I was plagued throughout my childhood and into my adult life with severe mental illness. Paranoid schizophrenia, manic depression and psychopathy were diagnosed at 27 years of age and, despite having trained as a nurse and tutor, I never worked again.
Cathy, my wife, and our three children grew together – despite the serious difficulties that Cathy and the children had to cope with. The years passed by, with support from our GP, Dr Chandy, and our local priest, Canon Woodhouse. Life was not easy.
In my mid-forties I saw a moving television programme entitled Foothold in Heaven‚ which featured Mother Teresa visiting London. I was so moved by her spiritual beauty and goodness that I knew I had to make contact. I was at my lowest ebb.
I wrote to her at the Mother House in Calcutta. Much to my amazement, she responded, and that was the beginning of a remarkable correspondence. I received 32 letters from 1989 to just before her death in June 1997.
I then started to telephone her wherever she was in the world; and she always had time to speak with me reassuringly.
Mother Teresa then happily agreed to meet with me, first in Rome, then in London and Belgium. I met her three times in Rome, once in Belgium and four times in London. She never refused. She used to say every person she met was Jesus within. I thank God for Mother’s friendship. On each visit local people and family members would give gifts and money for her poor; she accepted joyfully in Jesus’s name.
On my second visit to Mother Teresa, in Rome in 1990, a most beautiful experience took place. I believe it was the beginning of the healing within.
Mother came into the little room, adjoining the chapel and looking out into the courtyard beyond – and suddenly I became transfixed by her smiling face. There was not a wrinkle in her facial features and there was a haze surrounding her very being, blocking out totally the courtyard beyond. It was like a “spiritual spell”.
Mother then smiled again, and she told me I would be fine: “See your priest for Confession.” I don’t know how long it lasted and I cannot remember any conversation passing our lips.
As the letters continued to flow, the visits to Mother came and went, and our telephone conversations continued, but her health was failing rapidly. Cathy told me to visit her in May 1997. She said: “Your old friend is dying, Norman, you must visit her in Rome to say goodbye.” I dutifully obeyed my wife.
I arranged to meet Mother in Caselina convent in Rome. We talked together in the courtyard; she was using a wheelchair. I think the most poignant moment was when Mother and I slowly walked to the entrance of the chapel. Nuns were walking in and out to pray.
Mother Teresa asked me to kneel and she bowed, and we prayed together. I thanked God for my friend and all that she had done for me personally, and the world’s poor.
We then slowly returned to our seats. She told me I would be well soon, and insisted that I attend Mass early next morning, before returning to Britain.
On returning home to Peterlee, County Durham, I said to Cathy that she was right, and I thanked God for having seen MotherTeresa before her death.
On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa died. I continued my work as a co-worker for her order, but she was sadly missed. On the same day two years later, I had a brief visit from Mother Teresa in a dream. She told me I was well now; I was healed, thank God.
On October 7, 2000, I visited the Mother House to pray at her tomb and to celebrate 50 years since she founded the Missionaries of Charity order. Our doctors had written to Sister Nirmala, who had replaced Mother Teresa, and the postulator Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk was in no doubt, after investigation, that it was a “miracle”, but not a provable miracle, as mental illness could never be. Only physical miracles were acceptable. The Vatican, however, accepted the case as a strong “favour”.
My friendship with the order continued, and after my first visit to Calcutta, I visited again twice in 2001, taking lots of God’s love in 31 boxes from schools, shops and industry. People responded beautifully.
In 2002, thousands of people were involved from the North East, North West and Oxford; and 56 boxes (weighing more than a ton) were sent to Shishu Bhavan orphanage, two blocks from the Mother House. Cathy and I have never seen as much kindness from people of all religions and none. I will always thank God. British Airways sent the 56 boxes from Newcastle to Calcutta free of charge.
I have been very fortunate to have known Mother Teresa, and by the time you read this I will have been among the hundreds of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square witnessing Mother Teresa’s beatification. Thank God.
This article was first published in the Catholic Herald on October 24, 2003