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St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild hears from Jim Towey, St. Mother Teresa’s attorney

News of the Diocese

June 6, 2024

St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild hears from Jim Towey, St. Mother Teresa’s attorney

Members of the Diocese of Cleveland’s St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild and their guests gathered on June 5 to hear a presentation from Jim Towey, an attorney and founder of Aging with Dignity, who also served as an attorney for the late St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Ursuline College in Pepper Pike hosted the event, which also included “I Thirst,” a guided meditation associated with Mother Teresa, which was led by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost.

The bishop told the group he met Towey many years ago when he and a group of seminarians volunteered at one of the ministries operated by Mother Teresa’s sisters in Calcutta. In fact, Towey helped facilitate the experience.

Towey, who wrote a book about the saint, “To Love and be Loved: A Personal Portrait of Mother Teresa,” shared his perspectives about her and some of his personal encounters with her and the Missionaries of Charity, the order of religious sisters she founded in India. The sisters serve the poorest of the poor across the glove and offer free service to them, regardless of social class, race, or religion. There are more than 5,000 sisters serving in about 120 countries around the world, caring for the sick and elderly, refugees, orphans, the mentally ill and other people in need.

He captivated the audience of about 80, who learned how he met Mother Teresa and how their lives became entwined in her later years.

A cradle Catholic born in Indiana, Towey grew up in Florida where he graduated from high school, college and earned a law degree. He spent seven years working for the late U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon) in Washington, D.C. Towey said many of Hatfield’s beliefs aligned with his own.

St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild hears from Jim Towey, St. Mother Teresa’s attorney

He admitted he wasn’t a very faithful Catholic in his younger adulthood, explaining that he would pick and choose which Church doctrines he would follow. But he knew about Mother Teresa, he knew Hatfield had a connection to her and he had a desire to meet the diminutive nun. So, Towey asked Hatfield to arrange a meeting for him while he was on a trip abroad.

Hatfield made the call and Towey first met Mother Teresa on Aug. 20, 1985 in Calcutta, about a week before her 75th birthday.

“I was a 28-year-old phony Catholic when I met her. She was everything I wasn’t. She saw God’s divine imprint on everyone,” he said. Describing her “luminous humanity.”

However, despite her saintly spirit, her deep love of God and her robust prayer life, Towey said “Mother was human. She could get angry. She could be impatient.” It’s important to recognize that, he said, because we should not think of her as a saint in her everyday life – even though she was. He compared her to Jesus, who was fully divine and fully human. Despite being the Son of God, Jesus also was human and had the same imperfections as others. Much like Mother Teresa, Jesus at times exhibited anger and impatience, as shared in the Bible. “If we’re not in touch with our humanity, it’s hard to relate to Jesus. He’s not a plastic statue. He was a real person.”

Towey described Mother Teresa as “the most Mary-like person since Mary.”

St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild hears from Jim Towey, St. Mother Teresa’s attorney

He first saw her as she left the chapel after Mass. “She was tiny,” he said, using his hand to illustrate her approximate height. They talked briefly and she suggested he visit one of the sisters’ homes for the dying. She told him to ask for Sister Luke. Dressed in a suit, dress shirt and tie, he expected to get a tour of the home and be on his way.

However, Sister Luke had other ideas. She handed him some supplies and told him to clean a man who had scabies. Towey was surprised, but too proud to simply walk away. He found another volunteer who spoke English and asked him about the task he’d been given. Towey admitted he didn’t want to clean the man, but he did try to help him. Later, while vacationing after his business trip ended, he couldn’t stop thinking about Mother Teresa and her ministry. She had touched him in a way he never expected and their connection grew.

“People are hungry for more than bread. They thirst for forgiveness. Mother liked to say that a life not lived for others is not worth living,” Towey said.

He also talked about how deep her love was for her sisters, comparing them to her daughters. She was never a mother, but she had a motherly quality about her. She knew how to love and nurture people, he added, as well as the ability to connect with those from all walks of life, including politicians, the clergy, the wealthy and the poor. She and St. Pope John Paul II were friends.

Towey said she had deep faith and was a woman of prayer. “She prayed for answers. She had a compass. She knew she was from God and that she was going to him,” he said, reflecting on the last years of her life and the many health challenges she experienced. Accepting her aging and doing it gracefully allowed her to be a gift to others, he added. “She allowed others to love her. She teaches us a lot about how we came from God and are going back to him.” She had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, he said, noting that June 7 is the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild hears from Jim Towey, St. Mother Teresa’s attorney

He saw her shortly before her death and said her sisters took turns lovingly caring for her. In her final days, he said there was a small tabernacle in her room with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, a statue of Mary and a picture of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. It was all she needed.

Towey said one of his greatest joys was when Mother met his wife and blessed his three small children during one of her visits to Washington. She was 87 and used a wheelchair, yet she showed a childlike excitement and was eager to see his children, Towey recalled.

He summed up her life’s work through one of her sayings, “I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things.”

More about St. Mother Teresa: An Albanian by birth, Mother Teresa was born Aug. 26, 1910. She left home at 18, became a religious sister and never saw her mother again. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her efforts to combat poverty. Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997 at age 87 and was canonized by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016. Her feast day is celebrated on Sept. 5.

SJELG invites men and women who have been extraordinarily generous to the ministries of the diocese to expand and enrich their own personal and spiritual journey. Under the direction of Bishop Edward Malesic and Father Dan Schlegel, spiritual director and pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Bay Village, the guild offers an opportunity for members to participate in four special gatherings related to subjects that are of great spiritual and educational value. The guild is aimed at encouraging members’ spiritual development by broadening their understanding of the Catholic faith, providing Christian fellowship and deepening their personal relationship with Jesus. Click here for more information, or contact Lisa King at 216-696-6525, Ext. 1042 or by email at lking@catholiccommunity.org.

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