Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Missionary Sisters of Charity as they assist a sick person in a field hospital (Ansa-Sfor)

Sister Frederick: The revolution of piety

A journalist remembers the recently deceased sister of the Missionaries of Charity who, 28 years ago in Calcutta, introduced her to Govindo, a very sick child whom the journalist later adopted.
Marina Ricci

Her name was Helen, but I only found out after I was told that she was gone. I asked for her name because I wanted to picture her as a young girl, more than a century ago, on her island of Malta. Even then she loved Jesus Christ, but was still totally unaware of where this love would take her, what it would make her do, what it would ask of her, until she changed her name to her father's name – she had told me this – and became Sister Frederick for everyone. She was the sister who, twenty-eight years ago, opened all the doors of Mother Teresa’s houses in Calcutta to me because – this had been her prophecy – she had “understood that something good must come out of this encounter.” That “something good” would later take on the features of a child, conceived in her heart: my son Govindo.

Sister Frederick knew that the adoption was not an act of goodness because she had followed the events step by step. At her funeral, held in Rome where she had lived for more than a decade, they said that she was a pillar of faith of the order of the Missionaries of Charity, and walked hand in hand with Mother Teresa, the pillar of Love. Because, they remarked, love without faith is fragile and unsteady. Perhaps that was why it had taken her little time to realize that the issue at stake was not an adoption, but a new encounter with Jesus Christ, loved, lost, and coming forward again in the most unthinkable place in the world. Mother Teresa said there is the Calcutta of India, the numerous Calcuttas around the world, and then the Calcutta of our hearts. Sister Frederick embraced the Calcutta of my heart, and when I last saw her body, minute, drained, as if she had given everything, even her own flesh, I cried like a child. And as my tears trickled down, I looked at her face – so similar to that of Alec Guinness, a famous English actor, a detail that had always made me smile – and heard her exhort me once again, speaking her Italian marked by an English accent: “Do not cry for me. I am well now and I will pray for you.” I am sure that since she met me, Sister Frederick did not stopped praying for me. Over the years I have learned that the Sisters of Mother Teresa do not pray generically. Every time I asked for prayers for friends, relatives, people I had met, they always asked: “What is their name?”.

Now I have learned this and every time I ask for prayers I prepare my list of names and a few facts about them. This is how they taught me that each of us is unique before God, that we have a name, a history, and a dignity. And they put in my heart the desire for us all to be able to look at each other this way. In the same way Mother Teresa, together with Sister Frederick and so many other women, who became light in the darkness, must have looked at the bodies lying on the dusty streets of Calcutta, raising them, caring for them, loving Christ’s bruised body in each of them. An unimaginable revolution of a Piety for which there is no unbreakable destiny, condemnation without redemption, death without promise of life.

Read also - The bridges of Paris

In the “city of dreadful night,” as the writer Rudyard Kipling called it, which is also a tragic image of the darkness of our times and our hearts, the daughters of Mother Teresa continue to walk like flames of hope. They still do so in Calcutta, in the peripheries of the world, and even in the desperate streets of the West. On the day of the funeral, I smiled as I listened to the conclusion of the eulogy for Sister Frederick, “Surely Sister is looking down from heaven and, with a smile full of love, still exhorts us, ‘My sisters, my community, be holy.’ Thank you dear Sister Frederick, thank you for your great desire to become holy. Pray for us that we may continue to strive for holiness, as you did, until the end of our days.” Evidently not only I, but also her sisters, still hear her speak....