Gray relates experience with blessed missionary

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Sissie Gray of Natchez was not surprised when she first heard that Mother Teresa, who spent her adult life caring for the poor and sick, was on the fast track to being named a saint.

Gray knew it the first time she saw her.

It was 1986, and Mother Teresa was visiting cities on a nationwide speaking tour of the United States, a tour that included Baton Rouge.

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Father Caiais and Father Brennen, two priests that Gray knew well during her time living in Lafayette, heard that the founder of the missionary order of nuns was traveling so close to their town. And they knew they had to persuade her to come there.

They did that by offering her and a group of nuns transportation to and from Lafayette’s coliseum, where she would end up speaking later that day.

When word got out of her appearance, lines formed outside the venue for hours before the appearance &045;&045; and Gray with daughters Jane and Janice were among the first in line.

And seeing the legendary missionary in person, Gray said, was an experience she would never forget.

&uot;She walked in, and it went from noise to dead silence,&uot; Gray said.

What was it about the late missionary, who was beatified Sunday, that commanded such respect? &uot;Her simplicity,&uot; Gray said. &uot;Her godliness … that’s what you’d call it.&uot;

The coliseum was packed &045;&045; so many people some were turned away &045;&045; but Mother Teresa focused not on the adoring crowds, but on the plight of the needy.

&uot;Everywhere she goes, she talks about the poor and the homeless and the sick,&uot; Gray said. &uot;She said, ‘When someone comes to you for something, … you should do so, always knowing you’re giving to God.’

&uot;And the whole time she talked, she had these rosaries, working the beads in her hands,&uot; she said.

When Mother Teresa walked out of the coliseum that night, Gray knew she had to take something away besides the missionary’s words, despite that fact that no one was allowed near the nuns that night.

So she asked Father Caiais to take a picture of Mother Teresa for her.

The photo of the nun in her white-and-blue sari &045;&045; one hand on her hip, the other clutching her rosary beads &045;&045; is still proudly displayed in the glass of the cash register booth at Gray’s restaurant, The Fare.

She hasn’t taken it down since the restaurant opened more than a decade ago.

It’s been almost two decades since Gray and her daughters saw Mother Teresa at the coliseum, but her influence still remains.

One can see it in Gray’s eyes as she talks about the missionary &045;&045; or on her bookshelf, where she keeps copies of Mother Teresa’s books &uot;In My Own Words&uot; and &uot;In the Heart of the World.&uot;

And one can still see it in Lafayette, where Mother Teresa left two of the nuns that were with her that day. They are still there, ministering to the needy of that region.

But for Gray and others there that night, perhaps that one visit to Lafayette had the most influence. As Gray put in Monday, &uot;You knew you saw a saint when you saw her.&uot;