Mother Teresa and Leonard Cheshire

5 September 2016

by Stephanie Nield

Mother TheresaThis year on Sunday 4 September, Mother Teresa was made a saint by Pope Francis.

What you may not know is Mother Teresa was friends with our founder and his wife Sue Ryder, and we have letters from her in the archive.

How many archives can say they contain the relics of a real-life saint?

The letters show us Mother Teresa, Leonard Cheshire and his wife Sue Ryder shared the Christian faith and a belief in prayer, which supported them through the humanitarian work they devoted their lives to.

Born in Albania in 1910, Mother Teresa’s work was in India, mainly in Kolkata, where she founded an order called the Missionaries of Charity in 1950, and set up a hospice and a home for abandoned children.

She died on 5 September 1997 and left behind a lasting legacy.

In our archive we have the story of Dilip Kumar, who had leprosy and ended up living at Mother Teresa’s hospice, caring for an old man he had met whilst living on the streets.

Dilip running a clinic at Katpadi in 1976

As a young boy, he had run away from home to get treatment and was struggling to find anywhere that would take him.

On a visit to the hospice to see Mother Teresa, Leonard Cheshire offered Dilip the chance to live at Katpadi Cheshire Home in Vellore — closer to his place of birth and where he could get treatment for his leprosy.

Dilip took the chance, and after successful treatment decided to train as a physiotherapist. He continued to work at Katpadi, after he qualified, to help rehabilitate others like him. He then went on to get married and have a family.

We know so much about Dilip because, in the late 1960s Leonard Cheshire decided to make a film about his life — with the intention of breaking taboos and assumptions about the lives of people who had recovered from leprosy.

Mother Teresa in the male dormitory of Khaligat

Mother Teresa appears in this film at the Khaligat hospice, where Dilip and Leonard first met.

From the correspondence we have at the archive, we know the production of the film was part financed by the film director David Lean, and the BBC were thinking of broadcasting the film when they first went colour in 1968.

Stephanie Nield is the archivist at Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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