A conversation with Mother Teresa biographer Kathryn Spink, Refresh Your Soul keynote speaker

Refresh Your Soul – Living Well with Purpose | Sold out
March 18, 9 a.m, Cintas Center, Xavier University

Check refreshyoursoulconference.com for waitlist.

Refresh Your Soul keynote speaker Kathryn Spink sat down with the event organizers from Episcopal Retirement Services and answered a few questions.

ERS: When did you first have the crazy idea, “I want to interview Mother Teresa?”

SPINK: Well, it’s a very long story, but I’d had some success with a book in the States, published by Mayflower, connected with Pope John Paul II. Mayflower Books approached the company for which I was working in London, to ask if I could write anything at all on Mother Teresa. I contacted Malcolm Muggeridge … and he said, “You must go and see Ann Blaikie.” She was the first prominent layperson to work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and who was, at this time, living in Surrey, which is not very far from … where I live. I went to see Ann, and in an old tin trunk in her house, she showed me all the unofficial archives of the early days of Mother Teresa … and the beginning of the Missionaries of Charity. So I said to her, “I would love to write about this.” She said, “Well, ring Mother Teresa, and ask her permission, and you can have access to all this material.”

ERS: Just like that? Call Mother Teresa, just like you’re ordering pizza?

SPINK: Yes! Just like that! As you do! So, I sat up for three nights, trying to get hold of the Mother House in Calcutta, and on the third night, Mother Teresa answered the telephone herself. And, we proceeded to have a slightly heated and irritable conversation, on my part, because I had lost so much sleep over the previous two nights, waiting to catch her. I presumed to argue, and MT said, there has been one book, there is no real need for another. I think, not wanting to be unkind to me, she said, “But I’m coming to London in a few weeks’ time. I’ll see you then.” We met in the (Missionary) Sisters’ very humble house in south London, and for some reason then, she said yes you can write, but you write … about the international mission and primarily about the co-workers, the lay helpers who were really working alongside the Sisters throughout the world. She didn’t want it to focus on Calcutta. So that was the beginning of my relationship with her. And, I’m afraid, once you’re under Mother Teresa’s wing, you were never really released, which is a great privilege for me but also quite demanding at times.

ERS: When did you realize you were in the company of a saint?

SPINK: Well I think, almost immediately. When I first went into the Sisters’ house, I was ushered into their chapel and told to wait there until Mother Teresa came. After about 10 minutes, I suddenly realized that the little figure kneeling on the far side of the room was, in fact, Mother Teresa. There was something about the sheer intensity of her devotion, the emptiness of ego. There was no sense of there being a powerful presence, at all. I hadn’t even noticed her. There was something about that; that really struck me.

ERS: In terms of the overall experience, has it changed you?

SPINK: It certainly made me more aware of the full nature of poverty. I think I had always thought of poverty in terms of physical deprivation in India, mainly because I know something about India. But I had never really seen poverty as loneliness, the lack of faith, neglect, the kind of poverty that Mother Teresa identified in the Western World.

ERS: Have you kept in touch with the Missionary Sisters?

SPINK: Yes, I am in touch with them. My husband and I help to maintain a home for children with lepers on the outskirts of Calcutta, so I do go back to Calcutta in intervals, and always make a point of calling in there. I also know some of the Sisters here in London.

ERS: What was it like talking to her?

SPINK: She had a very broken English actually, even after all those years, almost the sing-song of the Indian accent. But … she was a listener more than a talker. She would enjoy talking to groups of people when she thought she had a relevant spiritual message to convey, but normally, just very softly spoken. And, as I say, somebody who gave their total attention to whatever anybody else was saying.

ERS: What can the people of Cincinnati learn from you at Refresh Your Soul?

SPINK: Well, I think, that is probably doing small things with great love, which would have been the message Mother Teresa would have wanted to convey to anyone who has, shall we say, a calling to care for others.

Note: Responses have been condensed and edited.

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