Thirty years ago, the Catholic Church was dominated by two great saints. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were everywhere. Their pictures, voices and teachings took the world by storm. Their vibrant approaches, marked by nearly constant travel and visible personal piety, were a staple of international news, Catholic and secular.
And now it’s been 25 years since the death of Mother Teresa. Our emerging generation of Catholics have no personal memory of her. In my own experience teaching undergraduates, they have heard the name of Mother Teresa and know her face, but I have found that the sense for her mission isn’t there.
Today’s students don’t really know Mother’s work for the poor. They don’t know how outspoken she was against abortion on the world stage. They don’t know her intimate life of prayer. They didn’t see the news clips of her in Washington or mourn her death, which famously coincided with the tragic death of Princess Diana. Perhaps they don’t even know that fact.
To help a new generation know and love Mother Teresa, the Knights of Columbus has just produced a documentary on her life. The film, “Mother Teresa: No Greater Love,” premiered in the United States on Sept. 11 at the National Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington, D.C. In attendance were 40-some joyful — even giddy — members of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, so distinctive in their trademark, white cotton saris with blue trim.
Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly noted the long-standing relationship between the Knights of Columbus and Mother Teresa’s order. Kelly said, “The Knights of Columbus have had a thirty year friendship with Mother Teresa, going back to one of my predecessors, Virgil Dechant.” Kelly humbly shared that the Knights have provided everything from printing facilities to tabernacles to assist the work of the Missionaries of Charity.
“This film is very much a work of the Holy Spirit,” said Director David Naglieri during a panel discussion after the viewing. “I think that Mother Teresa may have been pulling some strings from heaven because so much had to come together for this film to be completed on time.” Naglieri noted in particular how demanding it was to continue production through the logistical challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Additionally, Naglieri pointed out that since the Missionaries of Charity don’t seek publicity, considerable efforts were made to trace footage for the film. He said, “We had to hunt down in archives all over the world the footage and photos.”
“We didn’t want to just make a chronological biography,” Nalieri said. “We wanted to show how her spirit and her mission carries on today.” The film cuts back and forth from the essential moments of Mother Teresa’s life and current stories of the Missionaries of Charity. It successfully introduces the audience to the Missionaries today, revealing their hidden work for the poorest of the poor all over the world.
Jim Wahlberg, brother of the actor and filmmaker Mark Wahlberg, is one of the Catholic commentators featured in the film. Meeting Mother Teresa while incarcerated changed his life, but when he was first told by the prison chaplain she was going to visit, he didn’t know who she was. Wahlberg shared at the premiere: “In the film, I say to Father Jim Fratus, ‘Who’s Mother Teresa?'” “Now, as I sit here,” he continued, “I see the face of Mother Teresa in all of you wonderful sisters, and it’s just beautiful. It’s very touching to me.”
Sister Berniece, MC, the first African American Missionary of Charity, praised the film, telling its directors, “God sent the Holy Spirit upon you to do this for the world; we need this, to let the world know that there are still so many people in need.” Very solemnly and sincerely she declared, “You did such a beautiful job that I will pray until God calls me home that you will be among the people that enter into eternity.”
The film premiere was just one event of a weekend of events which included an academic conference, a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the dedication of the newly established Mother Teresa Institute, a Holy Hour and more.
Having grown up watching Mother Teresa on the world stage, this documentary film does a marvelous job capturing her life, telling her story and sharing her legacy with future generations. Don’t miss the documentary when it hits theaters across the country for a special two-day event on Oct. 3-4.
Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickMaryOP.