Blessed Mother Teresa addresses a crowd of 15,000 at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum during her visit to Phoenix Feb. 2, 1989. (Diocese of Phoenix Archives)
Blessed Mother Teresa addresses a crowd of 15,000 at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum during her visit to Phoenix Feb. 2, 1989. (Diocese of Phoenix Archives)
Local Celebrations of the Canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata
  • Sept. 3, 6 p.m.
    Holy Hour and reception, Our Lady of Fatima Parish, 1418 S. 17th Ave.
  • Sept. 4, 9 a.m. Televised Canonization Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, followed by reception, Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave.
  • 11 a.m. Viewing of a film about Mother Teresa’s life in Bridget Hall, Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral
  • 7 p.m. Concert for Canonization, featuring Tom Booth, Jaime Cortez and other local Catholic musicians, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, 2121 S. Rural Rd., Tempe. Free admission, but donations will be accepted and given to the Missionaries of Charity.
  • Sept. 5, 6 p.m.
    Mass followed by a reception, Sacred Heart Parish, 1421 S. 12th St.
  • Sept. 17-25
    8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Exhibit on life of Mother Teresa, Our Lady of Fatima. 10 a.m. Mass, Sept. 17 and 6 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Olmsted Sept. 22

“Today we are going to make one strong resolution that in this beautiful city no man, no woman, no child will ever feel unwanted, unloved,” said Mother Teresa when she arrived in Phoenix Feb. 1, 1989. “Let us thank God in this great gift that we can share in his love by giving love to others.”

Now, 27 years later, the people of the Diocese of Phoenix are continuing that resolution, as they prepare for the canonization of that little old nun from Kolkata, India.

“Her legacy is to bring people closer to God,” said Sr. Savina Grace, a member of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity community serving at the Gift of Mary Home adjacent to Our Lady of Fatima Parish. “Go out to the poor, go out to the families, go and visit them, go and pray with them. That was her mission — to bring the families together. To pray with the family, teach them how to pray the Rosary.”

Throughout the diocese, activities are being planned around her Sept. 4 canonization. There will be a Holy Hour and reception on the vigil at Our Lady of Fatima, and on the day of, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted will celebrate the televised Mass in English at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral followed by a reception. Later that evening, a group of musicians are holding a concert at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe, and the following day, her feast day, a Mass will be celebrated at Sacred Heart Parish. Our Lady of Fatima will also host an exhibit on Mother Teresa’s life Sept. 17-27, beginning with a Mass on Sept. 17.

“I was considering traveling to Rome to witness this very meaningful event, but something in my heart said stay here and celebrate what God has done in the life of Mother Teresa with the local Church,” said Tom Booth, who is organizing the concert. “My prayer for the evening is that our faith and love for the Lord will deepen and that we can show that devotion in our care for the poor around us. Mother Teresa was so humble and pointed to Jesus. Hopefully, we can try to imitate that at the event.”

In addition to local activities, Our Lady of Fatima pastor Fr. Michael Accinni Reinhardt is leading a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization and to Assisi Sept. 1-9. Fr. Accinni Reinhardt said it’s no coincidence that she is being canonized in the Year of Mercy and that Assisi is on their itinerary in part because, like Mother Teresa, St. Francis also exemplified the works of mercy.

“There’s definitely a connection” between Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi. “Her mantra was ‘I thirst.’ They both embraced His death. They did that in their work, and brought the ministry to people in the streets that were dying.”

Even though Fr. Accinni Reinhardt has only served at Our Lady of Fatima for four years, he says the impact of her visit is still felt today.

“We’re excited that our parish will be one of the few in the diocese to say we had a saint grace our doors,” he said. “The impact of her visit is evident in her direct ministry to the poor,” noting that Mother Teresa sought to address spiritual poverty as well as material poverty.

Sr. Savina Grace was living in Kolkata when Mother Teresa died in 1997, and remembered the crowds of people filling the city to pay their respects to her. It was when she passed away that Sr. Savina Grace decided to answer the call to join the Missionaries of Charity.

“It was 1994, when I saw her and she asked me, ‘Are you going to be a nun?’ I said, I didn’t think so, but when she died, that day I decided I want to be a nun,” she said. “She promised when she was alive, ‘I will give saints to Mother Church,’ and she did it,” added Sr. Savina Grace, referring to the Missionaries of Charity who have been martyred. “We have hope.”

Mother Teresa’s witness also had an impact on the vocation of Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, diocesan director of Consecrated Life and a member of the Sisters of Mercy.

“Her life is a testimony to being dedicated to God, revealing the love of Christ to all, to those who are marginalized — the poor and often rejected,” said Sr. Anthony Mary.

Sr. Anthony Mary recalled as a third-grader learning about Mother Teresa and writing a letter to her as part of a class assignment. When she wrote the students back, Sr. Anthony Mary received a copy of the letter which she still keeps today. After that she was inspired to serve the needs of the poor, and planned to do that through a career in law.

“I wanted to be able to give my life to God the way she did. To defend the needs of those in need and the poor. To be a light of hope in a world that where there was a lot of materialism and selfishness. … And I thought I could do it in a career,” she recalled.

Sr. Anthony Mary was a 21-year-old college student when Mother Teresa died.

“When she died it was a reawakening to my purpose in life, and that’s when I really started to take my vocation seriously, I started to pray every day. I started going to daily Mass,” she said. “Our purpose is for the kingdom of Heaven. Ultimately the greatest gift we can give to others is charity and peace that comes from following Christ in a radical way.”

Rita Ruiz still remembers the day she met Mother Teresa. It was on her birthday, and then-pastor Fr. Francis Peacock surprised the lifelong parish volunteer who lived around the corner from Our Lady of Fatima by inviting her and her husband to come to the church to meet the future saint. She was coming to inspect a potential site to house her sisters.

“She kissed the foot of the altar before she walked on it,” the 85-year-old Ruiz said. “Mother, you’re welcome to make a home with us,” she recalled telling her. “She asked if she could move her sisters in immediately, but I wanted to clean it first. She said, ‘Oh, no, my sisters already know how to clean!”

Once the Missionaries of Charity were established in Phoenix, Ruiz and her husband volunteered regularly with the sisters, and saw Mother Teresa approximately five times. She would refer then to her as a “living saint,” but did not expect her to be canonized in her lifetime.

“I’m just in awe that I had a tiny part in her life because she brought the sisters here, and we continued working with them,” she said. “The fact remains we touched a saint.”