Archive for the ‘Press Release’ Category

As We Forgive Those

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Michael J. Corgnati

The Lord’s Prayer is probably said millions of times each day, but how many people actually stop to think of what it means. The prayer first acknowledges God; we praise Him, we express our faith and then we begin to ask for our needs. Immediately after “Give us our daily bread” God tells us to ask Him to forgive us our trespasses. In the next breath we say, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” The theory is easy to understand, but actually doing it sometimes is not.

Everyone who has read the Bible remembers that Jesus forgave all those who had beaten, whipped and crucified Him before He died. It showed Jesus to be merciful, but we have to admit it is easier for Him to forgive, for He is God. We, on the other hand, are just human beings who have to work harder at forgiveness.

Imagine that you got up for work and you and your spouse said good bye and your spouse went to work at the towers on 9/11. Suddenly, you hear on the news of the attack and after the some anxiety filled period of time, you realize they will not be coming home again. The grief that follows should in theory contain forgiveness for those who did this. The thought of forgiving those who did this would be nearly impossible for me and I am not proud to admit that.

Imagine that your teenage son and daughter are coming home from a high school football game with your neighbors, who picked them up. A man who has had too much to drink, but drove anyway, hits the car and kills your son and daughter, and the drunk is unharmed. In your moment of grief you should forgive the man who selfishly did not think that calling a cab could save not only the lives of the kids, but spare their parents a lifetime of grief.

The fact is, at that moment the words in The Lord’s Prayer stick in the throat of those who have experienced the loss. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, causes many to lash out at God, blaming Him for their death. The survivors can’t forgive the person responsible, God or even themselves.

The families of the victims of 9/11 were given money to compensate them for their loss. Money can’t buy peace of mind, it can take away the hurt, but some think it will. Mother Teresa told Marlene Elias that hate was like acid in a bottle it will eat away at the bottle until it destroys it.

To listen to a minister, or in my case a priest, talk about what we should be doing in our own lives, has caused me to wonder, ‘what world are they living in?’ On a daily basis we live with people who have no regard for the rest of us. They act as if they are the only people on the planet. It happens to all of us. Intentional cruelty is just flat out hard to understand, especially to those of us who are trying to do the right thing. I need help understanding how to forgive someone who kills another, rapes or robs someone they have never met. I need help understanding someone who starts a fire that destroys not only lives but destroys property, valuables and memories that can never be replaced. I need help with people whose words are used as arrows to pierce the hearts and minds of people who have done them no harm.

Faith is the only thing that can help with forgiveness. We must believe that God loves us even when things happen that devastate us. A woman told me the most amazing story. She gave birth to her child and knew immediately that the child would die. She held it every minute she could until she died a week later. The mother told me it was the best thing to ever happen to her. I looked at her with disbelief. Was she crazy, or had God given her an understanding that I did not have. The mother said she trusted God and even in her grief she knew God was watching over her. It made her marriage better. She has two other children for whom she thanks God each day. This woman is operating on a higher plane that most of us.

The next time somebody cuts us off in traffic, or does some awful thing to us, try to remember that forgiveness frees us. The time and energy we use up in hate, will have no effect on those hateful people, but the effect will change us. It will take something good within us and make it bad. It will take us away from God. We all have to struggle, but to spend eternity in heaven with God it seems a small price to pay.

We need God to forgive us as we need to forgive others.

When Did Good Become Bad?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Michael J. Corgnati

It seems that I must have missed it. Did they declare it on the day I had surgery on my knee and was so out of it that I did not read the paper or hear the news? Maybe it was when I was editing a project and was in the studio and did not come out for two days. I am not sure but I am sure of one thing….I missed it.

It should be mandatory that if you are going to change something so fundamental as this, there ought to be a major press conference with celebrities and/ or athletes, since we always listen to what they have to say.

Stories about GOOD don’t sell, that is what I kept hearing. The news covers murders, robberies and anything where one or more persons have done something BAD to another.

Meanwhile I was helping a wonderful woman named Marlene T. Elias who was a close friend of Mother Teresa. Marlene’s husband had passed away and she needed some help and I needed some extra credit with God, so it seems this was a working relationship inspired by Mother herself.

I thought it would be easy after the first time I saw Marlene do her inspirational tribute to Mother Teresa. I was up on stage helping with the music, without a handkerchief, and it was all I could do to keep my composure. I looked out into the audience and saw tears running down the faces of 85% of the four hundred people in the audience. I was not prepared for the message or the reaction. People stood in line afterwards for 90 minutes to hug Marlene and pray with her and once again they wept unashamedly. I remember thinking, this is something special.

During the tribute Marlene told stories, showed slides and sang some truly beautiful songs inspired by Mother Teresa.

I figured this would be a wonderful opportunity for me to do some real GOOD. I could help Marlene by producing the events and the people attending would have a truly inspirational experience. Following the third event I began to make suggestions to Marlene on how I thought she could make it better. She trusted me when I told her that she should share some gut wrenching events which she had endured and how Mother helped her through them. This showed Marlene was now not just a friend of Mother, talking about her, she was a normal person with everyday problems, sharing Mother’s wisdom to help her through them.

I was now ready to begin to kick this into high gear….it was during this time when I realized that GOOD WAS BAD.

I was informed that people didn’t want to hear about GOOD things happening they only wanted to hear the BAD. So BAD became GOOD because it sold magazines, got TV ratings and sold tickets to movies.

My talking was falling on deaf ears…….I talked and talked but there weren’t a lot of results to help Marlene. I took a step back and said OK I will hit the Catholic churches…Mother Teresa was going to be a saint in the Catholic Church they would surely want to hear about her. I was wrong again. Some of them were either too busy or not interested in even speaking to me about doing a FREE tribute to Mother Teresa.

The next problem is how do we make people aware of something GOOD with no money. There is always plenty of money to sell something that is BAD but no money for something GOOD. I remember when Mel Gibson was trying to get “The Passion of Christ” financed and distributed. There was no money because this was GOOD.

He was forced to put up his own money. Mel then began to try to find a distributor for the film…….finally he did and it has made over $400 Million.

Since Marlene and I do not have money like Mel Gibson we will just keep working to change things so that GOOD IS GOOD again.

I promise to let all of you know when it happens, so you won’t miss it like I did…………when GOOD BECAME BAD.

In the event you get to see Marlene do her tribute to Mother Teresa you will know how really GOOD …..GOOD CAN BE.

Friend of Mother Teresa comes to Monmouth

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Marlene T. Elias, a long time friend of the late Mother Teresa, will be in monmouth Friday, Feb 27 and Sunday, Feb 29.  Elias, who travels the world sharing her incredible stories, photos and her original recorded songs, inspired by Mother Teresa, will perform at Community Medical Center Friday at 1, and at the Immaculate Conception Church, Sunday at 1pm.

Elias sang at Mother Teresa’s funeral September 13, 1997 and at the beatification ceremonies October 19.  She will perform her tribute to Mother Teresa at both performances in Monmouth which is free and open to the public.

Elias bringing a message to Monmouth

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

“Doing even the small task with the greatest love” was the message Mother Teresa encouraged those she met to live by. Carrying on that motto is what Marlene Elias, a personal friend of the late Mother Teresa has been doing for the past several years.

Spreading the Bible’s message through music and writing has become a way of life for Elias, who will be visiting Monmouth next weekend to perform and visit with residents at Community Medical Center and the Immaculate Conception Church congregation.

After meeting Mother Teresa in October of 1987, Elias’ life changed in that she realized all of her accomplishments were pale in comparison to the meeting and close friendship with Mother Teresa. For the next 10 years following their meeting, their friendship grew as they continued to correspond. During this time Elias spend the next several years presenting more than 800 talks bringing the message of Mother Teresa to everyone she met.

“In meeting Mother Teresa and following her each day as she cared for God’s poor. I encountered Jesus face to face,” stated Elias on meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She continued, “I was utterly humbled to witness and be a part of Mother Teresa’s tireless labor of love. I had a glimpse of what heaven must be like during the time I spent with her and the other sisters in their chapel for Mass, sharing in the spiritual messages Monsignor John gave them. I listened as they worshipped God, with their voice rising like incense. And the memory of hearing Mother Teresa’s voice as she sang to her beloved Jesus will live in my heart forever.”

In 1995, at the request of Mother Teresa,the Gospel singer, entertainer, speaker, songwriter, performer and freelance writer, performed at a new home for unwed mothers in Washington, D.C. At the mass of dedication, she sang “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Two years later, Elias would perform this song again, as she sang at Mother Teresa’s funeral.

In all Elias has recorded 11 albums of spiritual music including five inspirational albums inspired by this Saint. A portion of the proceeds from her work has been donated to the MIssionaries of Charity.

Elias will be in Monmouth on Friday, February 27 to perform at Community Medical Center at 1:00pm at Immaculate Conception Church. During her visit to west-central Illinois she will also visit with the nuns of Mother Teresa in Peoria. While her visit is primarily to visit with Dolly Romano, the aunt of Michael Corgnati, who serves as Elias’ personal manager, she is looking forward to sharing MOther Teresa’s message of hope to all who hear her speak.

Upon reflecting on her last meeting with Mother Teresa “I wondered, if this one tiny lady could have such a powerful effect on people throughout the world, why can’t we, in our own corner of the earth, have a similar positive effect?”

Marlene T. Elias

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Marlene T. Elias, Receptionist joined the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks team on November 14, 1996. She had a desire to help those in need of consolation and comfort in their time of loss and grief. She was encouraged by her friend of ten years, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to bring her gifts of solicitude and music to those suffering the pain of the loss of a loved one. Marlene is a professional vocalist, recording artist, inspirational and motivational speaker, author, freelance writer, songwriter, pianist and organist.

Blessed with an exuberant spirit and talent, Marlene has had an exciting life. She was active in Little Theater, belonged to a band, “The Swing Sounds”, sung and appeared with numerous celebrities at benefits for needy causes. Such as working for St. Jude’s Hospital with Danny Thomas and his family, enlisting the aid of such stars as George Burns, Bob Hope, and the elite of Hollywood. She’s performed on stage with stars Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Orlando, Glenn Campbell, Tony Bennett, Debbie Reynolds to name a few. Recently she worked side by side with Martin Sheen at a benefit for a religious order of nuns, as he joined her in singing for the event. She and her daughter Annie Gabriel, film producer worked with Elliot Gould at a prayer service in Hollywood, encouraging actors to pray for the settlement of a strike of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. Marlene has also done featured spots doing interviews and singing for KIHS TV in Hollywood. In 1984 she sang the National Anthem and God Bless America at the opening of the Celebrity Tennis Tournament for the Olympics.

In 1987, Marlene’s life was to be forever changed. She had the honor of going to India and meeting the world-renowned Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Marlene accompanied her brother, Msgic John Esseff, who was to give a spiritual retreat to Mother and her nuns. This visit began a friendship which lasted until the death in 1997 of this saintly woman. Upon her return from India, Marlene was so inspired by Mother Teresa, she wrote five albums of music, one an anthem for the homeless. In 1988 she met with Mother Teresa in the Bronx, NY to audition her songs and obtain Mother’s approval to use her photo on two of the album covers.

Marlene worked with Mother Teresa, joining her at various convents and hospitals around the world. So inspired by this nun’s work with the poor, Marlene put together a slide presentation of photos taken during her travels with Mother, along with the music she composed, and took the show on the road. To date, she’s given over 800 presentations, sharing the life and message of Mother Teresa, motivating people to love, care and share. The proceeds from her albums have gone to the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa. Marlene has just released 6 CD’s of her music, and will continue to send much needed help to the sister to feed the poor.

On September 5, 1997, Marlene was saddened to hear of the death of her mentor and friend. The Sisters remembered the promise Marlene made to sing two songs, which she wrote, at Mother Teresa’s funeral. Marlene told of her plight to her manager, Larry Michael that morning and he gave her his blessing. With a little help from her friends, Marlene was able to make the trip to India to keep her promise. She sang at Mother Teresa’s funeral on September 13, 1997.

Two years ago on August 19th, Marlene’s beloved husband, Tony passed away and was buried at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks. He loved Mother Teresa and she loved and prayed for Tony every day. Marlene is sure she was there to great him in heaven.

This October the beatification of Mother Teresa took place in Rome. By the request of Sister Nimala and Sister Fatima Marlene sang at a private Mass offered by the Pope for her nuns.

One lesson that Marlene has learned from Mother Teresa is that we do not need to go to foreign lands to work at making a difference in people’s lives. In our own homes, in our workplaces, we can touch lives, making it a better world. Mother Teresa was pleased that Marlene was working at Valley Oaks. “You have helped me all these years, now help those in need at your work; those who grieve and are looking for comfort. Give them your love and your joy. And listen – yes listen, let their hearts speak to you.”

Mother and Marlene: ‘You Can Do”

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

By Robert Brennen

Marlene Elias has many gifts. Primary among them is an incredible singing voice and a talent for writing music. She has written, produced and recorded several CDs’ worth of inspirational music. But as good as her music is, what makes Marlene’s life inspirational and what separates her from the rest of us is her exemplary taste in friends.

It was October 1987 and Marlene the Southern California housewife had been invited by her brother, Msgr. John Esseff, to accompany him on a special trip where he was to offer a retreat to a group of nuns. The group of nuns were the Missionaries of Charity, the place was Calcutta, and the woman Marlene was going to meet and who was going to impact her life in ways beyond her capacity to comprehend was Mother Teresa.

Marlene has admitted to me that her first thoughts about the trip and meeting Mother Teresa had more to do with a sense of celebrity and excitement than the expectation that she was about to have an epiphany.

But upon her arrival on the streets of Calcutta and her first introduction to Mother Teresa, Marlene was changed forever.

Like a lot of us “spoiled” Americans, Marlene’s senses were sent reeling amid the destitution that surrounded her in Calcutta. But it all seemed to melt away when she met Mother Teresa.

It wasn’t a celebrity sighting after all. From the touch of Mother Teresa’s hand and the look in her eye, Marlene understood she was in the presence of someone very special.

She found herself swooped up into Mother Teresa’s world, where she tagged along as Mother Teresa “did her rounds” finding the poor and the dying and showing them the dignity and compassion of Christ’s love. It was here that she discovered the Gospel message is a message not for “saints” but for all of us.

Mother Teresa and Marlene Elias became fast friends. After that initial meeting with Mother Teresa in 1987, a deep bond would continue to form between the two women and evolve into another vehicle by which God’s work could be accomplished.

Back home in Southern California, Marlene tried to get back to the life she knew before but soon discovered she couldn’t.

Not ma ny people living in Southern California received regular calls from Mother Teresa and even fewer had Mother Teresa’s private telephone number on the speed-dial setting of their home phone. Sometimes Mother Teresa would call just to say hello, dispense a birthday greeting or inquire about the ups and downs of Marlene’s family and to offer counsel and prayers.

Other times it would be to invite Marlene to join Mother Teresa somewhere in the United States where Mother Teresa would be coming. It never seemed to cross Mother’s mind that Marlene might not have the time or the funds to drop everything and follow. But when Mother Teresa calls you at home and asks you to do something, you don’t put her on hold.

If Marlene’s life hadn’t been changed enough from her initial meeting with her new best friend back in 1987, it certainly took another spiritual turn on Christmas Day 1994.

Besides delivering a personal Christmas greeting to Marlene that Dec. 25, Mother Teresa had something to ask of her American friend.

“Ask” is not quite the accurate word, since Marlene explains that when Mother Teresa got a notion in her head about something she thought needed to be done, she just went ahead and did it. The difficulty or evident impossibility of a task was never a consideration.

Marlene found herself swept up in this Mother Teresa modus operandi on this Christmas Day when Mother Teresa asked her to do some little thing for her. Mother Teresa had previously visited Washington and met with the Clintons.

Mother had asked the Clintons then for help in establishing a home for unwed mothers so they would have a place to go and not think their only “choice” would be abortion. The Clintons did not gush over the concept. So not having heard back from Mrs. Clinton by December 1994, Mother Teresa decided to call her good American friend Marlene and have her talk to the First Lady about that house.

Now, Mother asked Marlene to call the ardently pro-abortion first lady of the United States of America, Hillary Clinton, and ask her to help Mother Teresa obtain a home in Washington, D.C., in which unwed mothers could have their babies.

Images of biblical signposts fill the imagination as this “simple” request is put into context. Mother Teresa wanted this housewife from California with absolutely zero political connections or influence to persuade the pro-abortion wife of a pro-abortion president to help Mother Teresa save “unwanted” babies with a home for women in true crises.

Marlene was dumbfounded and tried to explain to Mother Teresa that the average Southern Californian didn’t just pickup the phone and get the First Lady of the land on the other line. This time Mother Teresa was nonpiussed. She just repeated her pet motto to Marlene, “You can do,” and left it up to Marlene — and God to take care of the rest.

Not knowing exactly where to start, Marlene contacted Sister Sylvia, the Missionaries of Charity superior based on the East Coast and the one person Marlene knew was geographically close to the White House.

This led to a myriad of governmental navigations for Marlene until she finally hit pay dirt with Mrs. Clinton’s personal secretary. Contact was made. Mother Teresa’s request was delivered as Marlene Elias, friend of Mother Teresa, got through to Hillary Clinton.

On June 19, 1995, the Mother Teresa home for infants was dedicated. In attendance were Mother Teresa; then mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry; and Cardinal James Hickey of Washington. And, of course, one Hillary Clinton. This story alone is probably all the proof any Vatican-commissioned devil’s advocate should ever need to validate Mother Teresa’s propensity for the miraculous.

One Last Request

Marlene has many more “Mother stories to tell. So many, in fact, that; she is presently filling up the pages of a book about them she hopes to publish in the near future. When Mother Teresa passed away in 1997, Marlene learned that even in death her friend wasn’t done with her. Mother had requested a particular soloist to sing at her funeral and that person was Marlene Elias.

Again, the news came out of left field for Marlene, who was back in California with no means or time to get herself to a funeral in India.

But somehow the words “you can do” echoed in her head, she believed; and all of the dominoes fell into place. Marlene Elias arrived in time and sang at her friend’s funeral Mass.

Today, Marlene travels across the map and tells people about her experiences with her friend who lived in Calcutta. But the relationship between Marlene and Mother Teresa goes far beyond giving a lecture or a concert here and there.

And it is relationship that continues to this day.

If I had to use one word to sum up my own impressions of having met Marlene Elias, I would use “serene.”

It is not a serenity born of a lack of cares or worries. Marlene’s life is filled with ample amounts of sorrow and disappointment. But Mother Teresa is a constant presence in Marlene’s daily life and continues to act as a conduit to Christ.

Just as Mother Teresa did in life with the poor and dying in the streets of Calcutta, she has shown this American woman in Southern California that she is not alone and that through Christ, all things are possible.


Robert Brennan is a television writer living in Los Angeles.

Thanksgiving on September 27, 2005

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Michael J. Corgnati

You must be wondering what is wrong with me; Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday of November. Well the truth is I had a dream that I actually was able to figure out what it meant. The dream told me I shouldn’t be celebrating just on the 24th of November but I should be celebrating it everyday.

I have been praying for a business deal to go through that would change my life and help me do some things that would make me feel like I was doing something good in the world. The truth is I have been experiencing a miracle each day for 143 days in a row. You would think that would be enough but no, I wanted more. I wanted to stop living in fear, I wanted to have a good nights sleep and I was only thinking of myself.

The dream took place in the house where I grew up. I arrived at my home driving a tractor (no explanation). I saw the front door open. I walked in to find a young guy robbing the house, I yelled he had one minute to get the hell out and he rushed to attack me. The fight woke me up. I laid there and wondered what this dream all about. The Holy Spirit gave me some much needed wisdom. I realized I had never been robbed in my life and suddenly the light bulb came on.

I had been concentrating so much on what I don’t have I was taking for granted what I do have. I started to play in my head the things I did and do have. I had two wonderful parents who loved me dearly. I have a brother who makes me proud of his work and what he has done in the world. I have a family who each time I return to Illinois make me feel like I had never left.

I can see (not as well as I used to), I can hear (also not as well as I used to), I have hair, (more gray than black) have good health (reasonably) but I do not stop to thank God for these incredible gifts. I live in a nice home and since I am a couple pounds overweight, I am getting enough to eat. I have a car, which although not new, gets me from one place to another. I have not had my home, or all I hold dear to me, washed away from a hurricane. I have not had get on a bus and to go to a new place, only to find there is another hurricane coming and I must move again. I have never been without water or food for days at a time. I wept when I saw the pictures on TV, but never thought to say, “Thanks You God” for the things I do have.

I work with a lady, Marlene Elias who was a friend of Mother Teresa. She is a blessing. I feel I almost know Mother with all the materials I have read, the tapes of her conversations, and the letters she has written. I am privileged to work in bring tributes to Mother Teresa to people all over the world. I have gotten enough smarts now to know, if given the opportunity to make a choice of spend an hour with either Mother Teresa or Donald Trump, I could answer, “Mother Teresa!” in two seconds. I have enough smarts now to realize the one with the least can have the most. Money doesn’t buy happiness (but I would like to confirm this first hand). And the race does not go to the swiftest, but to the one who will not quit.

I realize now that what people think of us is sometimes much different than we imagine. I remember going to see my CPA, and during a luncheon feeling like he thought I was a fool for pursuing a dream for so long. He surprised me by saying he admired my determination and he could not do what I was doing. It never occurred to me that he felt this way.

I made two lists. One was a list of the things for which I have to be thankful. The other, a list of the things that I did not have. I was pleasantly surprised, when I found that the “to be grateful for” list far outnumbered the “don’t have” list.

Garth Brooks wrote a song “Unanswered Prayers” and the hook line is “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”. I experienced this first hand. The song tell of a man losing the woman of his dreams. Then, meeting her many years later, he realized God had done him a favor. The woman he did marry was a blessing. The next time you think that God is not giving you what you want; God may be giving you what you need.

Join me in thanking God for the sun, the moon, the flowers, the birds, the trees, the animals, songs, family, good friends, the feeling of praying and loving God and the feeling when it comes back to you so that your whole body tingles. The feeling that comes when you reach out to someone who needs you and realizing you were there to help someone. I want to thank God for sending His only Son, Jesus to die on the cross, so I could get to heaven…there is no greater gift.

Let each of us be thankful everyday for the blessings God has given us. Happy Thanksgiving this September 27, 2005

Mother Teresa: My Friend, My Inspiration

Thursday, January 1st, 1998

My memory was suddenly jolted this past September as I heard a reporter announce, “Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the poorest of the world’s poor, died Friday in Calcutta, India, where she lived since her work with the destitute began five decades ago. She was 87.”

Startled and saddened by the announcement, I found myself reflecting upon that grace-filled moment in time I spent with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, in October 1987. I could hear the sounds and smell the strange, pungent odors that are Calcutta. I longed to kiss Mother Teresa’s worn, calloused hands and embrace her again.

Meeting Mother Teresa

My journey began when I found out that my brother, Msgr. John A. Esseff, now director of the Propagation of the Faith in Scranton, Pennsylvania, promised Mother Teresa that he would give a retreat to the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. I was filled with an overwhelming desire to accompany him. (Later, I realized that this pilgrimage was part of God’s plan to send me on a longer journey within my soul.) In meeting Mother Teresa and following her each day as she cared for God’s poor, I encountered Jesus face-to-face.

When we arrived in Calcutta, all the troubles of a long and arduous trip dissipated. We were greeted by the incongruous vision of Mother Teresa and two of her nuns pulling up to the terminal entrance in a dilapidated ambulance truck.

Immediately, we were inundated by a sea of humanity as the people recognized Mother Teresa. They began bowing, reaching out to her, calling her name. Most just stared with loving admiration at this famous champion of the poor. I watched the scene in silence as she acknowledged each person.

Right before my eyes the world’s most famous person, a tiny wisp of a lady, grabbed our luggage. She called to her sisters to do the same and they began loading our baggage onto the truck. This act of humility touched me deeply. Even the armed guards, with rifles perched menacingly on their shoulders, smiled.

Mother sat next to me in the back of the truck. As I looked into her eyes, the realization that I was sitting next to a living saint rendered me speechless. I could see my brother’s amusement at the sight of his loquacious sister not being able to speak.

As we drove through the congested, filthy streets, we dodged rickshaws pulled by frail men. Racing helter-skelter were goats, cows, chickens, buses, trucks, motorcycles, cabs and cars. Horns honked incessantly. Near collisions and squealing brakes did not seem to faze Mother Teresa. But my heart was in my throat as we were jostled from one side of the truck to the other.

Mother Teresa pointed out the poverty that is Calcutta. The horrific sights were beyond anything I had imagined.

Happiness Without Modern Conveniences

A quick prayer of thanksgiving was said silently as we arrived at the motherhouse in one piece. The many nuns and postulants we spotted were all barefooted and attired in the familiar white saris edged in blue. The sisters were busily scrubbing and cleaning the courtyard of the contamination that entered daily from the streets. Water was fetched in buckets from an outside pipe.

These women lead an austere life with no modern conveniences, yet their happiness is evident. They rely totally upon God for their daily bread. Food is baked for the poor and for themselves on clay stoves. Each day the poor line up waiting for the only sustenance they will receive. Mother Teresa said, “In order to understand those who have nothing and be able to help them, we must live like them.”

At the time, there were 360 nuns and postulants at the motherhouse. Their beds, iron cots with thin mats, were so close there was barely room to squeeze by.

These women work tirelessly in the hospitals and orphanages. They go into the streets and bring the half-starved and the people of all ages who have Hansen’s disease—known to many as leprosy—to the hospital. And most of all, they bring the abandoned babies.

But always in their grueling schedule, the Missionaries of Charity take time to come before the Blessed Sacrament to pray. This refreshes them and gives them the strength to deal with the misery and suffering they encounter daily. Yet, in spite of all the sadness, there is a spirit of joy. I asked Jesus to give me that spirit of joy—I could not feel it on my own.

Breathing Can Be Dangerous in Calcutta

Even now, after all these years, it is difficult to express my horror and disbelief over what I witnessed. The streets were rife with emaciated, ragged people. We were forced to step over dead bodies. We shared the road with diseased cows, dogs, goats, chickens and, saddest of all, starving people. Human and animal excrement filled the streets.

Just breathing in Calcutta can be dangerous to your health. Thus, Mother suggested we keep our mouths covered whenever we walked through the streets. There was a putrid stench that literally assaulted the senses. Fumes rose from the river because of funeral pyres with half-burned corpses. Decaying garbage was piled in heaps, where hungry waifs battled over shreds of rotting food.

Pots of dried cow dung that was used as cooking fuel were burning everywhere. Filthy water carried waste along the streets. Fly-covered meats and foodstuffs were offered for sale.

This was my first glimpse of real poverty and hunger—it devastated me. As beggars grabbed at me with skeletal fingers, I witnessed the pain in their eyes. That look tore at my heart each time and still haunts me today.

Lifesaving Smiles, Hugs and Kisses

For days after that first encounter I would go to my room and weep uncontrollably, feeling guilty that I had eaten. This memory of the face of hunger will be forever etched in my soul. I wanted to run from it. I felt so useless and helpless.

Mother Teresa told me to stop the weeping: “These people have enough tears of their own. What they need from you is your smile.” I tried. When accompanying her, I attempted to do as she did.

We went to the orphanage, Shishu Bavhan, where little iron cribs lined the rooms. They were filled with babies that Mother Teresa and her sisters had saved.

One time a malnourished baby had just been brought in from the garbage heaps. I watched as a young nun washed this child and administered medication to try to save her from death.

Then Mother Teresa told us the story of another baby who had been brought in the day before. She said the child looked as if she had two heads because of a tumor that was so large she screamed in pain each time she moved. Mother Teresa made arrangements to have the child flown to a hospital to have the tumor removed. “So many babies, so many stories,” she said with a look of sadness in her eyes.

Immediately after we arrived at the orphanage, Mother Teresa began caring for her little ones. Their tiny frowns quickly turned to glowing smiles when she entered the room. Those who could ran to her, tugging at her skirt and kissing her as they giggled gleefully.

At Shishu Bavhan, I saw an Indian woman who volunteers at the orphanage go from crib to crib, picking up each baby and giving each a loving hug. Mother Teresa told me that the babies could get medicine and food, but if they were not hugged, they would die. She said she had someone come every day to give tender hugs and kisses to each child, “something beautiful for God.”

A Sense of Dignity and Worth

For the remainder of the stay, I had the privilege of spending many hours with Mother Teresa. I visited her hospitals, seeing the gentle way she cared for the dying—those emaciated shells of human flesh who were made to feel special and loved. They were given a sense of dignity and worth.

I was utterly humbled to witness and be a part of Mother Teresa’s tireless labor of love. I had a glimpse of what heaven must be like during the time I spent with her and the other sisters in their chapel for Mass, sharing in the spiritual messages Msgr. John gave them. I listened as they worshiped God, with their voices rising like incense. And the memory of hearing Mother Teresa’s voice as she sang to her beloved Jesus will live in my heart forever.

She counseled me during special moments alone, as I sat by her side or at her feet. I had to control myself to keep from hugging her too much, for she was so easy to love.

When it was time for me to leave Calcutta, I wept unashamedly—how difficult it was to say goodbye to Mother Teresa! Her gaze penetrated my very being as she said, “Go in joy, Marlene. Be always joyful with the love of Jesus. Serve him in your small corner of the world.”

As I turned to leave, Mother Teresa answered a knock at the door. There stood a beggar, a gaunt Hindu, with a humble, pleading look in his eyes. I caught this moment on film. The silent testimony of this picture is one of the innumerable gifts the Lord has given me since my trip to what appeared to be the most contaminated place on earth.

Mother Teresa didn’t turn my life upside down, she turned it right side up! I returned from Calcutta filled with gratitude to our most generous God.

Making Someone’s Day Brighter

When I learned of Mother Teresa’s death, these and many other memories flooded my soul. I was brought out of my reverie by the sound of the noon church bells. As I prayed the Angelus, I pondered the many blessings I had received as a result of that trip to Calcutta. I wondered, If this one tiny lady could have such a powerful effect on people throughout the world, why can’t we, in our own corner of the earth, have a similar positive effect?

This saintly woman’s message was to tell people that it is not necessary to go to Calcutta or Beirut or any other foreign land. She told us to begin with our own family. Keep a special love kindled, so that the times together will be good. Many need to hear a kind word, feel the touch of a caring hand or hear the sound of a friendly voice.

In families or neighborhoods, maybe right next door, there are people who are lonely. Visit them, perform an act of kindness. Mother Teresa said, “Just a simple ‘hello’ can make a person’s day brighter. This feeds more than food. Thank God for your country, for your blessings, for all that he does for you. Use your gifts to help others.” Then she said, “Bread lasts but a day; love is for always.”

When I was leaving Calcutta, she said, “Be Jesus to everyone you meet. And in everyone you meet, see Jesus.”

Praising God With Music

Mother Teresa played a love song on the strings of my heart. When I returned home, I was inspired to write five albums of music praising God. One of the songs, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”, has become an anthem for the homeless.

In 1988, when I met with Mother Teresa at a convent in the Bronx to audition the songs I wrote for her, I was encircled by this saintly woman and her sisters. They clapped their hands and tapped their feet as they listened to me sing. Not even a command performance at Buckingham Palace could have topped this honor!

Mother Teresa asked me for the sheet music so her sisters could play and sing my songs in their convents. She especially liked “The Message of Mother Teresa (See Jesus)” and “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” She often told me that she wanted me to sing these for her when she died.

When the news of her death came, I knew that I must heed her desire to sing at her funeral. But a major miracle was needed for me to travel to Calcutta for Mother’s funeral. I believed that through her intercession a way would come. And it did! She touched hearts and sent many helping hands to make it possible for me to carry out my promise.

As I stood on the stage of the Netalji Indoor Stadium where the funeral Mass was about to begin, a hush came over the crowd of 12,000 people. The commentator announced that the funeral cortege was nearing. Then she introduced my first song. As the musical introduction wafted through the air, memories once again flooded my soul.

The reality that Mother Teresa was gone struck me and tears began to well up in my eyes. Suddenly, in my soul, I heard her whisper, “They have enough tears, they need your smiles.” So I smiled and told Mother in my heart, This is my farewell to you, my Mother, my mentor, my friend, till we meet in heaven.

This woman who described herself as a “little pencil in the hand of God” served God well and obediently. Let us pray for her successor, Sister Nirmala, and all the Missionaries of Charity, that the Holy Spirit will guide their Order and help all of the sisters fruitfully continue in their holy and selfless work. May they, as Mother Teresa did, always see Jesus in the poorest of the poor and be Jesus to all they meet.


Marlene T. Elias was an organist for 20 years at St. Julie Billiart in Newbury Park, California. She is writing a book based on a series of taped conversations she had with Mother Teresa.

Woman taps into creativity after encounter with nun

Saturday, July 15th, 1995

By Enrique Rivero

NEWBURY PARK — Before she met Mother Teresa, Marlene Elias says she was a contented homebody who cared for her family and attended Mass regularly.

When she returned from a two-week stay in Calcutta, India, with the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1987, Elias says she was a changed woman. And in the years since, she has become an accomplished journalist, photographer and songwriter — all of which she employs to get Mother Teresa’s message of love and charity out to the world.

Mother Teresa herself asked Elias to sing one of her own compositions at the dedication of a home for unwed mothers last month in Washington, D.C.

“After I met her something happened to me — I’d neverwritten a song in my life,” said Elias, 61, “That’s because she inspired me so much.”

Elias was introduced to Mother Teresa through her brother, a Catholic priest who was leading a retreat for the nuns in Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity.

“I found out he was going and I’d always admired her so much I asked if I could go,” Elias said.

Her brother contacted Mother Teresa, who not only said Elias could go, but said the Newbury Park housewife could stay with her.

“I almost fainted when she said that — can you imagine, staying with Mother Teresa?” Elias said.

She went to Calcutta in October, and although she stayed only about two weeks, the experience changed her life forever.

“It was love at first sight when I first met her, in the most beautiful sense of the word,” Elias said. “She kind of transformed me.”

Elias-worked with orphans, the sick and the dying often accompanying the nuns as they walked in pairs through the city, observing the squalor and misery that she had been protected from in Newbury Park and that Mother Teresa and her helpers encountered every day.

“We were stepping over people dying,” Elias said. “The nuns would pick them up and take them to the hospital.”

Her work with the orphans gave rise to especially poignant moments. She recalls accompanying the children on a picnic with the nuns, and their surprising behavior when they arrived at the site.

Instead of running to see the animals or playing, the youngsters — having grown up amid the concrete and pavement of the city — stooped down and touched the grass, sometimes even rubbing their faces in it.

“I asked, ‘Why are they doing that?’ and the nun said, ‘Because they’ve never seen grass,’” Elias recalled.

Elias also learned a valuable lesson. When she asked Mother Teresa how she could help the children, she was told to give the youngsters a hug — that is what they most needed.

“At first, I couldn’t—I was afraid I would get leprosy,” Elias said.

She returned home a changed person, she said. Since then. Elias has been spreading the message back here in Southern California.

She began writing articles for various Catholic publications, and even produced a photograph for one magazine — showing Mother Teresa from the back opening the door to a beggar — that took a prize from the Catholic Press Association.

And she began writing music. So far, she has produced six songs, which she has recorded and sold. She had never before written music, she said.

Proceeds from the tapes go to Mother Teresa’s order, she said.

She still speaks frequently with Mother Teresa on the telephone and is recording all their conversations — with Mother Teresa’s knowledge and approval — for use in a proposed book.

“She sang a love song on the strings of my heart and filled my life with music,” Elias said.

Mother Teresa, “The Ambassador of Love”

Wednesday, June 1st, 1994

Those who have heard Mother Teresa speak attest that she is the communicator extraordinaire. This diminutive, humble, yet dynamic lady is known throughout the world for her love of the poor and destitute. She became my guide on a special odyssey when I gazed with wonderment into her penetrating eyes, hardly able to believe t was actually in her presence in Calcutta, India.

Why has she touched so many lives? Why was I so blessed and privileged to he there with her? I hungered for an insight into what makes Mother Teresa so beloved and revered by people of all persuasions.

Flight to Calcutta

I wanted to learn what makes her so fascinating. I watched her with the poor and the rich, dignitaries and common people. As I saw her with her nuns and saw her speak to each person she met, the solution to the mystery began to unfold. Her great gift is humility. She demonstrated it from the first moment I met her.

I had traveled to India with my brother, Monsignor John Esseff, a priest in the Diocese of Scranton, PA. He was to conduct a retreat for Mother Teresa and her Sisters in Calcutta. I could hardly contain my excitement during the 26 hour flight. On entering the airline terminal, I was rendered speechless as I spotted Mother Teresa. She approached us with outstretched hands and a radiant smile.

Here was one of the most famous of women in the world, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She could have sent someone else to pick us up, hut instead chose to come in person. Then she began hoisting our luggage into the dilapidated ambulance which was to be our transportation. I was bowled over!

As we rode with her to her Motherhouse she pointed out the devastating effects that poverty and hunger create in Calcutta. I was horrified at the sight of emaciated shells of human beings barely able to walk. They ambled aimlessly along filthy disease infested streets. I will never forget the smell. Little naked children begged for food, Lepers approached our truck hoping to get alms. I began crying. These scenes are etched into my soul.

Mother Teresa told me to stop crying, for these unfortunates had enough misery. She told me they needed smiles, not tears. Their pinched faces turned from dour to radiant when Mother Teresa smiled at them. She reached out to touch them, giving them consolation and hope.

Her gentleness with the sick and dying is a quality I so admire. She makes each one feel that they are special. Mother and her nuns go out into the streets daily and bring as many as possible to the hospital. Food cooked by the sisters and volunteers is given out until it is gone. Then they pray to God to send food enough for the next day. Each day we watched in amazement as the larders were replenished for that day’s needs. She has total trust in the Lord to provide.

More Blessed to Give

Mother never has fund raisers. She asks that God put the desire in people’s hearts to help, then they will share what they have. It breaks her heart to see countries such as the United States waste so much.

Once when speaking at a banquet for the Knights of Columbus she looked at the grand ballroom with its elegant chandeliers, opulent decor, and gourmet dinners being sewed. She told the audience that the exorbitant cost of this evening would feed thousands of her poor. The Knights were so touched, they matched the cost of the dinner, and donated it for her work.

Miracle in Beirut

She speaks honestly from her heart. No gimmicks, no rehearsed gestures. My brother was in Beirut for four years helping refugees and orphans. I le worked with the Missionaries of Charity and through them met Mother Teresa. Monsignor John shared a story about how her prayers brought miraculous results.

Beirut was in the midst of a horrendous war, shelled and bombed relentlessly. Many were homeless. Mother Teresa heard of retarded children left behind to die. She approached President Jamail of Lebanon to ask for permission to cross the Green Line to rescue them. He told her it was too dangerous. “If the war stops, may I go in after them?” she asked. He agreed, though he knew it was impossible.

She gathered her nuns around her in the Chapel and prayed all night. Suddenly the noise of the bombing stopped. She rushed to call President Jamail. “May I go for the children now?”

He not only allowed her to go, hut sent several Red Cross trucks, personnel and equipment with them to rescue the children. They found 64 retarded children, half starved, crying. They cleaned them up and got them aboard the trucks. As they crossed back over the Green Line, the shelling and bombing resumed.

“Just Good Boys”

My brother witnessed her powers of communication and loving persuasion when he went to Ethiopia with Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, accompanied by an entourage of hierarchy and film crew from the United States. Their mission was to check conditions and to send aid from the Mission Societies to the starving people. At Adclis Ababa they discovered the trip by land to the Famine Center was not possible. they would have to fly.

The Russian pilots, learning that these were hated Americans, became angry. They did nut want the famine area filmed. They refused to help.

It was hopeless

Then my brother spotted Mother Teresa and several of her Sisters. As he watched she went directly to the Russian pilots and spoke to them in Russian (She is of Slavonic descent). Mother Teresa took some medals of the Virgin Mary from her pocket. Then this tiny lady reached up to the big, fierce, atheist Communist soldiers and placed a medal over each one’s head, while asking God to bless them.

The Russians began to smile and react to her love. Within minutes, the Cardinal. my brother and the rest of their group were aboard the plane and taking off down the runway.

Her simplicity and love cut through the hatred and barriers. Her title of ‘Mother fits her. She did not see them as young soldiers or communists. She remarked to the group as they boarded the plane, “They are nice boys.”

The Opportunity of Love

Mother Teresa’s persuasive powers lie in her ability to tell people simply that she is giving THEM the opportunity of serving God’s poor, who to her are not pathetic, but treasured brothers and sisters. To watch her as she gently cares for the retarded is edifying. They respond, smile, feel special.

Whoever meets her, regardless of their language, religious beliefs or mental capabilities, understand her love. She is real, simple, direct. Each word she speaks is so filled with unconditional love that people are drawn to that light that emanates from Mother Teresa. Her heart is joyful. Her mission of love brings to everyone she meets the Face of God.

Marlene says, “My life has been enriched more than I could have ever hoped. Watching Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta, in the wretched slums of the Bronx, in the miserable poverty of Tijuana, I saw her selflessly give of herself to the poor. She stirred in my heart a desire to emulate this ‘Saint of the Gutters.”

Mother Teresa, the gentle persuader is the little pen in the hand of God. She writes her message of love indelibly upon her listeners’ hearts.

Ed note: When a friend met Mother Teresa, he noted that she is bent far over from the arthritis in her back. He told her he was so sorry. She replied, “I am grateful that God lets me he bent over so that I can be closer to those souls in the gutters of the world, who need me.