Praying with Mother Teresa brings us into the hear... Read more
Sharing Mother Teresa's Secret
Susan Conroy, friend of Mother Teresa and author of the latest Marian Press release, shares insights and the prayers given to her by Mother.
By Joan Lamar (Aug 26, 2016)
How does a 21-year-old woman from South Portland, Maine, end up working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta? We sat down with author Susan Conroy, a personal friend of Mother Teresa's for 11 years, and discussed her forthcoming book, Praying with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Insights, and Wisdom of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Marian Press, 2016), ahead of Mother Teresa's canonization on
It all started during Susan Conroy's junior year of college. She was at Dartmouth College studying economics. Susan said she was "normal" before she met Mother Teresa and her aspiration was to pursue the American dream — attending an Ivy League school to get an excellent education so she could earn a good income and pay for a great life.
"But my mom changed all that," she said.
Susan's mother penned weekly letters to her while she was away at college — "love letters from home" is how Susan referred to them — and in one of these letters, she included a copy of a hand-painted image of Mother Teresa with words by the future saint. The quote spoke directly to Susan's heart. She still remembers it today. It starts: "Joy is prayer, joy is strength, joy is love. Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls."
But the teachings of Mother Teresa which filled Susan's heart with the dream of working and praying alongside Mother Teresa and changed the course of Susan's life came a little later.
Before we get to that, it's important to understand a little more about Susan. One of 10 children, she was raised in a very devout Catholic home surrounded by a loving and joyous family that would pray together daily. Susan shared how her parents always called their 10 children their "10 Treasures," but also their 10 "charges," because "mom and dad took very seriously their responsibility for our immortal souls," Susan said. "They gave us a home, clothing, food and education, but my parents' primary task was to lead us to Heaven, to lead us back to God."
This kind of awareness about her relationship with God, Who is also her ultimate destination, has long been second nature to Susan. In fact, she said, since she was a child, she has always longed for Heaven, knowing that Heaven is our true home and life on earth was never meant to be easy. She said that even St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) used to say that life is our "barque" (our boat), not our home, a concept that helped Thérèse endure the sorrows of this life.
So when Susan read the next lines from the words of Mother Teresa — "We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now! She wanted to know how this longing for Heaven and for God could be accessible here on earth. And Mother Teresa told her: "Being happy with God now means loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him for all the twenty-four hours of the day, and even touching Him in His distressing disguise [of the poor]."
Susan read these words of Mother Teresa and realized she didn't have to wait to be close to God in Heaven. She could be close to God during this life on earth, and Mother Teresa was telling her how best to go about that. She immediately thought, "Sign me up!"
When she came home for Christmas break that semester, Susan discovered that her mother had three books about Mother Teresa on the coffee table in the living room. She read the books and learned about the suffering, the disease, and the poverty in Calcutta. "When I learned about the intensity of Mother Teresa's prayer life and that Mother welcomed anyone with hands to serve and a heart to love to come and join her in this work with the poorest of the poor, that's when this dream of working with Mother Teresa began," Susan said.
Susan arrived in India in 1986. She had just turned 21, traveled alone to Calcutta, and arrived in the dead of night. She remembers the hour-long drive from the airport to the YWCA where she was staying in Calcutta, saying, "Even in the middle of the night, the streets were teeming with people and there were fires burning along the road." The next morning, Susan ventured out alone and showed up on Mother Teresa's doorstep. She hoped to help care for babies in the orphanages and to volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity's Home for the Dying. Thus began an 11-year friendship with Mother Teresa.
Two things come to mind when Susan thinks about being in Mother Teresa's presence. "First, it was the joy — the joy of being in her presence was palpable. We couldn't stop smiling," she said. Being in Mother Teresa's presence was like receiving a spiritual injection, she added. "Then we could go out into the streets and face the worst human misery and couldn't hold back the joy."
Susan recalls a visit she and her friend Paul once had with Mother. After the visit, Paul said to her, "Susan, you are shining again!" It was the result of being in the presence of a saint, Susan explained. "Mother Teresa was radiant with peace and luminous with humility. And those virtues were contagious. When you are in the presence of a saint, who is full of God, full of charity, who is a friend of God, then the Holy Spirit spills out into us." You received graces in her company, Susan added.
The second thing that surprised Susan the first time she met Mother Teresa was her profound humility. "She was totally selfless. When Mother Teresa spoke to me, I became her whole world. She treated each person as if we were gold. The man dying in the street is precious to God … and she looked at us the same way that God looks at us."
While Susan and Mother Teresa were in Calcutta in 1986 and 1991, they saw each other every day — at daily Mass, serving the poor together, and at the Holy Hour of Adoration that Mother had each evening at the Missionaries of Charity's motherhouse. After one of their times praying together, Susan and Mother stepped out onto the balcony of the motherhouse, which overlooks the courtyard where the sisters wash their clothing every day. Mother gave Susan her old, tattered prayer book. She also gave Susan permission to share the prayers it contained, which prompted Susan to write her latest book, Praying with Mother Teresa (published by Marian Press). "Mother said that the whole point of sharing these prayers with others is to give others peace and joy, too, because prayer is such a source of endless joy, endless peace, and endless love."
Prayer was the heart of Mother Teresa's ministry, Susan said. "Mother used to say that her primary vocation was not to serve the poorest of the poor; her primary vocation was to belong to Jesus, to have that intimate union with God." Mother Teresa prayed 24/7, she added, so to receive her prayer book was very special.
"People would ask Mother Teresa, 'How do you do it? How do you face disease, death, and human misery every day?' And she would answer, 'My secret is quite simple – I pray.'"
Let us imitate Mother Teresa's prayer and works of mercy, trusting our needs to her intercession and striving to love God and neighbor, especially in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Mother Teresa, pray for us!
Visit shopmercy.org or call 1-800-462-7426 to order Praying with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Insights, and Wisdom of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Product Code PWMT).