasn’t distracted by what was going on around her,” she said.

The diocese marked the 25th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s passing with a special Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church on Sept. 5 — the anniversary day.

“We all know how Mother Teresa was able to seek Christ in those whom she served, the poorest of the poor,” Bishop Robert Brennan said in his homily. “We all know how she would look into the eyes of somebody dying in the street and see Jesus himself.”

The bishop recalled meeting her many years ago at St. Agnes Cathedral in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where he was serving at the time.

“I’ll never get out of my head the image of Mother Teresa holding up her hands reciting those lines from the Gospel. ‘You did it for me,’ ” he said.

Father Alonzo Cox, the pastor of St. Martin De Porres Parish (which includes Our Lady of Victory) said Mother Teresa definitely left her mark on the parish.

“Many of the parishioners here at that time would have remembered meeting Mother Teresa and being in her presence at Mass and then ultimately being connected to the Missionaries of Charity,” he said.

The opening of the Queen of Hope house gave parishioners the chance to volunteer and help the sisters and the mothers by cooking, cleaning, and donating baby clothes, bottles, diapers, and other items. To this day, Our Lady of Victory collects baby supplies to donate to the house.

Through the good works performed by the sisters, Mother Teresa’s presence is still felt at the church, Father Cox said.

“Since that first group of sisters came here, the Missionaries of Charity have really been such a beautiful part of the parish community here. They come to Mass every Sunday. They’re involved with different ministries within the parish. They’re a beautiful presence to the parish community here in Our Lady of Victory,” he said.

Mother Teresa came to know the diocese even before she opened Queen of Hope.

Fifty years ago, in 1972, she came to St. Matthew’s Church in East New York to serve as a guest speaker at the installation of officers of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Mother Teresa opened her religious order’s first convent in the diocese at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bushwick in 1981. The convent, which houses contemplative sisters, is still active today.