Illinois man had friendship with Mother Teresa
STREATOR, Ill. – Not too many people can say they had a letter correspondence with a saint.
But Paul Ahearn can.
Beginning in 1985, Ahearn, of Streator, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta exchanged letters – about 30 of them – all the way until a few months before she died Sept. 5, 1997, at age 87.
Ahearn even received a personal invitation from Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, when she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He was unable to attend.
The popular Catholic nun – dubbed the "Saint of the Slums" for her work with the poorest of the poor – was canonized by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 4.
Ahearn admired Mother Teresa for her work with the poor and for her stance against abortion.
In 1985, Ahearn began the correspondence, when he sent Mother Teresa a diamond ring that belonged to his mother, who had died three years prior. The ring was one Ahearn had purchased as a young boy for his mother after she had lost her wedding ring.
"To my great surprise Mother Teresa sent me a letter thanking me for the gift," Ahearn said. "I also got a letter from one of the other nuns who told me what an honor I had to receive Mother’s letter. She didn’t need to tell me. It was truly a relic from a living saint."
Although he had very little money himself, Ahearn would regularly send Mother Teresa small donations for her work, and Mother Teresa would respond.
"One of the reasons I think Mother Teresa wrote to me was because I was really poor at the time," he said. "Sometimes I would send $10 and that was a lot for me, and I think she knew that."
Once, Ahearn sent a photo of him holding his infant great nephew and Mother Teresa mailed it back with her signature. He gave the photo to his sister, who is the child’s grandmother.
"The most exciting thing when she wrote to me was ‘join in my joy about opening in Vietnam,’?" he said. "She was real excited about that. She would tell me personal things, like when she got sick she asked me to pray for her. I thought ‘you’re asking me to pray for you?’?"
Each time he would receive a letter from her, Ahearn said he was in awe.
"After a while I got more used to it," he said. "It was still a treasure."
While he has kept some of them, Ahearn has given many of the letters to friends.
"I don’t want people to think more of me because she wrote to me. She wrote to me because of her kindness," he said. "It was a great honor and I want people to remember Mother Teresa. I was really unworthy to hear from her. I only heard from her because of her love of the poor, but I knew I was rich compared to the people she was helping."
This year, Ahearn watched "The Letters," starring Juliet Stevenson, a film about the life of Mother Teresa. He continues to send donations to the Missionaries of Charity and receives letters back from the nuns.
"Through writing back and forth, I believe Mother Teresa and myself became good friends. This is something I find very hard to grasp," he said. "It has kept me close to her. One of Mother Teresa’s main things was she didn’t want people to remember her, she wanted them to think of Jesus, of Christ. I think being close to Mother Teresa has made me closer to Christ."