Working With Mother Teresa and the ‘Dying Destitutes’

(Editor’s Note: Holy, not funny, is the order of the day).

Susan for blog





Susan Conroy decided to “go work with a living saint” in 1986.

So, at just 21 years old, she left her home in small town Maine and flew to Calcutta.

“I had no talents. No special skills. But I’d read that Mother Teresa needed people with ‘hands to serve and hearts to love. I had two strong hands. I thought, ‘You could come help a Saint. Maybe I could change diapers or something.'”

Five minutes after stepping off a rickety bus into filthy, teeming Calcutta, the devout Catholic with a big heart was lost and wandering the streets.

It didn’t take the locals long to figure her out.

They started pointing down the street and saying, “Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa.”

Susan followed their directions and, soon enough, she found Mother’s hospital and almost immediately began helping in the orphanage.

“It only took about five minutes to realize that something was wrong. All these babies sitting on the bare floor never cried. Now, I’m from a big Catholic family. I have 30 nieces and nephews, and I know that babies cry and make a lot of noise. But these didn’t.”

Then a tiny little girl cried, and Susan bent down to pick her up.

“She immediately stopped crying. I took that as a sign that I was doing good!

“But then one little boy started to cry, and I thought, ‘Oh no, I only have two arms. What am I going to do if they all start crying at once? I can’t pick them all up!'”

Susan tried to put the little girl down so she could pick up the little boy. But the little girl would simply not let go.

“She was clinging to my neck. It was like she was afraid that no one would ever pick her up again.”

“In my first five minutes there, I learned what my job was — Love.

“I could hug and cuddle and kiss them every day. I was on a mission of love. I fell in love with every single baby. How could you not? They are all so beautiful. They were all my favorites.”

Susan didn’t just care for the babies. She also worked in Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying.

In fact, she came to work every day in Mother’s ambulance, collecting the “dying destitutes” along the way.

They were filthy, diseased and frequently insane.

Yet they were tenderly bathed, fed, and given clean clothing and medical care.

But most of all, they were given love.

When Mother Teresa came into their room — always after she’d spent time praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament — these emaciated, dying people, would open their eyes, lift up their arms and call out “Mah. Mah.”

“They didn’t know she was famous and had received a Nobel Prize. They hadn’t seen her on TV. All they knew was that all the love in the world had just stepped into their room. Love and holiness.”

“Let me tell you, I had high expectations of a Saint before I went to India. But Mother exceeded them. Love. Humility. Kindness. She treated all of us — ALL OF US — like gold. Even if we were nobody — a ‘dying destitute’ from the gutter or a 21-year-old white girl from America.

“That’s how to evangelize. With love.”

“The media always referred to Mother Teresa as a ‘Living Saint’. But I think she was a ‘Living Prayer’.”

One day, when Susan was working in the Home for the Dying, doctors were struggling to keep any nutrition down one man. They asked Susan to help him sit upright.

“All afternoon, I got to hold him. In effect, I was a human chair for the rest of the day.

“He kept looking at me, caressing my hand, loving me. I thought ‘Who’s giving more love and joy and comfort?’ I didn’t expect them to love me.”

Susan remembers how upsetting it was when patients died. The Sisters said not to worry; they were now in Heaven.

Mother Teresa told her: “Susan. You have received many graces for this. You are never as close to heaven as when someone is dying.”

Art lover

Mother Teresa liked the artwork that Susan had done to liven up the orphanage’s walls and “she asked me for a favor. Imagine, a living saint asking me for a favor!”

Child in Palm of God’s Hand Child in Palm of God’s Hand

“Mother Teresa asked me to create this special drawing of a little child carved in the Palm of God’s Hand. She wanted me to include this beautiful passage from the Old Testament in which God says to each one of us, through the Prophet Isaiah: See! I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of My hand. I have called you by your name. You are mine. You are precious to Me. I love you”. — Isaiah 49:16

When Susan showed her drawing to Mother, the 4-foot-11 nun took it out of her hand and started writing on it.

“I was shocked. I thought, “Oh my goodness. You’re going to ruin it!”

Then she realized this was Mother Teresa doing the writing, so she relaxed. When Mother gave it back to her, she’d written a single word on each of the fingers of God’s Hand: “You. Did. It. To. Me”

This was to remind us of the words that Jesus said – “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto Me.”


This blog post was based on Susan Conroy’s April 7, 2013 talk in Auckland, NZ. You might enjoy this clip of Susan talking about Mother Teresa. And here is her book on Mother Teresa.


2 Responses to “Working With Mother Teresa and the ‘Dying Destitutes’”

  1. TerryS says:

    What a beautiful story of love.

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