Taking shots at St. Teresa of Calcutta

By Tom Quiner

Here is the response I received when I posted the meme above earlier today:

“There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering,” was her [Mother Teresa’s] reply to criticism. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.

The comment comes from a Quiner’s Diner reader in Australia who, based on his previous posts, is an atheist.

The implication is that this new Catholic saint is a hypocrite.

Another atheist, the late Christian Hitchens, led the charge in trying to discredit Mother Teresa’s motives and her work in his documentary, “Hell’s Angel,” and in his book, “Missionary Position.” His work is the source material for much of the atheist rants against St. Teresa.

Is it true? Was Mother Teresa really the opportunistic phony portrayed by the faithless? I don’t think so. Interestingly, Mr. Hitchen never interviewed any of the poor people who were seemingly exploited by Mother Teresa.

However, there is no shortage of friends and associates with first-hand knowledge who come to her defense.

Gavin Chawla, who wrote a well-received biography of Mother Teresa in 1992, shed some light on the American hospital story. Evidently, she had an aversion to hospitals, but upon fainting on a trip to San Diego, aides rushed her to the hospital. Said Chawla:

“So strong was her dislike for expensive hospitals that she tried escaping from there at night. It’s completely unfair to accuse such a person of spending money on her treatment and not on those she cared so much for.”

Later, when she was seriously ill in Calcutta, she did receive medical care from American doctors, said Sunita Kumar, who worked with her for 36 years:

“I was quite heavily involved at the time when she was ill in Calcutta and doctors from San Diego and New York had come to see her out of their own will. Mother had no idea who was coming to treat her. It was so difficult to even convince her to go to the hospital. The fact that we forced her to, should not be held against her like this.”

As for the poor, Mother Teresa took care of people she found in the gutter that hospitals wouldn’t touch, as Chawla explains:

“Her intention was to take care of those who had fallen by the wayside; people whom no hospital would admit. She set up hospices and not hospitals because a hospital would have been good for just one city such as Calcutta. She wanted to care for the destitute all around the world.”

That’s why she is sometimes characterized as the ‘Saint of the Gutters.’

Fr. Peter Gumpel, an official at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, labels claims that she rejected, neglected, or denied available medical or palliative care for the poor and terminally ill as “absolutely false. Beware of anecdotal stories circulating from disgruntled people or those with an anti-Catholic agenda.”

Susan Conroy worked side-by-side with Mother Teresa the last ten years of her life. She provides this first hand account of the saint’s work:

“When I read the criticisms of how the patients were cared for in the Home for the Dying, I kept thinking back to my personal experiences there . . . . I know how tenderly and carefully we tended to each of the destitute patients there—how we bathed them, and washed their beds, and fed them and gave them medicine. I know how the entire shelter was thoroughly and regularly cleaned from top to bottom, and each patient was bathed as often as necessary, even if it was multiple times a day…

They were considered “untouchables” of society, and yet there we were touching and caring for them as if they were royalty. We truly felt honored to serve them as best we could. Mother Teresa had taught us to care for each one with all the humility, respect, tenderness and love with which we would touch and serve Jesus Christ Himself—reminding us that “whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers,” we do unto Him.”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: saint or hypocrite? You be the judge.