September 30, 2022

Missionaries of Charity in Indianapolis carry on legacy of St. Teresa of Calcutta

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks on Sept. 21 with the four members of the Missionaries of Charity who minister in Indianapolis after celebrating Mass for them in the chapel of their Our Lady of Peace Convent. The sister are, from left, Sister Emerita, Sister Paulinus, Sister Janita and Sister Kiron Jyoti. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks on Sept. 21 with the four members of the Missionaries of Charity who minister in Indianapolis after celebrating Mass for them in the chapel of their Our Lady of Peace Convent. The sister are, from left, Sister Emerita, Sister Paulinus, Sister Janita and Sister Kiron Jyoti. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

When Archbishop Charles C. Thompson celebrated Mass on Sept. 21 for four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity who minister in Indianapolis, he told them in his homily that he was “preaching to the choir.”

That’s because the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order of more than 5,000 sisters founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, are known around the world for their total dedication to serving the poorest of the poor solely out of their love for God.

“You reach out to the poor, the vulnerable and the needy in all the different countries where the Missionaries of Charity are located,” Archbishop Thompson said in the chapel of the sisters’ Our Lady of Peace Convent in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on the near east side of Indianapolis where they have lived, prayed and served those in need since 2000.

“The world sees someone who’s been pushed aside, as Pope Francis says, to the peripheries. You see the dignity of that person whom you’ve been called to serve. I’m preaching to the choir. You know this better than me.”

Earlier in September was the 25th anniversary of the death of St. Teresa, commonly known as Mother Teresa.

Two of the Missionaries of Charity who serve in Indianapolis knew Mother Teresa and spoke with The Criterion about the effect she had on their lives. They also reflected on the ministry that they do on the streets of Indianapolis and through a shelter for women and children that they operate in their convent.

Sister Kiron Jyoti was 19 when she joined the Missionaries of Charity in 1995. Growing up near Calcutta, she often heard Mother Teresa’s name in her family home.

“My mother loved Mother Teresa so much,” she said. “Every night after evening prayer in my home, my mother spoke about Mother Teresa. She talked about how much Mother Teresa loved God, how she picked up people from the streets, found a home for them, fed them, cleaned them. She talked about how she saw Jesus in them.

“I was influenced by that.”

Sister Kiron Jyoti got to know Mother Teresa herself after entering the order.

“Mother was just a simple woman like any of us,” she said. “We had tea together or dinner together. She was a very joyful person. Her love for God was so deep. You could feel it when you were around her.”

The sister was in the second year of her novitiate when Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997.

“I was there when Mother passed away that evening,” she said. “It was at about 8:15. The news went out and plenty of people came. It was like they were breaking down the motherhouse.

“It was a sad experience. It was like part of my life had gone. But we knew that she had gone home to God. That’s what she taught us. There was a lot of support from people.”

Sister Janita, the superior of the Missionaries of Charity in Indianapolis, didn’t know much about Mother Teresa while growing up in a part of India far from Calcutta. But as she came to know the sisters of the order and their ministry, she chose to join them.

Later, Mother Teresa personally took her to Rome and then to the Philippines to minister in both places.

“Mother was very simple,” Sister Janita said. “She told everyone that she met, ‘Jesus loves you.’ ”

Both Sister Kiron Jyoti and Sister Janita have ministered in countries around the world before coming to Indianapolis earlier this year.

“There are two kinds of poverty—material poverty and spiritual poverty,” Sister Kiron Jyoti said. “We are well to do here materially. But we have a lot of spiritual poverty.”

She noted that the women who come to stay in their shelter, usually for no more than three weeks, know both kinds of poverty.

“The ladies who come here are very broken,” she said. “I talk with them. I try to listen with an understanding heart. Many of them find peace before they leave this house.”

“We tell the ladies who come here when we pray with them that God brought them here and that they are our sisters,” said Sister Janita. “Then they are happy, because we are one with them.”

In addition to serving the women and children who come to their shelter, the Missionaries of Charity in Indianapolis teach children preparing for their first Communion at nearby St. Philip Neri Parish. They also visit women incarcerated in the Marion County Jail.

And they simply walk regularly through their neighborhood, usually praying the rosary while they do, wearing their distinctive white sari habit marked with blue stripes.

“It’s a witness,” said Sister Kiron Jyoti. “Whenever they see us with our religious habit, it’s a witness. Like St. Francis said, we preach without preaching. When we walk along the street, we’re praying the rosary for all the people, for our own conversion and the conversion of others. It’s the same work that we carry on no matter where we go.”

As they walk through their neighborhood, they learn a lot about it simply by watching and observing.

Once, the sisters saw places on the streets where women involved in prostitution would be picked up.

So, the sisters went to those places while carrying a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, blessed them with holy water, prayed the rosary and left Miraculous Medals on the ground.

“Now we don’t see any people there or cars picking them up,” said Sister Janita. “It’s disappeared. It’s there no more.”

All of their ministry is powered by prayer. The sisters pray four and a half hours each day, starting at 5 a.m. with an hour of prayerful meditation. They also worship daily at Mass and during a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

“It’s like a car,” said Sister Kiron Jyoti. “When the fuel goes out, what do you do? You go to the gas station and fill it up. That’s what we do. We fill up ourselves. And when we’re full with Jesus, we go out.”

In the chapel of each Missionaries of Charity convent there is painted by the crucifix behind the altar the words, “I thirst.” They are the words of Christ while on his cross recorded in the Gospel of St. John (Jn 19:28).

While traveling on a train in India in 1947, before she founded the Missionaries of Charity, St. Teresa had a vision of Christ in which she heard him say those words and learned their deeper meaning.

“It wasn’t a thirst for water, but a thirst for souls,” said Sister Kiron Jyoti. “That’s the charism of our society. We labor for the salvation and sanctification of souls.”

While the Missionaries of Charity in Indianapolis know that God has called them to a special vocation in the Church, they recognize that much of what they do is part of the mission of all Catholics.

“Pray,” said Sister Janita. “Pray with your own heart. You don’t need a lot of words. Just pray. Be in the presence of the Lord. See Jesus in the person next to you.” †

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