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Byline: Kathy Boccella Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

``I would like to think of her life like one of my favorite fireworks displays - it rises magnificently to the sky as a single, dazzling ball of light and then bursts open, releasing millions of tiny sparks of light that shimmer and glow as they descend back down to Earth.

``As Mother Teresa's own light dies out, I hope and pray that millions - even billions - of us carry a small spark of that light within us and share it with all those around us. If we do that, then there will always be hope in this world, no matter how bad things get.''

- Susan Badeau

letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer

Susan and Hector Badeau adopted 19 special needs children.

Frank Lyons cared for people dying of AIDS.

Marion Slack opened a food cupboard.

The Rev. Geneva Butz started an emergency homeless shelter.

They were all inspired and motivated by Mother Teresa, by her strength, her determination, her gentleness, her faith. It may be the little nun's greatest legacy, showing by example how to help the weakest, the poorest, the lowliest members of the human race.

Many people say their lives were changed after meeting the peripatetic nun, who one woman affectionately described as looking ``like a little bag of laundry.'' They were moved by her simplicity, by her call to not ``worry about why problems exist in the world - just respond to people's needs.''

The Badeaus had a 6-week-old girl when they heard a man who had worked with Mother Teresa speak at their church in Northampton, Mass.

``The way he talked about Mother Teresa and the kids in need was incredible,'' recalled Susan Badeau, 39, sitting in her crumbling 32-room mansion in Mount Airy as some of her children filtered in from school. ``That picture of her holding the baby that's been in the papers, he had pictures like that also. That's the kind of image that got to us.''

The next day the couple, who owned a bookstore, walked into an adoption agency and asked to adopt a baby from India. The social worker told them it would take awhile, but children from El Salvador needed homes right away. Jose arrived four days before their daughter's first birthday.

They eventually got Raj, their Indian son, and continued to adopt special needs children. They also sold their bookstore and started working with children, running a group home and eventually opening their own adoption agency. Today, Susan Badeau works for an adoption agency in Philadelphia while Hector stays at home with the brood, which has grown to 21, 16 of whom live at home.

Through the years, when the problems of raising 21 children, many of them severely physically disabled or emotionally scarred, have been overwhelming, Susan Badeau said she has turned to Mother Teresa for inspiration.

``Her ability to cope with the loss, the pain, the human suffering has been a real role model for us. To keep a good faith and a good face day in and day out. . . . If you look at her as only a saint, you say, I can't do that. But if you look at her as a person living out each day in these circumstances, then you can say, yeah, I can do some of that, too. We're just two human beings on this planet.''

It was Frank Lyons' pastor who urged him to volunteer at Philadelphia's Calcutta House in 1988. It was Mother Teresa, though, who helped him cope with caring for the sick and dying and finding the funds to keep the hospice running.

``I wasn't equipped to do anything like that,'' said the retired businessman, 65. ``What Mother Teresa did for me was show me that you don't wait until you can do something perfect or until you understand everything. You just start doing it and learn along the way.''

Which is exactly what Lyons did, eventually becoming president of the board of directors from 1990 to 1994, when the hospice moved from a small building in West Philadelphia to a new site at 16th Street and Girard Ave.

A ``big smiley picture'' of the nun, who inspired the name of the hospice, graced the dining room of the home in West Philadelphia, Lyons recalled.

``I would look at that picture when things were rough, when I wondered if I could get enough money to keep things going or somebody was dying and there was nothing you could do but make them comfortable, and I would see a lot of love.

``It was like she was giving permission to open your heart up, to do something for somebody else even though you felt inadequate, just do it.''

In 1995, Lyons saw Mother Teresa when she visited sisters from her order in Chester. As she walked down the aisle of the church where she was to speak, he raised his camera but the shutter jammed. Finally, Mother was right in front of him and the camera surprisingly went off.

Today, the framed picture hangs on his kitchen wall, along with one of another of his role models - his grade school teacher, Mary Kelly.

``They both taught me things,'' said Lyons, who now works with the homeless and volunteers at Graduate Hospital and his church, St. Patrick's. ``Mary Kelly taught me persistence, never to give up even when I didn't understand things. And Mother Teresa taught me that millions of people need help but that's not my business. What is my business is this one person in front of me.''

The Rev. Geneva Butz was a young Protestant minister when she worked at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta for three months in 1976. Struck by the simplicity of the nun's approach to caring for the unwanted, she eventually started an emergency homeless shelter for 20 men at her church.

``I saw that what was needed was a very simple approach and that the human touch was much more important than any material, technological approach,'' said Butz, pastor of the Old First Reformed Church in Philadelphia. ``You don't have to have everything in place. You just need to use the God-given gifts you have.''

Butz was in Calcutta with a group of other clerics who needed housing so they knocked on the door of Mother Teresa's convent.

``The sister who answered said, `Oh, just one moment,' and Mother Teresa came down and talked to us,'' she recalled. ``She's very accessible, very down to earth. She related very well to people. She would engage children, ask them, `What are you studying?' ''

At the Home for the Dying, her followers tried to make people comfortable, fed them and bathed them. They slept on pallets on the floor and ate simple food. Before then, said Butz, ``I would have thought that to take care of people who are dying you need hospital beds, all kinds of equipment and life supports. She doesn't need that.''

The shelter Butz started in 1984 is likewise ``fairly basic. . . . It's basically mats on the floor, and we give them food but we are attempting to share humanely, to relate to the men and engage them. That is what is life-giving, to be treated with human dignity. That is what Mother Teresa saw in every person - she saw God. She wasn't afraid of poverty, she wasn't afraid of suffering.''

Marion Slack was already involved in charitable work when she met Mother Teresa in 1979.

But hearing the nun speak at a church in Philadelphia ``changed my life,'' said the 75-year-old great-grandmother from Levittown.

After that, Slack and her husband, Donald, started Mary's Cupboard, which feeds 12 to 14 families a day.

``When I met her, I saw her put into action all the things that I've been listening to from the pulpit for years. When I think of all the things she accomplished for such a tiny woman, she's really amazing,'' she said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 14, 1997

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