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MOTHER TERESA: 1910-1997

In O.C., Her Charisma, Devotion Are Recalled

Mourning: Outreach workers, clergy express praise and gratitude for her selfless example of ministering to the poor.


ORANGE — When Sister Carmen Sarati heard the news of Mother Teresa's death on the radio Friday morning, she remembered sitting in a San Diego parochial high school auditorium in 1961.

Mother Teresa, not yet famous, spoke in halting English to 400 girls. The nun told of having seen a man dump his ill, elderly mother into a trash can in Calcutta, and said it was incidents like that that persuaded her to devote her life to the poor.

"Her simple message was that the cure for our ills is not high-tech or riches or grandeur," Sarati said. "The cure is love. . . . She was not a public speaker, but the charisma just leaped out. Every single girl got back to her classroom and emptied out her wallet to give to her, unsolicited."

Sarati, a member of the Roman Catholic order of St. Joseph's, spends her days now helping poor Latino immigrants in Orange County understand the baffling, lengthy requirements of U.S. citizenship. When she is tired, she thinks of Mother Teresa's visit.

For many clerics and community activists who met Mother Teresa and worked with her, Friday was a time of memories. All recalled the gripping tales she told of her work in Calcutta and the inspiration she gave them to do the emotionally exhausting work of caring for the poor.

In Los Angeles, Brother Peter Joseph, superior of the regional Mission Brothers of Charity, the only male offshoot of her Calcutta-based missionary in the United States, said he would always remember the visits she made to the brothers' homeless shelters and drop-in center for runaway boys.

"The brothers and sisters of Missions of Charity have lost our mother today. When you lose your mother, a wise, kind mother, she takes a piece of your heart away forever," he said. "For the poor, she is already a saint."

"I was absolutely inspired by Mother Teresa," said Leslie Baer of Anaheim, founder of the nonprofit Xela, which makes humanitarian trips to Guatemala every year. Baer's first volunteer work was assisting the Mission Brothers of Charity when it was based in Santa Ana. "When I met her, what she told me was 'The fruit of service is peace.' When she said that, it was like she answered a question that a part of me had been asking for a long time," Baer said.

Baer said she was saddened by the death of two famous role models, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, in less than a week.

"The world's poor need heroes," she said. "We just lost two of them."

Many who met the Albanian-born nun were struck by her charisma and devotion to helping those in need.

"Her life has become the yardstick by which millions measure compassion across religious and political divides," said Msgr. Lawrence Baird, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Baird was struck by how the small, determined woman handled the paparazzi photographers swarming her at an ecumenical conference he attended in Philadelphia in 1976.

"She had a loaf of bread, and she handed them each a morsel," he said. "I can't divine her motives, but it struck me, that image of her handing bread to these men."

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, issued a statement:

"In Mother Teresa, the world has lost the first lady of the century. To me, she was the uncrowned queen of [Christendom]. Now she wears that crown."

Schuller said he has received many gifts in his lifetime, but the one he treasures most was a handwritten blessing she gave him: "Be all and only for Jesus."

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