The centenary of the birth of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is August 26, and Time magazine has just released an illustrated book on the woman who is in in process of moving toward sainthood in the Catholic Church. Titled “Mother Teresa at 100: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint,” the book includes essays by some who knew her, including the Protestant pastor Rick Warren, Jesuit Father James Martin, Susan van Houte, who was adopted as an infant from one of Mother Teresa’s residences for expectant women in Calcutta, and Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, a member of the priests’ society of Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. Father Kolodiejchuk is official promoter for her sainthood cause.
I was perusing the book the same day I read a news report that the Baltimore Archdiocese had just sent Rome materials for the sainthood cause of Father Patrick Peyton. Father Peyton was the Holy Cross priest who marshaled radio and TV stars to promote the rosary and family prayer, first in the United States and then throughout the world. Materials from Baltimore included reports of healings through his intercession that, if accepted by the Vatican, would mean we’ll soon be speaking of Blessed Patrick Peyton.
I was lucky enough to personally meet each of them. Both had a beguiling charm. The diminutive nun made the richest of the rich know that the poorest of the poor were around them. The Nobel Prize winner drew the admiration of President Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana. Former California Governor Jerry Brown spent time working with her in Calcutta.
The tall, Irish-born Father Peyton befriended Hollywood mega-stars, from the crooner Bing Crosby to the starlet Loretta Young and got them and other show biz folk to work for Family Rosary and Family Theater. They helped shape his messages: “The family that prays together, stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace” that were staples of posters and billboards in post-World War II society.
Yet charm alone was not the secret of their success. Each one was rooted in an intense, real, yet other worldly, relationship that grounded them, Mother Teresa with Jesus, and Father Peyton with the Virgin Mary. The relationships began to intensify when they were young adults and they focused everything they did on these relationships for the rest of their lives. Mother Teresa spoke of Jesus and Father Peyton of Mary as if they were standing by their side. I think they were.
I interviewed Mother Teresa a few times. She was a hard interviewee because she did not say much and repeated her message to love Jesus over and over again. It was a challenge to get 300 words for a newspaper article out of her. But I’d leave the interview knowing I had a message to deliver.
I knew Father Peyton better because his headquarters were in my hometown, Albany, New York. He was more loquacious than Mother Teresa but his message was always the same, the power of prayer to Mary. After each encounter I’d feel I had a special commission from God Himself to spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Both Mother Teresa and Father Peyton touched people deeply, but their impacts went beyond impressing them with their accomplishments, many as they were. Each was a mystic who glimpsed the divine and then radiated holiness without their knowing it. It wasn’t something they spoke about specifically. Mother Teresa and Father Peyton were gifts to the 20th Century and proof that holiness can be within our reach even or because of the chaotic world in which we live.