Saints I Have Known

Saints I Have Known

William E Stein, D.D.S.*:

As the world has finally focused on Haiti, I would like to tell you a story of at least two living saints.

Fr. Rick Frechette as a young priest was called to live his vocation by serving the poor in Haiti. He went right to the eye of the storm and helped establish an orphanage on a mountainside overlooking Port Au Prince.

He spent his days in this vast city of the poor and realized the great need the suffering masses had for health care. He returned to the Untied States and became an M.D. Back in Haiti he built a hospital downtown in pain central.

One of Fr. Rick’s helpers was an elderly but spry nun named Sister Philomena. Sister worked in the hospice comforting the dying people in their last days on earth. One day some rescuers brought her a tiny baby girl found abandoned on a trash help. Sister Philomena gave her her own given name, Teresa, and began to nurse her back to life.

One day Fr. Rick approached Sr. Philomena and said, “Sister, is there anything you would like to experience before you die?”

Sister didn’t hesitate a beat and said, “I would like to meet Mother Teresa.”

Fr. Rick replied, “How about next Tuesday?”

Fr. Rick had been invited to a reception for Mother Teresa at the United Nations in New York City.

Sr. Philomena said, “I’ll go, but we must take the baby. I had a dream that Mother Teresa was holding her in her arms.”

This seemed like an impossible task. As anyone who has ever attempted to adopt a Haitian knows, the red tape is endless. But not for Fr. Rick. Somehow he got them all tickets and a passport for the baby. The only catch was little Teresa had to have a mother and a father.

Upon their entering Customs in the United States, the agent asked, “Who is the father of this child?”

The young priest raised his hand.

“And who is the mother?”

“I am,” said the elderly nun.

The agent looked perplexed for a minute, and then said, “Aw, go on in!”

Finally at the U.N. reception, Father, Sister, and the baby were at the far end of the great hall. At the opposite end the doors opened and in came the tiny saint, Mother Teresa. Her eyes immediately fixed on our trio from Haiti. The crowd parted like the Red Sea as Mother made her way to them, and just like in Sister Philomena’s dream, she swept Teresa up in her arms and held her over her head. I have seen the photo.

A few years later, Sister Philomena was called to retirement by her order. We had the pleasure of hosting her and her traveling companion, another soon-to-be-retired sister who served in Mexico, for dinner at our home on Cedar Lake.

We were going to have dinner on our pontoon boat. My wife, Terry, asked Sister what she would like to drink, saying, “We have ice tea, water, soft drinks, whatever you want.”

Sister replied, “Do you have any brandy? I’d like a brandy and Coke, but only one!”

It was a foggy, hazy evening on the lake, but as soon as we left the dock shafts of heavenly sunlight guided our way, loons swam by our side, deer came down to drink by the water’s edge, eagles swooped over us, and beavers slapped their tails in celebration. It was a night to be remembered.

Sister Philomena stayed retired for about three months, and then convinced her order to send her back to Haiti to work in the hospice for dying children for the rest of her days on earth.

When the earthquake hit Port Au Prince, Fr. Rick was safely back in New York at the bedside of his dying mother. Upon hearing the news, his mother made him promise to return immediately to Haiti, which he did.

Saints; not just in prayer books anymore.

*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn.,