Spirit of Mother Teresa spans an ocean

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

TOPEKA — Even though construction of their church won’t be completed until early December, Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish members recently gathered in their temporary “church” at Hayden High School here to applaud the completion of a new building.

The building was funded by their capital campaign, but in a diocese more than 8,000 miles away — Mother Teresa of Calcutta Orphanage in the Diocese of Guntur in India.

Head of the Gunter Diocese, Bishop Gali Bali, was in Topeka recently to thank parishioners personally for their generosity. He visited with the parish leadership and pastor, Father Bill Bruning, and shared a video of the orphanage’s June 15 dedication ceremony.

The crowd greeted with applause the video of the bishop cutting the ceremonial ribbon and blessing the orphanage with holy water. But the applause grew even louder when the camera focused on a large, stone wall plaque engraved with the words “Sponsored by Mother Theresa of Calcutta Parish, Topeka, U.S.A.”

No one seemed to mind that they were sitting in a gymnasium, waiting for their own church to be built.

The Topeka parish, created in July 2004, was in the midst of fundraising for its own church complex when the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the eastern coasts of India in December of that year. The parish council immediately decided to donate $55,000 raised from its own capital campaign for the construction of an orphanage to benefit young victims of the disaster.

“We decided to follow Mother Teresa’s example,” said Father Bruning, “of taking care of the poor first, and then taking care of ourselves.”

The tsunami disaster was particularly important to this archdiocese because several priests and nuns serving here are on loan from the Diocese of Guntur.

Father Tom Aduri, associate pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka, was ordained by Bishop Bali as a priest for this archdiocese. It was through Father Aduri that Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish learned of the needs of tsunami victims.

Even prior to the tsunami, the parish had decided to establish a “Mother Teresa grant,” which would represent 10 percent of its income set aside specifically to help the poor. Members were pleased to make their first act of charity to an area served by their patroness.

Bishop Bali had the honor of knowing Mother Teresa personally. He called her “a very inspiring lady” and said he believed she is watching over her namesake in Topeka.

“Just as Mother Teresa served the poor all her life, building this orphanage is in her spirit,” he said. “From heaven she will shower her graces on the parish community here and inspire them to service.”

Father Bruning agreed, saying “the strength of our parish is our patroness; she’s up in heaven praying for us.”

The orphanage houses 20 boys, but has the capacity for 70. Bishop Bali brought pictures with biographies of each boy currently residing in the orphanage and requested that parishioners sponsor a child for $200 a year, which would cover clothing and food.

Parishioners were eager to claim a sponsorship opportunity.

The orphanage stands on a four-acre parish complex that has no church and a school that could use many more classrooms. The new orphanage is for boys; another must be built for girls. Bishop Bali said the next priority is to build a church at a cost of $75,000.

In India, a parish cannot be named until it has a church. When this church is built, the parish will be named Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a true sister to its patron in Topeka.

“We want to maintain a strong relationship with what we have started here,” said Father Bruning. “We can do Mother Teresa’s work in her own land. This really is our sister parish.”

Father Bruning hopes to someday see a girls orphanage built on the complex and he’d like to see the entire region of Topeka Catholic churches join together to build a church for the parish in the Diocese of Guntur.

“I would like to challenge the Topeka Region parishes together to build a church for the parish in India,” he said, “especially since six of the Guntur priests work here.”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka expects its own church to be completed soon and has a dedication date set for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. Bishop Bali said many thoughts and prayers from India will be with them on that day.

“Our appreciation to Father Bill Bruning and parishioners; we thank you so much for this gift of the orphanage,” the bishop said. “You don’t have a church yet, and you made this sacrifice — you give to someone else. We will always pray for you.”

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