Small But Mighty: Mother Teresa’s Visit To Immaculata

On May 23, 1976 Mother Teresa of Calcutta walked the grounds of Immaculata to receive the Immaculata Medal and address the graduating class. On September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa will be canonized a saint by Pope Francis.

When today’s students discover that Mother Teresa visited “their” school, they want to know: what was she like? Only those who were honored to be in her presence can truly answer that question, so we asked those faculty members and students to share their memories of Mother Teresa’s visit 40 years ago.

Sister Marie Lorraine Bruno, IHM, ’51, D.L.F., Associate Professor Emerita of Global Languages and Cultures

I was senior class moderator and had the happy privilege and surprise to stand beside her when she appeared in the small gym where the grads were waiting to be told to line up for procession into Alumnae Hall.

Before leaving the small gym, she and I exchanged a hug!!!

It was a surprise visit. We had not been told that she would come to see, congratulate and speak to the grads. It was a humbling experience. There she was, a tiny, extremely thin woman dressed in a sari over which she wore a light blue, faded cardigan, which was perforated with holes. A holy woman. And there I was, standing beside a woman who radiated the Divine presence within her!

Her message to our students, as I remember it, was very brief: “Do something good for God.” Although brief, it was profound, reflecting her life lived for God and for the disadvantaged cast-offs of society.

Sister Marie Antoine Buggy, IHM, president of the College at that time, said that after seeing our students, Mother Teresa remarked about the goodness that emanated from their faces!

At Commencement in the theater, it was striking to see her, a fragile wisp of a woman, standing before Cardinal Krol, a giant, to receive the medal.

The lessons she taught me—live the French proverb: Be at home in your own skin; do something good for God and teach others about God, using words if necessary.

Sister Marie Lorraine Bruno was a faculty member in Foreign Languages in 1976.


Sister Rita O’Leary, IHM, Special Assistant to the Vice President for University Advancement

I noticed how simply she was dressed (in her cotton white sari with a blue stripe). Mother Teresa met with the seniors in the small gym prior to Commencement. I remember that her address to the graduates was a simple message.

Sister Rita O’Leary was dean of students in 1976.


Sister Ann Immaculata Gallagher, IHM, ’55, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Chemistry

I remember speaking to Mother Teresa personally—there were several Sisters gathered before Commencement began. She told us that she wouldn’t be able to do the work that we were doing [teaching], and one of the Sisters commented that we certainly wouldn’t be able to do the work she was doing!

Sister Ann Immaculata Gallagher was a faculty member in the Chemistry Department in 1976.


Joseph Healey, Ph.L., Associate Professor of Philosophy

In 1976, Mother Teresa was here to receive the Immaculata Medal. The speaker was a monsignor [Rev. Msgr. Walter J. Conway, J.C.D., executive secretary for the 41st Eucharistic Congress], who was intensely studying his notes to give this major address at Immaculata. Mother General [Mother M. Claudia Honsberger, IHM] was also receiving the medal that year. Then Mother Teresa received her medal and gave a major address.

As she was speaking, I noticed that the monsignor was slowing down on studying his speech, and I came to the conclusion that he decided to let Mother Teresa be the “main” graduation speaker. When it was his turn to address the students, he didn’t give that speech that he was working on—in fact, he ended up responding to hers.

Joe Healey has been a faculty member in the Philosophy Department since 1973.


Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, IHM, ’57, Ph.D.

We were all very excited that Mother Teresa was coming to Immaculata; of course, she was there for Commencement and to receive the Immaculata Medal at the same time Cardinal Krol was there. The one who was most excited was Sister Marie Antoine.

When Mother Teresa came, she didn’t want any fuss, didn’t want anything special. She also didn’t want to be in a big room, so Sister Antoine took Mother Teresa to her room up on the second floor [of Villa Maria Hall]. Mother Teresa was cold, so I went to my room and got my sweater. While I was in my room, I picked up my Bible. She was grateful, she wore the sweater (I should have saved the sweater as a relic!). I said, “Mother, I would be grateful if you would write in my Bible.” So she did, and my Bible is now in the Archives at Immaculata.

I don’t remember much more than that because she was a very retiring woman. She had a brief message [to the students], and of course the message was always “love and be Christ to others.”

Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini was academic dean in 1976.

Mother Teresa’s message in Sister Roseanne’s Bible:

Jesus is the Word to be Spoken.
Jesus is the Truth to be Told.
Jesus is the Life to be Lived.
Jesus is the Love to be Loved.
and Jesus is the Poor in
the distressing Disguise
to be loved by you and me.
Pray for me.
Yours in Jesus
M Teresa mc


Mary V. Hooten Green ’76 stated that during their 40th Reunion this year, several of her classmates were discussing their Commencement and Mother Teresa. Green recalls the thrill of shaking hands with her. “She was such a tiny, humble woman,” Green stated. “It was a little difficult to understand what she was saying at times, but I realized that I was in the presence of greatness.”


Marian Gross Cain ’76

I vividly remember Mother Teresa walking down the line as we were standing in the gym, ready to process in for Commencement. She was so very tiny, and so quiet. I felt like we towered over her! But she took the time to shake each person’s hand, or give a touch on the arm, say a word or two of congratulations, and that was totally unexpected. If I recall correctly, they actually held up the start for a few minutes to wait until she had finished.

I remember that a number of students in the Class of ’76 felt that we had been “overshadowed” in our senior year, first by the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations, and then by learning that this world figure would be more important than we were at our graduation. But Mother Teresa was awe-inspiring, despite her diminutive appearance. She got up to speak and was such a powerful presence—the entire auditorium was silent as she spoke, so even though she wasn’t loud, her voice was strong and she could be heard by everyone. I can’t honestly remember the topic of her speech, although I believe it had something to do with how we should take whatever gifts we had been given by God and use them for the betterment
of others.

I just knew that I would never forget the peace and strength she exuded. I still consider that day such a blessing!


Jane Schneider Magnatta ’76

The Class of 1976 was very honored to have Mother Teresa of Calcutta speak at our graduation. I remember that graduation was moved into Alumnae Hall that year. That break in tradition was important, because Mother was so very quiet that it was difficult to hear and understand her, even indoors.

Mother met with the graduates in the gym before the graduation. We were in awe of meeting this small, humble woman who was having such an impact in helping the poor in India.

As years passed, I learned more about this remarkable woman. Now that she is being made a saint, my classmates and I feel so privileged that Immaculata chose to bring Mother Teresa to our campus in 1976!

Author: lszyjka

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