Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mother House

This alley takes you to the entrance of the "Mother Teresa House," as Kolkatans call it. It is the main convent for the Missionaries of Charity and not one of their homes for the poor (although plenty show up at their door asking for help).

There are visitors coming through the Mother House all year long. It is closed only one day of the week, but even on that day it is open to the public for the 6am daily mass which means that the nuns and novices who live there are rarely alone. It also means that each day several sisters are appointed to "door-duty" and their task is to sit at the entrance and be available for help, whether the requests come from tourists or those in need.
In all ways, the Mother House is a very busy place and, unlike the romantic vision I had in my mind, it is not tucked away in some neighborhood with lanes too narrow for cars nor at the edge of a slum as I had imagined.

There is not that much to see inside. Some come for the early morning (or special Friday afternoon) Mass, but Mother Teresa's tomb is the main attraction for visitors (a few photos of that here and here). In addition, there is a small (though impressive) exhibition on the life of Blessed Teresa and the history of the MC. Visitors can also take a peek into Mother Teresa's bedroom that holds her bed, a desk and chair and just a few books and a photo or two.
As you can see from the photos, the House is on a main thoroughfare and that means that it is noisy. Much noisier than I would have ever guessed when I saw photos of the chapel before coming here. Sometimes it is impossible to hear the priest (although the regulars know to pause the Mass when a streetcar goes by!). It is right smack in the middle of things, in the center of the city. It makes sense, then, that the Sisters keep a strict schedule and close their doors for several hours in the middle of the day. They guard their time and in general seem to spend plenty of it in quiet or communal prayer.
Until coming here, I had never really thought how Mother Teresa's notoriety during her lifetime had an effect on all the Sisters who came later. Along with all of the other challenges of religious life and service, the sisters enjoy very little privacy at home and have to endure the scrutiny and stares of the visiting public--even as novices!

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