The Vault: Mother Theresa's historic Kentucky visit

The Vault: Mother Theresa's historic visit to Jenkins, Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – June 1982 – Mother Theresa graces Kentucky with a humble heart.

In Louisville, she was honored at Bellarmine University for receiving the Bellarmine Medal in India a year earlier.

Hundreds showed up at every appearance but it was deep in the back roads of Kentucky where Mother Teresa spent most of her time.

Sending four nuns to rural Letcher County to start the good work before she arrived.

"It is an unimposing house on Cove Road and High Street – a former barber shop beauty salon. Now it is the home to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Their Indian saris hang on the close line out back. The sisters are camera shy, declining interviews. But admitting – yes – we are excited about Mother's coming."

"They've visited everybody in Jenkins as far as that's concerned. They've visited everybody here on High Street. They visited in Mudtown. I don't think there's a place where they've not visited. They walk and they go from house to house and visit. They're really nice."

It was in the small town of Jenkins that Mother Teresa launched a ministry for battered women and their children.

The mayor at the time, saying the town hadn't seen anything like it in 50 years.

"I'd say this would be as big as when Eleanor Roosevelt was in Jenkins,” Mayor Sam Wyatt, said in a past interview.

WHAS11 sent former reporter Ned McGrath to cover Mother Teresa's journey through Kentucky.
It was the assignment of a lifetime.
 
"Every day Jenkins is a quiet place. A coal town with 3200 people with a boom and bust economy that could, right now, be described as depressed but by no means a disaster. The Missionaries of Charity are known for their work with the poorest of the poor so here in Jenkins, it will be different. Apparently, a welcome change."

"You know she didn't come to coal country in eastern Kentucky to make the locals catholic. She came because she is Catholic and she had devoted her life to the poor and the marginalized. She never asked anybody, whether they were in Jenkins or Calcutta about their religion. If you needed help – you got it."

McGrath wasn't alone on the trip.

He and photographer Ray Farmer were in a media pool with journalists from all corners of the state. Only they would get a one-on-one interview with Mother Teresa, thanks to the bond they formed with the local priest before she arrived. 

“Father Ed looks down and says ‘Come on up here, just the two of us talk to her on the porch’ – I got that on tape – and WHAS gets an exclusive story and there were a lot of other reporters there that were mad as hell," McGrath said.

It's a moment McGrath will cherish forever.

Mother Teresa's heartfelt words – as gentle as they were profound. 

"Wherever the sisters go they become the sunshine of God's love, the hope of eternal happiness and the burning faith of God's love. Wherever they go that is all I pray for." 

When Mother Teresa left Kentucky in '82 she left behind a trail of kindness, selfless compassion, and warmth.

To this day, the Missionaries of Charity are still hard at work in Jenkins.

The sisters are still visiting the sick, elderly and poor.

A lasting legacy for a small, Kentucky coal town

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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