Two Americans in Catholic Leadership Recall Working with Mother Teresa

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Sean Callahan, chief operating officer of Catholic Relief Services, and Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, are pictured during an interview in Washington Aug. 26. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Even in the last years of her life, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata had a profound impact on those anywhere near her orbit, including two young Americans who grew into leadership positions in the U.S. Catholic Church.

Sean Callahan met Mother Teresa when he was East India director for Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency, starting in 1994 and based in Kolkata, then called Calcutta. He worked with Mother Teresa in his official capacity with CRS and as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity’s Center of the Dying. Callahan is now CRS’s chief operating officer.

William Canny, spent 25 years in various capacities at CRS, including time in the mid-1990s in Kolkata, before being named last year as the executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. In a joint interview with Catholic News Service on Aug. 26 – the centenary of Mother Teresa’s birth – they shared vivid memories of their interactions with her. Mother Teresa could part traffic almost as if she were Moses and Kolkata’s street dwellers, pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaws and cars were the Red Sea. “Mother is coming!” was the call, Canny said, and that was enough for people to squeeze toward the sides of the streets and let her pass in her Indian-made Ambassador car.