Mother Teresa in Omaha: humorous, inspiring
Mother Teresa, the nun about to be declared a saint in honor of her humility and fearless devotion to the poor, left several other positive impressions when she visited Omaha in 1976.
"We had a lot of laughs. … She had a good sense of humor," said Bill Ramsey, a retired spokesman for Boys Town, one of the sites Mother Teresa visited during her two-day stop. Now 86, Ramsey then was a nervous chauffeur, the person appointed to make sure the tiny Indian nun arrived at her stops on time. She repeatedly tried to put him at ease.
"Bill, don’t worry about that," she told him again and again as he fretted that the streams of people she stopped to talk with were trashing the schedule.
"She moved very slowly because she talked to everyone," he said.
"I was worried about getting her back to the airport on time" for her flight out, he said. "She didn’t have a real sense of timing" and paid no attention to the clock.
Mother Teresa spent about 40 hours in Omaha that May, touring Boys Town and accepting the Father Flanagan Award for Service to Youth, visiting two groups of cloistered nuns, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Poor Sisters of St. Clare, and speaking to a downtown luncheon crowd.
She stayed overnight at the Poor Clares’ monastery, then located near 29th and Hamilton streets. The abbess at the time, Sister Mary Clare, said Mother Teresa struck her, too, as a down-to-earth person.
"We had a chair re-upholstered" for the occasion, in gold fabric, "a nice chair for her to sit on," said the former abbess, now 87. "But she took me by the arm and had me sit in the chair."
While chatting with her fellow nuns after morning Mass, "about where her sisters were and a little about her life," Mother Teresa abstractedly stirred sugar into a glass of water instead of her coffee, said Sister Mary Clare. But, the former abbess said, when the other nuns tried to clear the mistake from the table, Mother Teresa insisted the glass remain. She simply drank the sweetened water instead of coffee.
At Boys Town, the visitor from India "was amazed by the village," how it was organized, said Tom Lynch, who oversees the home’s Hall of History museum.
Mother Teresa, he said, toured building after building, even the basements, and helped break ground on a new research center, now the home’s lakeside headquarters building.
"It was very inspirational to the kids. … She was a role model," he said. "She dealt with people nobody wanted, like Father Flanagan did, the people society had given up on and ignored." (The cause for sainthood for the Boys Town founder is under study now at the Vatican.)
Mother Teresa arrived in Omaha May 5, and the next day spoke to about 500 people at the downtown Hilton, accepting the award from Boys Town and telling the crowd:
"The boys do not need pity but love and compassion. Give your hands to serve them and your hearts to love them."
After the luncheon, Ramsey was fretting about getting his guest to the airport on time – and she once again threw a delay into the timetable by asking a favor:
Could she have the candles from the Hilton’s tables? She would like to take them back to her home for the poor in India, she explained.
But they are half burned, Ramsey said.
"Yes, but they are half good," she replied.
The candles were gathered and put into sacks supplied by the hotel. The plane didn’t leave without her.
"She must’ve known something I didn’t know," Ramsey said.
A first-class relic of Mother Teresa will be at St. Peter Church in Omaha for all Sunday Masses Sept. 4, the day she is canonized, and a 9 a.m. Mass Sept. 5 celebrating her first feast day. There will be prayers for her intercession and time for individual veneration. The relic’s guardian is Gloria Deo Catholic Books & Gift Store in Omaha.