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Priest begged Saint Teresa to stay in Belfast

By Rachel Martin

Published 05/09/2016

Joan McCoubrey, Fr Darach Mac Giolla Cathain, Mary McNeill and Tommy Holland, community worker, at the dedication service
Joan McCoubrey, Fr Darach Mac Giolla Cathain, Mary McNeill and Tommy Holland, community worker, at the dedication service
Mother Teresa on a visit to Belfast in 1993
Mother Teresa

The west Belfast community which welcomed Mother Teresa 50 years ago has marked her canonisation with a special service dedicating a sculpture built in her honour.

Parishioners at Corpus Christi Chapel spoke fondly of the woman whose short time in Belfast made a deep impression on their lives and a Belfast priest who worked with her told how he phoned her from Spain days before she left the city, in a desperate attempt to convince her to stay.

Saint Teresa led the work of four other nuns in Ballymurphy for around 18 months from 1971.

Leading the service, Father Darach Mac Giolla Cathain said: "Saints are real people who lived real lives, and having a saint who people physically met makes such a difference in the world.

"They're not thinking of a saint as someone from a long, long time ago, they're thinking of a saint as someone that they met, who had tea in their house, who took classes with them, and helped them out in a time of need. It's inspiration and encouragement for the people here.

"People at that time didn't have a lot but were so generous out of the nothing that they had towards the sisters."

Sisters Angela and Marie McCoubrey, who attended the service, were just six and seven years old when Mother Teresa first came to Ballymurphy. Their father Joseph McCoubrey helped the nuns with maintenance work. They laughed remembering how he once used coat hangers to fix the springs in one of their beds.

Angela McCoubrey said: "We always said there was a saint in our street and now there really was. We always knew she was a very special woman. There was a room in the nuns' house where she was staying where they would have took us for crocheting classes. She would have walked around the streets and all the kids would have run after her - they loved her. I was very young at the time, but it's still stuck in my head."

Their mother Joan McCoubrey said: "She was just a wonderful woman. She was down to earth and she loved here. She just treated us all like her children."

But while Mother Teresa was welcomed by the residents, not everyone was happy for her to work in Northern Ireland.

Belfast priest Father Des Wilson said church hierarchy made it difficult for her to continue her work in the city.

He said: "I was on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and before I left one of the sisters said, 'Before you come back, we'll be gone'. I said, 'Look, make an arrangement. When she's coming next time, can we make an arrangement she will be in this house at 12 o'clock on a certain day?' And I phoned her from San Sebastian and asked her if she would stay for at least six months. I said, 'Don't go like this.' 'No, no, no,' she said. 'I must go now.'

"She was a woman of determination and I don't think she could have been persuaded otherwise, which was part of Teresa.

"She said, 'There are 32 places in the world which are asking for us. Why should we stay in a place where we're not wanted?' I said, 'But you are wanted, the people want you here.'

"But she of course was so loyal to the church authorities that she didn't want to say anything. I said, 'But you can't leave because if you go quickly people will blame the church authorities for wanting you to go.' But the game was up there was no convincing her."

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