Rescued by Mother Teresa, Minnesota man now shares his incredible stories of two nuns
Patrick Norton pictured with a magazine cover of Mother Teresa, who picked him up from the streets of Bombay as an infant. Later he was adopted by an American family. | Credit: Photo courtesy of Patrick Norton
In 1962, when he was just an infant, Patrick Norton was abandoned on the streets of Bombay, India, where Mother Teresa found him. She brought him to the St. Joseph nursery and eventually he was transferred to Our Lady’s Home in Mumbai, where he joined 250 orphaned boys.
“We went to Mass 365 days a year and always prayed the rosary at 7 p.m.,” Norton, now 61, recalled. His faith life was rich, but his earthly life was very poor.
Norton remembers sleeping on the floor and having tough times. “I was so hungry sometimes that I ate my homework paper and eraser. Other boys did that too,” he told CNA.
Once, when there was no food, Norton said they all prayed an extra rosary, pleading to Our Lady for help. “I remember big trucks came and brought us donations: powdered milk and dried eggs and flour,” he said.
“Sometimes, we went to the apartment next to the orphanage to dig in the garbage for toys,” Norton recalled. “One time, I found a piece of paper from a magazine. It said ‘U.S.A.’ There was a house in the picture. It looked so nice.”
Norton showed it to one of the priests. “Throw it out,” he said. “You’re never going to go there.”
Norton instead took some wet rice and, using it as glue, he stuck the picture on his wall. “I prayed to God that one day, I would … go there,” he said.
Months passed. One night during the war between Pakistan and India, the boys were ushered out into the night by the two nuns and two priests who cared for them, hoping they would be missed by the bombings. The boy gazed up at the stars and moon, a reprieve from the explosions around him. “I said, ‘God, forget about the war. Look how beautiful your world is,’” he recounted. “Then I heard a voice: ‘I’m going to bring you to one of the greatest nations in the world.’”
And so, it came to pass.
One day, Norton was told that he and another boy named Martin would be adopted by a large American family: Judge John Henry and Marjorie Norton, who had nine children and had then adopted five more. There were many delays, but finally, Norton left for Connecticut on Oct. 25, 1976, at the age of 14, and was embraced by his new family.
“There were 14 of us,” Norton said. “We were on ‘Good Morning America’ on TV. My father was asked: ‘Why did you adopt so many kids?’ He answered: ‘I wanted to thank God for all he has given us.’”
Norton’s devotion to the Catholic faith and the rosary continued with his new family.
“Every evening after supper, we’d all gather for the rosary,” Norton said. As a teenager in his new home, he would cut out pictures of the Blessed Mother from issues of SOUL Magazine with the message to pray the rosary daily. “I’d ride my bike to outside phone booths and hang the pictures up,” Norton shared. “It was my way of evangelizing.”
When Norton was 21, working as a maintenance superintendent of two buildings, a favorite spot he went for breakfast was Johnny’s Restaurant in Fairfield, Connecticut. “Once, I asked the owner how business was going,” Norton said. “He told me it was very slow. I said, ‘Johnny, put a picture of the Blessed Mother in your window.’ He did, and business became very busy. Later, I saw that he added a picture of Jesus in the window.”
As a young adult, Norton met his future wife, Sandy, on a pilgrimage, and eventually they married, moved to Minnesota, and had three children — Maria, Anna, and Joseph. Amazingly, Sandy recalled seeing the Norton family on “Good Morning America” when she was a teenager.
Fifty-four years after Mother Teresa saved Norton as a baby, a donor made it possible for his entire family to be present in Rome for her canonization on Sept. 4, 2016. Amid the crowd, a sister from the Missionaries of Charity — the order Mother Teresa founded — tapped Norton on the shoulder and pointed to a place for them to stand. When they turned, no one was there. Norton and his family went to where the sister had pointed and a security guard came over and brought them to the front for the Mass. Was the nun who tapped them Mother Teresa? He often wonders.
That isn’t the only unusual experience Norton has had with a nun.
While painting a lamp post in a cemetery near a grotto of the Virgin Mary 13 years ago, Norton said he saw a religious sister in full habit who told him he was “doing a good job.” He later identified her as Sister Annella Zervas, OSB, a Benedictine sister who died in 1926 of a debilitating skin disease and who is buried in that cemetery.
Ever since that day, Norton has tirelessly worked to share Zervas’ life with others — reprinting and distributing over 100,000 copies of a booklet about her life, speaking to audiences, and doing interviews, including a video called“The Sanctity of Two Hearts.”
Norton told CNA that he was overwhelmed with joy by the letter Bishop Andrew Cozzens released on Oct. 15 announcing that the Crookston Diocese is taking preliminary steps that could lead to a cause for the canonization of Zervas.
When Norton speaks about Zervas, he often shares his story about Mother Teresa.
(Story continues below)
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The first time he was asked to speak to a church group, he was very nervous. “I went to confession and Mass and received the Eucharist,” he said. “I wanted to have a clean soul so God could work through me. I told God, ‘Whatever you want me to tell people, let it come from you.’”
Norton has given almost 100 talks now, always preparing the same way. “I tell people to just live the Gospel and let God work through you,” he said. “You don’t have to be something you are not.”
Norton also encourages people to go to confession often. “Your soul needs regular cleaning just like everything else,” he said.
Norton credits Mother Teresa with his great love for Our Lord in the Eucharist. “Before the sisters went out to take care of the poor, they would spend one hour in adoration,” he said. ”When I go for a Holy Hour — at least weekly — I pray the Stations of the Cross and look straight at the tabernacle, knowing that this same Jesus who suffered for us is there, and we can love him and have the privilege to be with him. Sometimes I think of all the activities taking place around us and tell Jesus, ‘If they only knew of your presence, Lord, they would all be here.’”
Norton said he never forgets that it was Mother Teresa’s “yes” to Jesus that gave him the life he has today. “When I do my painting jobs, people tell me how nice my work is. I tell them, ‘If Mother Teresa had not picked me up, I would not be doing this for you,’” he said.
“I see God using me to inspire people,” he said and noted that the Blessed Mother is a big part of that. “Mother Teresa always talked about loving our Blessed Mother and said that she will guide us. I didn’t have an earthly mother, but I would talk to the Blessed Mother. I tell people, if you want to be with Our Lady, just pray the rosary and she will be with you.”
Norton loves to hear others' stories about St. Teresa of Calcutta and invites people to write to him at 32304 Sunrise Road, Avon, MN 56310.
Patti Maguire Armstrong Patti (Maguire) Armstrong is an award-winning journalist and was managing editor and co-author of the bestselling Amazing Grace Series. Her latest books are the humorous and inspirational second-edition Dear God, I Don't Get It, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious!, What Would Monica Do? and Holy Hacks. Patti worked in social work and public administration before staying home as a freelance writer while she and Mark raised their 10 children in North Dakota.
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