To get an interview with members of Mother Teresa’s religious order living in Norristown, the Missionaries of Charity, first you have to fax a request to their North American headquarters in the Bronx.
Then, someone in New York relays that request by phone to the order’s international leaders in Kolkata, India.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to visit the community on DeKalb Street and meet Sister Regis.
On Sunday, the Albanian nun known to the world as Mother Teresa will become a Catholic saint. While the official ceremony takes place in Rome, her legacy extends to far-flung corners of the globe — including Norristown — through the work of emissaries such as Sister Regis.
Wearing high prescription glasses and the blue-bordered white sari, she is the most senior of four nuns serving the Montgomery County outpost, which also does outreach in Philadelphia and Camden.
Mother Teresa herself founded the house in 1984 — one of 17 in a division that covers the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada — at the request of the local archbishop.
Since that time, a rotating group of four sisters has lived in the house and fulfilled the vows of the order: chastity, poverty, obedience and free service to the poorest of the poor.
“All our work is immediate service,” said Sister Regis. “We are not going for continuous work, that someone else can do. Today the person is hungry, today the person has no place to stay.”
Along with an army of volunteers from are Catholic parishes, the order runs a soup kitchen that serves lunch most days. The community also operates an emergency women’s shelter with 16 beds and holds Sunday school for children. The sisters are also missionaries, providing services in tandem with evangelizing and prayer.
Most of the sisters, like Sister Regis, are originally from India and spent three or four year stints at stations around the world.
Mother Teresa died in 1997 and was fast-tracked toward sainthood, but criticism lingers — including allegations by British and South Asian journalists that her order placed a greater emphasis spreading Catholic values than relieving suffering.
But you will find no negative judgments at the Dekalb Street home. Volunteers including 82-year-old Charlie Tornetta said they are inspired by the model of selfless service the sisters perform daily.
“These are the most beautiful people in the world, bar none,” he said. “The sisters devote their whole life to helping people.”
And for her followers, like Norristown order resident Sister Lia Ann, Mother Teresa’s sainthood was never in question.
“Actually we knew she’s a saint. Really we are overjoyed with that,” she said, because now the church will proclaim to the whole world that she’s a saint.
On Sunday, at 4:30 a.m. local time, Pope Francis will make it official. And, on Sept. 20, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput will hold a special Mass at St. Patrick’s in Norristown in celebration.