Today I’m honored to share an interview with Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle (pictured left), a wife, mom, author, and speaker who is committed to encouraging others to seek holiness in the context of a happy Catholic family.
Donna Marie’s most recent book, Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship, recounts the lessons learned from a ten-year relationship with the humble nun from Calcutta who is known for serving the poorest of the poor.
When I was in seventh grade, a close friend of mine led me to fell in love with the wisdom of Mother Teresa. Later in life I first felt an authentic call to motherhood while commuting on a train to work and reading A Simple Path. Coincidentally, I discovered after reading Donna Marie’s book that Mother Teresa received her “call within a call” – her first inspiration to start the Missionaries of Charity – while sitting aboard a train as well.
While my devotion to Mother Teresa has been long-lived, the magnitude of her works and her life have often made her seem aloof and unreachable to me. What Donna Marie’s book did for me was to make Mother Teresa real. The book includes snippets of personal correspondence with Mother Teresa as well as photographs of the saint-in-the-making with Donna Marie’s children. While Donna Marie’s book focused on this one pious woman, it serves as a reminder that the entire “great cloud of witnesses” in which we call saints are not impassable, holy people who are just “out there.” They are people we can turn to in our struggles and in our joy for inspiration. They are people who have stumbled under the weight of their crosses just as we do. They are people who wrote letters and hugged children and asked for prayers on their behalf. They are true friends in Christ.
I took advantage of a recent weekend on the road and read Mother Teresa and Me in two days. As is true with all of her books, Donna Marie’s words encourage, inspire, and reaffirm the value of traditional motherhood. (Go, Moms!) But what sets this book apart is that it takes an intimate look into the life of a small woman who made a big difference not only in the lives of the people she served but in the world.
Now from Donna Marie:
Donna Marie, I am so honored to have you over here at my little corner of cyberspace. Thanks for sharing your time and talents with us all. Now please tell us a little bit about your relationship with Mother Teresa.
I met Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Washington DC a little more than 22 years ago at the Missionaries of Charity convent. My spiritual director at the time, Father John A. Hardon S.J., invited my family down to see him at Georgetown University where he taught theology. We had a lovely visit and were then encouraged by Fr. Hardon to visit the patients at the “Gift of Peace” home at the Missionaries of Charity convent. We visited the terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients there and observed the loving care given to them by the nuns. The nuns invited us to come back the next day for Mass at their private chapel. We were told that Mother Teresa would be attending one of their Masses. I had no idea up until that point that she was even in the country!
What prompted you to write Mother Teresa and Me?
I received countless blessings from God from knowing the amazing “saint” of the gutters. I kept most of it to myself for many years, and then there came a time when I felt inspired to share the blessings with others. God didn’t want me to hide my light under a bushel. God gave me the courage and prodded me to share very personal parts of my life and much of my personal friendship with my Mother, teacher, mentor, spiritual guide, and friend.
In the book, you include some of your personal correspondence with Mother Teresa as well as several photos of her with you and your children. How did meeting Mother Teresa and seeing her with your children impact your vocation as a mother? What about your children? What’s their reaction when they see themselves pictured with a woman who is recognized throughout the world as someone who devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor and is sure to become a saint in the Catholic Church?
Yes, some excerpts of the 22 letters I received from Mother Teresa over the years are included in my book. People have already been telling me that the words are speaking to their hearts, too. I am very glad that I was blessed to have some photos of my children and a few of me with Mother Teresa, too. You know, you didn’t exactly pull out your camera when you were with Mother Teresa. She didn’t like to be photographed. She was very humble, after all. So, the fact that we do have some photos (mostly taken by a co-worker or sister nearby) is a real blessing!
Regarding your question about how meeting Mother Teresa impacted my vocation as a mother, I think that knowing her and being in contact with her deepened my spiritual life and my prayer life a great deal and couldn’t help but affect my vocation as a mother – it strengthened it for sure.
My children, how do they react knowing they are pictured with a living “saint”? They are appreciative of all of the blessings in their lives and they took it all in stride as I did. We didn’t question the blessings. We accepted them all as they came and are extremely grateful.
Tell me a little more about your devotion to the Miraculous Medal.
I wear a blessed Miraculous medal always and have been for as long as I can remember. The one I wear was given to me by Mother Teresa during a high risk pregnancy with my daughter Mary-Catherine. I wrote about the Miraculous medal in my book, Catholic Saints Prayer Book (OSV, 2008) in my account of St. Catherine Laboure. I also speak at length about the medal in Mother Teresa and Me and recount a story that Fr. Hardon told me about his miraculous experience with the medal. I am very devoted to this medal, which is a sacramental of our Church and a means to put ourselves under the protection of our Blessed Mother who will bring us closer to Jesus. I try to give a blessed Miraculous medal to all I meet through my speaking events and book signings. I send them with the book orders, too. I feel I am carrying on the tradition of Mother Teresa of giving the medal to those she met.
I’ve read many of your books and one theme that seems to consistently pop up is that as mothers, we are called to serve our families first. Mother Teresa said, “Love begins at home.” What would you say to a mother who feels discouraged that she is hidden in her home and not able to minister to greater society as much as she might like?
Yes, our love begins at home. God puts us exactly where He wants us. While a mother may want to run off to Calcutta to serve the poor or even help out in her community or parish, it would actually be wrong for her to do so if she were neglecting her family in any way in the process. We must remain humble and trust God that He knows what’s best for us. He knows exactly what we need. Many of the saints, including St. Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa, too, preached that all of the little things in our lives are so important.
We shouldn’t neglect all of the little details that make up our lives feeling that they are unimportant. Doing the things that may seem mundane or monotonous to a mother, when performed lovingly and even joyfully, work miracles! Truly, they do, we have to trust God for that. Our place as a mother is to care for and raise our family properly. Other opportunities will arise as we are out and about in the community when we become a “mother” to the Girl Scout troop or the Little League team and so on.
When a mother feels discouraged about her little tasks in the home or because she feels her efforts aren’t amounting to much, she just needs to look into the eyes of her family members and she will see Jesus there when she offers her life to God and asks for His holy will in her life. She’ll feel at peace wherever God puts her along her journey knowing that it is all a means to her sanctification and that of her family’s too. So, even though it seems like the mother’s evangelizing isn’t making it to the “ends of the earth” as we are prodded to do as Christians, she should be content that Our Lord is truly working under her roof in her domestic church and the time will come when she can evangelize in other places, too. If her children aren’t evangelized properly with love and the teachings of the Church, they won’t be able to get the Gospel to the “ends of the earth.”
Everything we do, no matter how small it may seem when lovingly done is extremely important to our spiritual lives and those around us. Nothing is insignificant!
In your book, you mention an apostolate you founded after being inspired by Mother Teresa’s tireless devotion to the poor called Friends of Veronica. Tell us a little more about this apostolate. How can others support this or the Missionaries of Charity?
Friends of Veronica was founded in honor of Blessed Teresa’s Beatification and the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Papacy. It is an outreach to seniors, shut-ins, and the lonely in nursing homes or hospitals. I started it in my parish, and I hope and pray that it will flourish around the country and maybe the world.
Anyone interested in starting a group of volunteers in their own parish or community can contact me through email: DMCOBoyle@aol.com. I plan to develop a spiritual branch of Friends of Veronica as well in time, by God’s grace. The reason I named this apostolate Friends of Veronica is that the loving service accomplished through it is an imitation of St. Veronica’s loving gesture to wipe Our Lord’s swollen, and wounded blood-streaked Holy Face as He walked Cavalry. When we give love to others, we are serving Jesus; we are loving Him.
What is it like to be a part of the lay Missionary of Charity movement? How can readers learn more about becoming a lay Missionary of Charity?
Being part of the Missionaries of Charity is a real blessing. I write about it in Mother Teresa and Me. To learn more, please click here.
If you had to sum up in one sentence the most valuable lesson Mother Teresa taught you in your ten years of friendship, what would it be?
Mother Teresa taught me to love with Christ’s love and to not be afraid to answer Our Lord with my own “YES!”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you very much for this interview, Kate. I pray that Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship will inspire others to a deeper union with Jesus and that it may also awaken in them what their own mission in life is. Mother Teresa’s “YES” to God changed the world forever by opening our eyes to the plight of the poor, not just those who are starving for a piece of bread, but those who are starving for love. I hope that readers will ponder and pray about what Our Lord is calling them to do. I hope they ask themselves, “Will I say “YES!” to God?” And then do it! Our Lord is waiting for our full surrender to His holy will for us.
An autographed copy of Mother Teresa and Me can be purchased through my website. I’ll also send a blessed Miraculous medal with every book ordered.
Now I (Kate again) leave you with a quote from Mother Teresa and Me to ponder: “Time will rarely come to us freely – we have to seek it. It’s not something we can easily part with, but we have to loosen our grasp on it and share it [with those in need]. This is where God will work. When we give him all our time, he will bless it.”