The Deacon's Bench

Here’s a side of Mother Teresa we haven’t heard much about: the saint-as-patient.

Her cardiologist spoke at a gathering in Pennsylvania recently, and the Pittsburgh paper has the scoop:

In the last seven years of her life, Mother Teresa was often near death but saw some of her most heartfelt prayers answered. Only the hope of establishing a home for abandoned and forgotten people in China persuaded her to accept advanced medical care, her cardiologist said.

“She was the worst patient I ever had,” said Dr. Patricia Aubanel from Coronado, Calif., who often traveled with her from 1990 until her death in 1997.

Many people who were close to Mother Teresa told stories of her life last weekend at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. College President James Towey, who once served as Mother Teresa’s legal counsel, organized the gathering.

Dr. Aubanel was originally from Tijuana, Mexico, and in 1990 the Catholic bishop of that city called her in California. The bishop asked her to see an elderly friend of his who had been in Tijuana and had gone to the San Diego area, was very ill and had not seen a doctor. She found Mother Teresa in a Missionaries of Charity convent, suffering from pneumonia and popping about 20 nitroglycerin pills a day for chest pain.

She refused to go to the hospital.

“I’m happy to go to Jesus,” Mother Teresa said.

“Are you finished with your mission?” the doctor demanded.

For years Mother Teresa had been asking nearly everyone she met to pray that her sisters would be able to get into China. Now she asked, “Would you help me to go to China? Imagine all the souls for Jesus.”

“I said that I will do everything that is possible so you can get to China,” Dr. Aubanel said. Mother Teresa finally consented, entered Scripps Clinic and had five blood vessels to her heart unblocked.

During this same period, Mother Teresa saw the fulfillment of another long-held desire, the establishment of a house for her sisters in Albania. She was born in 1910 in Skopje, which was then in Albania, later in Yugoslavia and now in Macedonia. Much of her family had remained in Albania, which was the most militantly atheistic nation in the world under Enver Hoxha.

Even private practice of faith was punishable by death. For 40 years, Mother Teresa could not go home to her family, and her mother could not get to her. Her mother died calling her name.

Mr. Hoxha died in 1985, and four years later she made her first visit home. Her greatest desire was to visit the graves of her mother and sister. As her car entered the cemetery in the capital, they were waylaid by an unexpected ceremony at Mr. Hoxha’s tomb, said Jan Petrie, her traveling companion. “Mother said a little prayer,” she said.

A few hours later she went to lunch with the late dictator’s widow. “This woman was partly responsible for keeping her apart from her family,” Ms. Petrie said. “The first thing she said to her was, ‘I prayed for your husband today.’ “

On a later visit, the Albanian president told her it was against the law to have a religious center of any kind in Albania. Ms. Petrie said Mother Teresa replied, “I’m ready to break that law.”

Read the rest to find out what happened. It’s a fascinating glimpse at a fascinating life.

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