NORWAY — Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland signed a letter Sept. 6 that officially changed the name of the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to “Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish.”

This change follows the canonization of Mother Teresa as a saint of the Catholic Church.

The parish has three churches that offer worship services in Maine, including St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway.

As a means of celebrating the canonization of Mother Teresa, Susan Conroy, a South Portland author who met Mother Teresa in 1986 and assisted her in Calcutta off and on for 11 years until her death in 1997, will speak about the lessons she learned from the newly canonized saint from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at the St. Catherine of Sienna Church on 32 Paris St. 

Conroy said recently that the speech will focus on the friendship that she and Saint Teresa shared, and the lessons she learned from her.

Conroy had just turned 21 when she first went to India to work alongside Saint Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, she said. 

“I grew up in South Portland in a large family, where I was one of 10 children,” Conroy said. “I went to college at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where I majored in economics, and while I was there, my mother would write letters to me every week.”

One week, Conroy said, the letter included a beautiful piece of art of Mother Teresa that her mother had painted.

“I still have that painting,” Conroy said. “When I came home for Christmas vacation, my mother had purchased a set of three books that Mother Teresa wrote. That’s where I learned about the poverty and disease that was in Calcutta, and learned that Mother Teresa welcomed anybody with hands to serve and a heart to love.”

Within two years of receiving the painting, Conroy made the decision to buy a plane ticket to Calcutta, knowing “that I would come back as a different person.”

“You can’t go to a city of tens of millions of people, be in the presence of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity and not be changed,” Conroy said, “not unless you had a heart of stone.”

Conroy said her experience in Calcutta was filled with people pouring out their blood, sweat and tears to lift people out of the gutters and tend to their wounds, and to rescue children to bring to orphanages.

“It was so difficult, but so fulfilling at the same time,” she said. “I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep pouring myself out for others and having that person-to-person contact.”

Conroy said she would frequently assist children whose parents had passed away, or hold the hand of a man who was dying.

“The first person who ever died in my arms was in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying,” Conroy said. “I held him in my arms, and she showed me what to do and how to assist him in his suffering.”

Years after Conroy returned from India, she said, she learned something important about herself: She “had a gift for helping those who are dying.”

The lessons from assisting the sick and dying allowed her to assist her own mother when she was dying, she said.

“I was able to bring home Mother Teresa’s lessons to my own home and family,” she said. “During my mother’s final months of life, I slept for 15 minutes at a time. It became a full-time job. The time I spent with Mother Teresa taught me that all we can do is become a channel of God’s peace for them.”

The American Dream

Before Conroy bought her plane ticket to Calcutta, she said, she had the typical American dream.

“I tried hard in high school to get into a great college, where I would get a great education, which would lead to a great job, a great income and a great life,” she said. “When I went to Dartmouth, I majored in economics, and I was planning to go into the corporate world.

“I was dating a gentleman at the time who said his dream was to go to New York City and make a lot of money,” she said. “He’s almost a billionaire now. He’s working with the richest of the rich. Meanwhile, I went down a path where I worked with the poorest of the poor. I knew ahead of time that this would change me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Since returning from India, Conroy has written 10 books.

A recent work, “A Legacy of Love: Personal Reflections upon a Kind, Loving and Gentle Mother” was released in 2014 and focuses on personal reflections about her own mother.

In August, a pocket-sized edition of her 2005 book, “Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Mother Teresa,” was released. Conroy said she received special permission to publish the collection of prayers and insights of Saint Teresa from Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded Saint Teresa after she passed away in 1997.

Conroy also speaks about her experiences with Saint Teresa in different countries around the world, ranging from New Zealand to Ireland.

In Maine, when she’s not writing or presenting, she works at Holy Cross School in South Portland.

She said that over the past 30 years, nothing has dulled the energy she gained from visiting Saint Teresa in Calcutta, and that she attempts to share that energy with others through her presentations.

“I still get excited when I’m asked to speak, because I’m speaking about those that I love,” Conroy said. “I’ve learned that the most important thing in life is to love. We’re created to love and be loved. It’s why we exist. It remains genuinely exciting to me.”

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