Portrait photographer Michael Collopy has worked with many famous people, but when he recalls his work photographing Mother Teresa, he says, “I have never met anyone who could compare to the spiritual depth of character and selfless love that Mother displayed over the course of my 15 years of knowing her.”
A painting of one of Michael Collopy’s photographs in his book Works of Love Are Works of Peace has been chosen to be the official sainthood image of Mother Teresa. The image will be revealed at the canonization on Sunday, and then it will be in the homes of the Missionaries of Charity worldwide.
Another one of Collopy’s photographs from Works of Love Are Works of Peace is being used for both the official Vatican Saint Teresa stamp, as well as for the recent cover of Time magazine.
Works of Love Are Works of Peace is now available in paperback. It was more than four years in the making and published with the cooperation of Mother Teresa.
The book has more than 180 fine art quality tri-tone photographs, along with spiritual counsel from Mother Teresa. Also included with Mother Teresa’s special permission, is the contents of the Missionaries of Charity daily prayer book as well as a personal letter on the interior life written by Mother Teresa to her entire order. Though meant originally as an instruction to those in her order, this “I Thirst” letter has become a source of spiritual light and encouragement, drawing innumerable hearts and souls closer to God.
Zenit asked Collopy to share some of his photos with us, as well as his reflections on his time with Mother Teresa.
“Mother had a very different and special light and a magnetic, personable charisma. She was truly a Mother to all of us, filled with unconditional, selfless love.”
“She was joyful and wise and also had a very quick wit and sense of humor. She was also quite normal in that she liked chocolate, ice cream and sweets. Having said that, Mother was asked quite a lot about what it was like to be a saint and she always responded by saying that Being a Saint wasn’t the luxury of a few but a simple duty for each one of us. That is what we were all created for: to love and to be loved and to share the joy of loving with each person we come into contact with.”
“One day I was taken back by witnessing the myriad of emotions of people coming up to Mother. Some would want a blessing or something from her or to pour out their inner most confessions to her. When we got back into the car, I asked Mother: Mother you don’t seem to judge anyone? Mother very quickly told me: ‘I never judge anyone because it doesn’t allow me the time to love them.’
Mother never seemed to get tired or overwhelmed with the amount of poverty in the world. She often said: ‘Had I not picked up the first person in Calcutta, I would never had picked up 42,000.’ She said: ‘I can only love one person at a time and I can only serve one person at a time.’ So, that is how she went about doing her work, one by one.”
“Some of my most favorite moments with Mother were without the camera. These were times when Mother motioned over to me to kneel right next to her in the chapel at mass and share her prayer book and missal with me. I remember listening intently to her deep speaking voice and her very high sweet singing voice. Also, witnessing her feed our oldest son the bottle when he was a baby. Driving her around in my car to her appointments and asking her deep questions while having her in the front seat next to me. Some of the more personal moments, such as Mother giving me spiritual guidance or teaching me simple prayers to help me better navigate some of the obstacles of life. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from Mother was just how much God loves each one of us, intimately and tenderly. Each one carved in the palm of God’s hands, each one of us is precious to him.”
“There was one night that Mother walked me to the door after an exhausting day, in her novitiate house in San Francisco. The chapel is right to the left of the front door. As we walked towards the door. She paused and genuflected and looked up at the large cross of Jesus crucified above and behind the altar with the large words: ‘I Thirst’ printed next to it. As she looked up at the cross Mother said to me:’Look at him, he is so innocent and pure.’ At this point I looked at Mother’s face. She then said: ‘But his head is bent to kiss you, and his arms are outstretched to hold you, and his heart is open to enclose your heart with his.’ ‘That is the great love that God has for each of us.'”
[This photo essay was originally printed in Zenit in the lead-up to Mother Teresa’s canonization]