Mary Poplin, Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate School of Education, reflects on why she did not include Mother Teresa in her classes on social justice and feminism.
“Here was a woman I was with for two months (and her missionaries of charity), who was the head and founder of a worldwide multi-ethnic compassion ministry to the poorest of the poor. I had always professed to support all those things: work with the poor, women in leadership, and multi-ethnic organizations. But she had never made it into my feminist class syllabus, and she had never made it as a model of social justice. So I begin to have to ask myself why this was the case? Was it because she was Christian? Was it because she was Catholic? Was it because she simply talk too much about Jesus?
Now most people who interpret Mother Teresa think about her more like a good humanist – maybe even an extraordinary humanist. She’s more comfortable to us that way. It gives us the feeling that if we just tried hard enough, we might be able to be like her. But when I came back, I tried to write about some of the experiences that I had had. I tried to write about her in a sort of soft-secularized Christianity. I felt that it would make her left less offensive to my colleagues, to the secular world, in the University that I lived in. But she did not think about her life this way. And so, as I wrote, I began to fall into an intellectual crisis because I was lying about her toddler son Mother Teresa.
Todd Lake saw Mother Teresa, on his graduation day, speak at the Harvard class-day exercise, and this is what he wrote about it. It’s very much what my experience was:
“I remember Mother Teresa’s speech on the steps of the Memorial Church at the class-day exercise in 1982 where she talked of Jesus incessantly I mean incessantly, and even quoted that verse and John 3:16 – already known to most of us thanks to the end zone bleachers. But in a triumph of brilliant editing, the Harvard magazine account managed to report almost the entire Mother Teresa speech without once hinting she might have even mentioned Jesus. We all sensed he could be trouble, and we wanted to make sure he never became alive issue again.”
Well, eventually I just had to stop trying to excise her faith, and write the book, Finding Calcutta, as best I could for who she was.”