Linda Schaefer first met Mother Teresa on June 15, 1995 while on assignment for the Atlanta Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta. Well accustomed to covering news events with CNN and AP, nothing could have prepared her for that initial meeting with Mother Teresa. Poised and ready with her cameras on the airport tarmac for Mother Teresa’s arrival on a corporate jet, Linda felt that somehow this encounter would change her life forever. After greeting Archbishop John Donoghue, the tiny nun turned and walked straight towards Linda. She enfolded Linda’s hands in her own and invited her to “Come and See.” That invitation led Linda on a 23-year journey of documenting the legacy and work of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Linda moved to New York City and worked as an assistant for successful commercial fashion and still life photographers. However, instead of filling her portfolio with studio photographs, Linda roamed the dark corners of the city, photographing the homeless, street gangs and abandoned members of society. This led to a three-year stint working as a photographer for NYPD. She applied and was accepted to the graduate school of Arts and Sciences and New York University to study journalism. It was in telling compelling stories of real-world events and people who were making a difference that led to her passion for documentary work. After graduating from NYU in 1984, Linda accepted a job offer with CNN in Atlanta. She also began freelancing for the archdiocese of Atlanta and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. However, after meeting Mother Teresa, her life was completely transformed. “What I could always see with the help of my cameras became unimportant. Her presence was a holy one and for the first time I did not need the cameras to feel whole.”
Two months after that auspicious encounter with Mother Teresa, Linda began her lifelong mission, first by traveling to Calcutta to seek Mother Teresa’s approval to document the work. Instead, Mother Teresa sent her to work at Shishu Bhavan, the orphanage near the motherhouse. Linda had to set her cameras aside and experience the work without looking through the lens of a camera. A few weeks later, Linda once again asked Mother Teresa’s permission to photograph the homes in Calcutta. This time, Mother asked for a written proposal. Well accustomed to proposal writing, Linda developed a meaningful handwritten proposal and submitted it in person to Mother Teresa. Again, she said “No,” to which Linda broke down in tears. This time she offered another solution, “Pray about this tonight, and I will pray – then come and see me tomorrow.” This time Mother Teresa gave her written permission to document the work.
The work culminated in Linda’s first book, Come and See: A Photojournalist’s Journey into the World of Mother Teresa, published in time for Mother Teresa’s beatification October 19, 2003. She appeared live on CNN during the broadcast as well as numerous other networks including BBC and Sky Television. Linda began speaking for groups around the country for the next decade. Audiences included: Legatus, Hospice of the Western Reserve, Catholic Charities, Magnificat and countless churches of all denominations. She was also invited to public and private schools and universities to bring Mother Teresa’s message of love for the poor into the classroom.
Linda’s new book, Encountering Mother Teresa, to be released October 2019 by Our Sunday Visitor includes more than 200 rare and never-before-seen photos of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Spanning decades, these photos provide a personal look at Mother Teresa and her enduring legacy. It also contains interviews with people who knew Mother Teresa personally and were privileged to share in her work. Everyone who was drawn to Mother Teresa, and inevitably transformed by her touch has a story to tell. Linda’s personal journey with Mother Teresa and the stories of so many others make up the core content of Linda’s talks. She develops individual talks that resonate with the organization. As the keynote speaker for Hospice of the Western Reserve, Linda highlighted the homes Mother Teresa opened to care for the dying and the importance of giving dignity to those going home to God. At Duke University, Linda spoke of the thousands of students who make pilgrimages to Calcutta to volunteer for the Missionaries of Charity. For a number of Legatus Chapter talks, Linda included examples of how Mother Teresa’s leadership skills led to the success of the Missionaries of Charity.
After teaching in higher education for the past eleven years, Linda is now focused on continuing her journey with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She has returned to Calcutta three times since 1995, and each time, learns more of the worldwide legacy of Mother Teresa. Linda also attended the canonization of Mother Teresa on September 5, 2016. These and up-to-date photographs of the homes in Calcutta taken in 2018 are included in Encountering Mother Teresa.
Speaking topics include:
Mother Teresa’s legacy: The words I Thirst are painted on every wall next to the crucifix in all the Missionary of Charity homes around the world. The central charism of the Missionaries of Charity was to satiate the thirst of Jesus. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta, her legacy continues to be a beacon of light around the world. Schaefer's new book, Encountering Mother Teresa includes interviews with some of Mother Teresa's closest friends and gives readers great insight into the work and life of Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa as a mother figure: In her lifetime, Mother Teresa was willing to be a source of consolation to all those who came to her in their moments of desolation. Schaefer herself, was a recipient of her love and attention. Today, the sisters continue to be mother figures to the poor, volunteers and all those who seek their guidance.
Finding Calcutta in your own backyard: Mother Teresa often advised people not to travel all the way to Calcutta to work with the poor. Instead she suggested that we each find our own Calcutta within own communities. Charitable organizations throughout the world view Mother Teresa as a role model and source of inspiration.
Mother Teresa was an ideal evangelizer of the Catholic faith: When Schaefer first traveled to Calcutta in 1995 she was not a Catholic. Mother Teresa never asked Schaefer about her faith, but twice suggested she "pray." It was while attending the beatification that she felt called to join the Catholic Church. In 2007, three years after converting to the faith, Schaefer attended Mass at the motherhouse in Calcutta, and for the first time, received communion at the headquarters for the Missionaries of Charity.
Love until it hurts: Mother Teresa often advised people to "love until it hurts." Her legacy of love and compassion is a testament to the breadth of the work througout the world. She also advised audiences to find one person who could benefit from acts of loving compassion. In his homily at the beatification, Pope John Paul II described Mother Teresa as The Icon of the Good Samaritan.
Mother Teresa – saying "yes" to a calling: Mother Teresa responded to the call of Jesus to form an unprecedented order to serve the poorest of the poor. She called upon Mother Mary to assist her in accomplishing this mission. Responding to a calling can be both challenging and often filled with obstacle. How do we respond to OUR calling?