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On The Eve Of Sainthood, Mother Teresa's Unlikely Kentucky Ties Remembered

Mother Teresa
Bellarmine University

This week, Bellarmine University posted a short clip on Facebook in which a man in a dark charcoal suit leads Mother Teresa to a table covered in a tangle of wires and microphones. She sits facing a room full of people, cameras flashing.

It’s 1982. At the invitation of the university’s president, Eugene Petrik, Mother Teresa had agreed to visit the campus and speak. The video captures a short news conference for local journalists. When asked if she had any statements, Mother Teresa said this:
“God has given you a very beautiful gift, having a chance to proclaim the good news. Make a strong resolution in your life that you will always write something beautiful, something that will always lift the hearts of the people, something that will help them to love one another as God loves them.”
On Sept. 4, Mother Teresa will be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. She led a life of service -- and along the way it turns out that she had an unlikely Kentucky pen pal with whom she practiced what she preached to that group of Louisville journalists.

Over a decade after the Bellarmine visit, a chaplain who was visiting the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange found out that one of the prisoners, Lou Torok, had been corresponding with Mother Teresa for several years.

Torok had been orphaned as a child, was sexually abused, and had spent most of his life in and out of prison. Desperate to regain some kind of faith, he reached out to Mother Teresa, who responded. Bellarmine’s Thomas Merton Center now has the collection of 18 letters that were sent between them.

Mark Meade is the assistant director of the center. He says the letters aren’t incredibly revealing of Mother Teresa’s life, but are extraordinary in the sense that she maintained regular correspondence with someone like Torok.

“She cared so much for lives everywhere that no one was insignificant to her,” Mead says. “It’s not a form letter, you can tell, they are a response to what he says.”

Most of the letters are pretty short, but there is one statement from the collection that really strikes Mead.

He reads: “She says, ‘Thank you for your letter and your prayers... Now that you know how much God loves you, it is only natural that you spend your life radiating that love.’”

And Torok did just that. Despite spending most of his final years in prison, he became known as the “Convict Writer,” and wrote for many mainstream and Catholic publications about committing crimes, justice and his faith.

His final letter from Mother Teresa came in 1997. On it, he’d made a note: "This was written in the final weeks of her life -- from her hospital bed."

Torok died in 2000.

The letters can be seen, by appointment, at the Thomas Merton Center. More information is available here.