Nearly 20 years ago, St. Augustine, Fla. resident Jean Hinson never imagined that something as simple as mailing a get well card would change her life. Yet the mere cost of a 29-cent postage stamp touched the life of the recipient of that card – Mother Teresa of Calcutta – so much that the two began exchanging letters over the next few months. Looking back on the experience, Jean, who is now 83, calls it “priceless.”
Jean knew Mother Teresa like most of the world – from afar, learning only bits and pieces about her life and ministry through books and articles. She had a great admiration for her tireless work with the poor and the sick.
On a rare visit to the United States in January 1992, Mother Teresa was hospitalized in La Jolla, Calf. with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. After reading the report in the St. Augustine Record, Jean felt she should mail a card to the hospital in La Jolla hoping to brighten the day of Mother Teresa. Less than a month later, Jean was nonetheless overjoyed when she received a reply and the first of several letters from her new “pen pal.”
“I thought to myself ‘I bet no person of her stature ever receives a get well card,’” said Jean. “People are sometimes hesitant to send anything to a person with celebrity-like status. But I found a card for her and wrote a short note telling her how much she meant to the world. I forgot about it and never dreamed I would hear from her.”
Jean almost threw the envelope away, dismissing it as another relief organization seeking money. But when she saw the Missionaries of Charity on the return address, she knew that someone from Mother Teresa’s religious order had seen the card. When she opened the letter, she got an even bigger surprise.
Now displayed in a simple picture frame in her St. Augustine Beach home, Jean struggles with a crack in her voice and tears in her eyes to read the heartfelt response from Mother Teresa.
Jan. 30, 1992
Dear Mrs. Hinson,
With deep appreciation, I thank you for you remembering me in your prayers. My gratitude will be my prayer for you that you may become humble like Mary, so as to become more and more holy like Jesus. Together, let us thank God for all his tender love and care. He has been so good to me. The care that I received while in the hospital has been something great and beautiful. I am spoiled. Now that I have left the hospital and I am feeling better, I ask for you to pray much for China. We have been invited to bring Jesus to the people there, who are hungering so much for God.
Continue to pray for me and my sisters that we may not spoil God’s work. Always be one heart full of love in the hearts of Jesus and Mary by loving one another with a most tender and forgiving love.
God Bless You,
Mother Teresa included a gift for Jean – a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary – that Jean has worn ever since.
Jean was especially struck by Mother Teresa’s reference to China in the letter. China was a country that Mother Teresa visited three times and longed to establish a mission there to help the poor. Her dream in China was never realized before her death.
The correspondence continued and even though Mother Teresa never asked for money in any of her letters, Jean began to send $25 checks to Calcutta hoping they would find their way to Mother Teresa. Later that spring, just in time for Easter, the second letter arrived:
Dear Mrs. Hinson,
This brings you my prayers and wishes for a holy and joyous Easter.
Your gift brings hope to the lives of many. Let nothing so fill you with pain and sorrow so as to make you forget the joy of the risen Lord.
God Bless You,
Jean smiles as she recalls that her checks were always personally endorsed with Mother Teresa’s signature. “She was a hands-on woman. That’s for sure,” said Jean. Her third of six letters from Mother Teresa arrived a couple of months later.
“I finally began thinking that this is not fair to Mother Teresa,” said Jean. “Maybe she feels she has to write back every time I write her. One day, I just stopped. In many ways, I’m sorry I did.”
Jean admits that being able to exchange letters with Mother Teresa has changed her. “Even though I’m not Catholic, there’s a lot about the Catholic faith that appeals to me,” said Jean who was baptized a Baptist as a small child in Dallas, Texas.
Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997 at the age of 87. “I remember thinking the world had lost a great person that was on the fast track to sainthood,” said Jean. “It was a very sad day for me and I hated that the event was eclipsed by Princess Diana’s fatal car crash, which happened a week earlier. Both women were tremendous losses, but I just thought that Mother Teresa’s passing did not get the attention it should have. Maybe that’s the way she would have wanted it because she never wanted to be at the center of attention.”
If Jean had her wish, she would have liked to have met her pen pal, and she knows exactly what she would have said to Mother Teresa:
“You meant everything to the world. It was so wonderful the things you did – working with the sick, eating the food that the poor ate on the streets – not wanting anything better for yourself. The whole world loved you and I think most did no matter what denomination they were. I’m sure there are others that never got any publicity, but you are the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known.”
As she safely places the framed-letter back on the dusty table in her small, rustic beach cottage, Jean tears up again and thinks about the friend she never knew.
Printed with permission from the St. Augustine Catholic, magazine for the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla.