The upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta has deep meaning for Dr. Theresa Burke, a pastoral associate of Priests for Life and the co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion.
“My spiritual relationship with Mother Teresa goes way back to high school,” said Dr. Burke. She explained that Mother’s order ran a soup kitchen in Norristown, PA, and Theresa worked there in her youth. When Theresa later ran a youth group, she brought the kids to work there.
“The sisters made big pots of soup and they would cut the rotten parts of fruit out before they served it. They were using peelers that were terrible. I was thinking if I brought my LaMachine, they could do it in one hour instead of four. But one of the sisters told me that was not Mother Teresa’s way, that the harder the work was, the better.
“That’s kind of a mind-altering spirituality, that sometimes the easy way is not the most spiritual way.”
Dr. Burke’s brother, a medical doctor, treated some of Mother Teresa’s nuns for free.
“They never know what the day would bring,” she said. “They live on divine providence.”
The sisters were able to make the most of any donation that came their way. For instance, Dr. Burke would pick up day-old bread and vegetables that stores were about to throw out and give them to the Sisters of Charity.
“That would feed a few hundred people with what was going to be thrown away,” she said. “I did that for years.”
Some of Mother Teresa’s sisters were referred to Dr. Burke for counseling.
“There was always a line of nuns waiting for these appointments,” she said. “Sometimes it felt overwhelming. But I heard in my prayer heart that love will hurt.”
“When Mother Teresa died, Rachel’s Vineyard was just starting to spread. I was anxious because I had to be away from home. My husband Kevin (Burke, Rachel’s Vineyard co-founder) wasn’t sure he wanted me to do this. We had five kids at home.
“I was at a retreat with 23 people and Eucharistic miracles were happening. Mother Teresa had just died that weekend. I prayed to her: ‘Please help. Give me your heart because mine isn’t big enough.’ I had a spiritual experience. I felt my heart breaking open from all the pain I had witnessed and I felt incredible joy at the same time. Kevin was home and he was also praying. A kind of peace came over him and he said, ‘Let it be done according to your will. She doesn’t belong to me anymore.’
“Mother Teresa had our back. She was always calling on me to trust. She’s been a great friend, even after her death. I pray to her, and I have my prayers answered.
“During a difficult period after I broke my foot, I prayed for a miracle, for her to heal me. I felt a full body tremor. I had hoped my miracle would count for her canonization but she intercedes for a lot of people. I’m just really happy that she’s going to be a saint. She already is a saint.”
Dr. Burke is still connected to the Sisters of Charity:
“I go to visit Mother Theresa’s houses wherever I go – I go through a lot of bad neighborhoods! I’ve been invited to Calcutta many times, but I’ve never gone, but I know that her intercession and presence have been so powerful in my life.”
Rachel's Vineyard provides weekend retreat and support group models for spiritual and emotional healing after abortion. The retreats began in Philadelphia in 1995 and since January 2004, Rachel’s Vineyard has been part of Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries. Retreats are offered at 375 sites in 49 states and more than 70 countries, made possible with the help of 150,000 compassionate volunteers dedicated to healing the pain of abortion.
The photos below are Mother Teresa's letters to Theresa Burke about the healing power of Rachel's Vineyard and Theresa's writings that are at its foundation.