In half an hour, the graduating class of Immaculata College would file into Alumnae Hall for their diplomas, but one of the guest speakers - a 65-year-old nun in a thin, cotton sari - was cold.

Such are the moments, large and small, that people around the region recall from their encounters with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom Pope Francis will proclaim a Roman Catholic saint on Sunday.

"She'd left her raggedy sweater in the car," Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, who was Immaculata's dean of academic affairs at the time, recalled last week.

The day was May 23, 1976. Mother Teresa, already world-revered for her care of the dying poor of India, was in Malvern, at this Catholic college, to receive its new award, the Immaculata Medal.

But "living saints" are human, and this one was shivering.

"So Sister Marie Antoine," the college president, "invited her up to her apartment for a cup of tea," Bonfini said. "Even then she was still cold, so I went to my room and gave her my sweater."

Bonfini brought along her Bible, and told Mother Teresa she would be "so grateful if you would write an inscription."

The sweater, which Teresa returned, has since disappeared, much to the 80-year-old Bonfini's chagrin. "It would be a saint's relic if I'd kept it," she said with a laugh.

In the now-university's archives, however, her embossed, gilt-and-crimson leather-bound Bible holds a place of honor, its frontispiece bearing a gentle admonition in Mother Teresa's black script:

. . . Jesus is the poor in the distressing Disguise

to be loved by you and me.

Pray for me.

Yours in Jesus

M Teresa mc

The "mc" stands for Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Mother Teresa founded in 1950 after she felt called by Jesus to serve the dying poor of India, where she had been a teaching nun.

It had taken her two years to win Vatican approval for the order, which she said would serve "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society."

Nineteen years later, in 1969, 24-year-old Michael Mannion of Pennsauken was "working in the slums of Rome" alongside several Missionaries of Charity sisters when one asked if he could pick up another of their sisters at the airport.

A different route

"I said I didn't have a car, but I had a motorcycle," Mannion recalled last week from Rome.

"Sister said, 'No, that's not a good idea,' " said Mannion, now a priest of the Diocese of Camden. Her colleague, who normally took the bus, "had a broken rib" and was, by the way, Mother Teresa.

Mannion, then a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, borrowed a car from the school's rector and found himself the next day driving Mother Teresa to a "shack" of a convent in the slums.

Two years later, after becoming a priest, he knocked at her home for the dying destitute in Calcutta (now Kolkata) to announce himself a volunteer in her service.

She put him to work digging ditches, and later giving medical infusions in camps for Bangladeshi refugees.

They remained friends until her death in 1997, and Mannion was among the handful of priests who concelebrated her requiem Mass alongside Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. She was 87.

St. Peter's is where Mannion will find himself again on Sunday as Pope Francis proclaims that the former Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (the Albanian name is pronounced Agnes gon-jah bo-ya-joo) lived a life of "heroic virtue," is certainly in heaven, and thus is worthy to be called a Catholic saint.

Criticism, too

Mother Teresa's acclaimed devotion to the sick and dying has come under harsh criticism, however.

Some volunteers and visitors to her homes for the dying destitute voiced surprise on discovering that the Missionaries of Charity typically provided pallets for the dying rather than health care.

Some also complained that - despite the millions in donations that flowed to the order - her homes often provided little more than aspirin for pain control; reused needles without sterilizing them; and, according to a 1994 report by the British medical journal Lancet, "failed to distinguish between dying patients and those who could be cured."

To this the Nobel Peace Prize winner replied that she oversaw hospices, not hospitals.

"We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious," she explained, and the suffering of the poor was "beautiful" because it allowed them to "share in the passion of Christ."

Dana Redd of Camden was 8 years old, full of confusion and grief, when she presented Mother Teresa with a lei just four weeks after her parents were found shot to death in a Bordentown motel.

"It's one of those moments that's forever etched in my mind," Redd, now the mayor of Camden, recalled last week.

'Quite nervous'

Aug. 7, 1976, was "very hot, and I was in a white dress with my hair braided with white ribbons."

Her parents had been raising her and her brother as Methodists, but had enrolled her in the parochial school of Camden's Sacred Heart Parish. She was weeks from starting third grade when she got the horrific news.

The sisters at the school and the parish pastor, the Rev. Michael Doyle, "just embraced and adopted us" after their parents' death, she said. And as part of that embrace Doyle selected her to place the flowers around Mother Teresa's neck at the start of the Mass.

"I was quite nervous," she said, "but then I was escorted up to gently place it around her neck, and I remember her embracing me and hugging and kissing me, and I'm sure she uttered a prayer."

Years would pass before Redd fully understood who that "very small" woman in the blue-and-white sari was.

Life of sacrifice

"She led a life of servant leadership and sacrifice," the mayor said. "I think we as leaders can all learn from her the importance of maintaining humility."

The lei, faded but intact, is preserved in a shadow box at the rectory where it sat last week on a desk beside photos of Mother Teresa's 1976 visit and a bag of "St. Teresa of Calcutta" medals that will be handed out Sunday at a Mass in honor of her canonization.

Patience and forbearance are the lessons that Robert Tharp, a deacon in the Diocese of Trenton, says he takes from the life of the Catholic Church's newest saint.

"I'd always had a bit of affection for her," Tharp said last week. But then he was invited to distribute Holy Communion at a Mass on June 18, 1995, at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Mother Teresa was seated in the front pew with several of her sisters, who had recently created an outreach to the poor in Asbury Park.

Tharp had been presenting a chalice of consecrated wine at the altar rail. As the communion service wound down he noticed he had a small amount remaining, "so I went down to the front pew to offer it to the sisters."

'In her presence'

He supposed he would run out before he reached Mother Teresa at the far end, "but most of them declined. So all of a sudden I found myself standing in front of her - and she accepted."

"Just being in her presence, you could sense her humility," Tharp, 73, recalled. He said he draws often on that moment in his work as a parish bereavement minister.

"You get no accolades in bereavement support," he said, "and so there's a lot of burnout listening to all these tragic stories. But then I think of how she gave her life to simply ministering to people in their brokenness, and it keeps me going."

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