Everyone knows Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta for her dedication to the poor. As a Sister of Loretto, she taught in her order’s Calcutta school for nearly 20 years. Disturbed by the abject poverty around her, she began working with the poor, and in 1950 began what would become the Missionaries of Charity. She died in 1997 and was beatified in 2003.
But Fr. Robert D’Souza – known simply as Father Bob to the parishioners of St. Jude Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he is associate pastor and a hospital chaplain – knows her in a different way, because he knew her personally and worked with her in his native India. D’Souza, 72, also marvels at Mother Teresa’s lifetime of serving the poorest of the poor, but is most grateful to her as the person who saved his vocation and kept him in the priesthood.
How did you meet Mother Teresa, and what was she like?
I first came to know Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in about 1967 when I was studying at the Papal Athenaeum seminary in Pune, India. They invited a couple of us to visit their place, and after some time we organized a group to go there on our off days and do social work. At that time she was not well known, it was only after the documentary and book by Malcolm Muggeridge that she became famous.
I met her first in Calcutta in 1973, and she immediately struck me as someone who is committed and dedicated to the poorest of the poor. When we met, I saw a tiny little woman who, when she spoke, it really touched my heart. She had that love and compassion and selflessness. She also looked very holy. Her very look inspired me. I said to myself, ‘Here is a woman who is very holy.’ I was just a young priest then, just ordained, and she was very inspiring.
How did you begin working with her?
In 1975, I was appointed to an orphanage with 600 boys – some came from jail but many were abandoned children found on the roadside by Mother Teresa. I would meet her at the board meeting every month, but I would also meet her casually here and there. Once I was in charge of the orphanage, she would also supply food and finances to run the institution. She’s been an inspiration to me every day since; in 2003, I took a group from St. Jude’s to her beatification.
She was already an inspiration to you, but then something happened…
Yes, I became very close to her in 1978, when I was struggling in my vocation as a priest. I wanted to give up. So I called her because I wanted to talk to her about this. So I called her on the telephone, and she said, ‘Come.’
I went there, and she did not ask me any questions, she just took me to the chapel and we prayed together. Then she asked me, ‘Father, what’s your problem?’ I told her I wanted leave the priesthood for a couple years and find happiness. She asked me, ‘Do you pray at all?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have the time.’
She told me to pray every day for one hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and every 15 days to come back and talk to her. I did this for a year, and all my troubles and difficulties disappeared through her advice and my prayer life.
She told me, in a priest’s life, prayer is the most important thing. You’re saying the Mass and other public prayers, but you have to pray yourself, too. Only when we go far away from the Lord and don’t have a spiritual life do we have these difficulties. You can always make time for prayer, that’s what I found out in my life. I start every day before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, even now. It’s given me a lot of spiritual strength in my ministry.