This web site is dedicated to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now Blessed Teresa. It is our hope that you will be inspired by knowing more about Mother Teresa through the eyes of her friend, Marlene T. Elias.
In 1987 Marlene had a life changing experience. She met Mother Teresa. Marlene’s brother, Monsignor John Esseff, was on his way to Calcutta, India to conduct a retreat for Mother Teresa and her Sisters, at the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity. Monsignor John asked for and received permission to bring his sister Marlene with him.
The friendship began and lasted until Mother died on September 5, 1997. The first time they met Marlene was not able to speak, much to the amazement of her brother, who said, “Mother, this is the longest period of time my sister has ever been silent.”
During those ten years Mother Teresa and Marlene shared special moments together in numerous places around the world.
Marlene spent the first few days of her initial visit to Calcutta, by going back to her room, weeping uncontrollably. She had never seen such devastation. The poor, the starving, the sick, were everywhere. She watched as Mother and her Sisters worked tirelessly and yet, they were the happiest people she had ever seen.
Marlene, a gifted singer and songwriter, was so inspired by Mother Teresa, that she wrote music and lyrics to dozens of songs. She recorded two CD’s and dedicated them to Mother Teresa. Mother heard Marlene’s songs for the first time while visiting her Mother house in the Bronx, New York. The excitement for Marlene came when she saw Mother tapping her feet, clapping and smiling. Two of the songs touched Mother so much, that she asked Marlene to make a promise to sing them at her funeral. The first song became Mother’s anthem, “AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” and the second one captured her amazing love for Jesus, “SEE JESUS”. Marlene was blessed and humbled to sing at the funeral for Mother Teresa on September 13, 1997 in Calcutta, India.
Mother also asked Marlene to keep one other promise, “Go Marlene and share with people all that you have seen and heard”.
Since Mother Teresa’s death, Marlene has traveled the world, performing her tribute to Mother Teresa over 800 times. The locations include: television, radio, churches, hospitals, hotels, schools and even homes. The locations may be different, but the message remains the same: one woman, a housewife from Newbury Park, California shares many moments of her special friendship with one of the most incredible women the world will ever know, Mother Teresa.
Everything Mother did was done totally for the love of her beloved Jesus. Her work with the poorest of the poor is known world-wide. She wanted no praise or glory. She saw Jesus in everyone and was the face of Jesus to everyone.
In the tributes, Marlene brings Mother Teresa to life, with stories of them laughing, talking and even crying. These stories touch people each time. For these shared moments can only come from someone who was actually a close friend of Mother Teresa’s. Marlene shared many moments in her life that can only be described as gut-wrenching. She went to Mother who taught her lessons about life, including a lesson in forgiveness….the story of Marlene being told by Mother that “You must not only forgive the man who tried to kill your daughter, but you must pray for him as well. Jesus died not only for your daughter, but also for the man who tried to kill her.” This part of the tribute is a small part of what Mother taught Marlene.
Slides, with funny stories, bring out the incredible sense of humor of Mother Teresa. Marlene, who took so many pictures of Mother, once asked her if she ever got tired of people taking her picture. Mother said, “I dislike it but I made a deal with God that every time a flash bulb goes off, He must take a soul out of purgatory.”
Marlene smiled and said, “Well, Mother, we wiped it clean tonight.”
“Yes,” Mother said, “but it fills up so quickly.”
Mother Teresa And Me will try to continue to help people come to know the woman known as Mother Teresa, who soon will be Saint Teresa. Blessed Teresa was an example of humility and love for all to emulate and will continue to inspire people of all faiths.
Amazing True Story – Mother Teresa
By Michael J. Corgnati
This is one of many examples of what happens when Mother Teresa comes to life.
Several years ago St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois called me and asked if Marlene Elias would come to the hospital to perform the Tribute to Mother Teresa. They explained that there would be 5,000 people that would be attending, but because of the different shifts we would need to do five Tributes, to accommodate everyone’s schedule. Marlene had never done this before and the reason is simple, the events bring back the joy and sadness of recalling her ten years with Mother Teresa. Each tribute brings back the tears, especially when she relives the events surrounding the death of Mother. We agreed to do the five events back to back.
Approximately two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, Marlene, while looking in the mirror, noticed a pimple of some sort in her nose and popped it. Almost immediately she became ill and her lips were swelling. She made an appointment to see the doctor and when she got in to see him, he took one look and said she must go directly to the hospital. If she had waited another eight-ten hours before coming in, they said she would have died. She had cellulites on her face and in her head! It was concluded that she had gotten this while in a hospital in Utah, where she fell at her daughter’s house and was not breathing for several minutes and had a concussion. (But that will be another story)
Upon arrival at the hospital they immediately put Marlene on massive doses of antibiotics. They placed her in ICU. Marlene’s doctor told her that there was a specialist who could help her and that he was in Los Robles Hospital, where Marlene had been taken. Marlene’s head was swelling and she took on the appearance of the elephant man. Marlene saw that her lips looked like Marge Simpson’s. She was in such bad shape that Marlene’s family was afraid that they would lose her. Marlene, hooked up to several IV drips, was in much pain and discomfort, not to mention a probability of dying. She was praying in her hospital bed, when she heard a voice outside her room that sounded familiar, but she could not place it. Suddenly a man in a white doctor’s coat walked in, and introduced himself as the specialist for whom she had been waiting.
Marlene’s fears were gone, assuaged, when he began to speak, “I am Doctor Dutta and I am from Calcutta.” Marlene looked up to the heavens and began to thank Mother Teresa, to whom Marlene had just been praying.
“Who are you thanking?” “I am thanking Mother Teresa for sending you to me!……Imagine in all of Los Angeles, with all the hospitals and all the doctors, the one specialist that could save me, was a doctor from Calcutta, India, where I first met Mother Teresa. Mother sent you to me, Doctor Dutta, from Calcutta! I knew I was going to be healed!”
When Marlene called to tell me the story, I just dropped to my knees. Mother Teresa still had more for Marlene to do. I was convinced of that; and both Mother Teresa and I knew, that Marlene would make it.
Marlene received permission for me to visit her in isolation. A cap, mask and gown were required for visitors, to protect them from becoming infected ourselves. I told Marlene that I would call St. Francis Hospital to let them know of the circumstances and that we would have to cancel the Tributes. Marlene asked me to wait a day, so, rather than argue, I just agreed.
The next day the antibiotics began working and the swelling in her head was going down. I informed Marlene again, that we needed to let St. Francis’ know about Marlene being in the hospital, and that we would not be able to do the Tribute But, once again, Marlene asked me to wait until the next day before calling. Reluctantly, I once again gave into her request and said, “Okay.”
Marlene, while being examined the next morning, told Dr. Dutta that in ten days she needed to be in Peoria, Illinois, to perform tributes to Mother Teresa. Dr. Dutta said that it was impossible. She called me following the examination to share with me her desire to go to Peoria. Not being a doctor, I just told her it was crazy for her to go, and I needed to make the hospital aware that we would not be coming. Once again, she asked me to wait one more day, because she felt Mother Teresa really wanted her to be there. Marlene knew that she got to me when she said that, and I foolishly asked, “Are you really better?”
I spent the next two days re-doing the Tribute to accommodate the audience of medical people and tried to make it shorter to help Marlene manage the five in a row. Armed with the projector and boom box, I arrived at Marlene’s hospital bed, and began preparing to actually do the Tribute. Marlene’s room became a busy place. With the slides showing on the walls, and the songs blaring, doctors, nurses and everyone who heard what we were doing, came to spend a few minutes to hear about Mother Teresa. Marlene became inspired by the people. I saw that they realized that this humble woman from Newbury Park, CA, was indeed a dear friend of Mother Teresa.
Marlene was released from the hospital on Sunday. We were supposed to be on the plane Wednesday, and then perform the tributes scheduled for Thursday. Looking back it must have been incredible, because Marlene’s lips were still swollen and she was having trouble speaking, but, slowly it kept getting better. I told Marlene we should pack her medical charts in case we had problems in Peoria; but at least we would be at a truly fine hospital. In spite of her being weak, Marlene kept on working, to make sure we could do the new shorter version, without losing anything that could touch hearts through the words of Mother Teresa. I had asked them to arrange for us to fly in on Wednesday, the day before, so I could look at the facilities and the equipment. We were depending upon them to have it all ready for us.
We had called the airlines to make sure they had a wheel chair to get her around at LAX and in Chicago for the connecting flight. On the flight to Chicago I fell asleep and when I awakened for a few seconds, I was wondering if I were dreaming all of this. First, with Marlene almost dying and now, the two of us, on a plane to Peoria, Illinois to do not one, but five Tributes to Mother Teresa. I remembered, sitting there next to Marlene, looking at her and realizing that Marlene was exhausted just from driving to the airport and boarding the plane. I wondered how she could possibly do five Tributes. What if Marlene could not complete all the Tributes? We no backup plan. We could pray for Mother Teresa to miraculously appear in person… But I did not think that was going to happen!
I began to pray to Mother Teresa, asking for her help to give Marlene the energy to get through the next day, without collapsing. I reminded Mother that Marlene had been doing this as a promise to her “Go Marlene and share all that you have seen and heard”….Mother wanted Marlene to be her voice after she died. Mother’s words would be a reminder of her work with the poorest of the poor, and bring people who heard Marlene, closer to God. This is quite a task for a gospel singer, wife and mother from Newbury Park, CA. I began to pray, no, I began to beg Mother Teresa to help Marlene. I asked Mother to hold her up as she shared with the 5,000 people, her love for her friend, and bring Mother to life for them all. I opened my eyes to see Marlene staring at me with a look I had never seen before. Marlene asked, “What were you praying for?” I was shocked because she realized I was praying. I did not know what to say except, “I was asking Mother to give you strength tomorrow.” Marlene smiled and said, “Oh, no doubt that she will; she always does!”
As we landed in Chicago, I felt an overwhelming peace. For me, Illinois is hallowed ground, since I grew up in Monmouth, Illinois. There is something different for me in Illinois, it’s like I belong. I am comfortable being there. The plane touched down and a wheelchair was waiting to hustle us to the next flight to Peoria, Illinois.
Arriving in Peoria, we entered the terminal, where we spotted a woman holding a sign with Marlene’s name on it. We went right over to her. After we collected our bags, she took us to her car, and we were on our way to St Francis Medical Center. Upon arrival, we were greeted by so many people who were grateful that Marlene had made the trip. I alerted them about what had taken place, so, that if something should happen, it would not be a shock to them. I asked to see the facilities and the equipment. I was ushered to a large room, filled with many seats. They had wonderful, state-of-the-art audio and projector equipment, which were perfect to help us bring Mother Teresa to life.
Marlene, in a wheelchair, asked if she could meet some of the people. They happily introduced her to several key people. They then suggested that we sit in on a new employee orientation meeting. It would show us how the hospital operates and their overall philosophy. We were taken aback at the orientation by the way they wanted the people to approach their jobs at the hospital. They informed the new people that they would be given the opportunity to be one of the “Praying Hands People.” This meant, that they would be given a gold pin (with hands held together) to wear on their uniforms. This would let patients, family and friends know that, if, at anytime they wished for someone to offer a prayer or pray with them, those employees, wearing the pins, were available. The employees would drop what they were doing, and assist in prayer, those requesting their help. Marlene and I were overwhelmed by the devotion of this enormous hospital and the caring staff, to help, not only medically, but to be there spiritually, for those patients who were in their hospital.
Marlene was dead on her feet as we made our way outside to wait for the van to take us to the Holiday Inn, where we would be staying. Now you will hear how Mother Teresa used us to help someone in need. We were standing outside and were so taken by what we had just experienced, and looking at the Praying Hands pins we were given, that we were not paying attention to anything else, except our conversation. A man walked up to us and asked, “Are you the VIP’s I am supposed to pick up?” Marlene laughed and replied, “Not us!” We continued talking. Once again the man approached us and said that the hospital told him that the VIP would be waiting there for a pick up. “Have you seen anyone else?” he inquired. Telling him we had not, the driver said, “Well I am supposed to pick up a friend of Mother Teresa and take her back to our hotel.” I told him that Marlene was a friend of Mother Teresa‘s. This brought a big smile to his face, prompting him to say, “Then you are Marlene Elias?” Marlene said, “Yes I am.” The relieved driver grabbed our bags and carried them to the waiting van. Enter the Spirit of Mother Teresa!
Part of my responsibilities is to make sure that we have everything we need…..DVD’s, CD’s handouts for the Tributes. I also double check that Marlene has all of her belongings, a statue of Mother Teresa, etc. I am always very careful to bring all of my things. For some reason, I thought I had forgotten a belt for my suit. When I mentioned it to Marlene, she laughed saying, “You forgot your belt? Oh, no! Now what?”
I asked the driver if he knew of a place nearby the hotel, where I could get a belt. The driver said that after we dropped off the bags, he would drive me across the river to a Wal-Mart. He told me he’d wait, and when I got a belt, he would drive me back to the hotel. I was so appreciative that I reached over and introduced myself. The man shook my hand. (I’ll call him “Stan”). While Marlene was waiting in the van, Stan asked me how Marlene had met Mother Teresa. I quickly filled him in on how they met and that Marlene had known Mother Teresa for the last ten years of Mother’s life. Stan asked if I had ever met Mother. I replied, “No, sadly I never did.” He then said, “I wish I had met her, or I wish that I could talk with her now.“
There was pain in his eyes and sorrow in his voice as he said, “I just don’t know what to do. So many things have happened in the last few days that I don’t know where to turn.” As we stood at the back of the van he told me that 5 days ago he went to his job of 20 years, only to learn he had been laid off. Two days ago, his wife found out she has breast cancer; and the previous night he found marijuana in his son’s room, along with his terrible report card. Everything was falling apart. “If I could only talk with Mother Teresa, maybe she could pray for me.”
The tears in his eyes told me that Stan was in a bad place. I told him I would pray for him. Realizing that having Mother Teresa pray for Stan, was a whole different ball park than having Michael Corgnati praying for him. An awkward moment of silence was broken by Stan saying we had better get going. As we drove down the main street in Peoria, I quietly told Marlene about what I had just heard. I asked her if she would say a prayer for Stan to ask God, Mother Teresa and the Angels and saints in heaven, to help Stan. Marlene told me she certainly would.
I asked Stan if he’d like Marlene said a prayer for him. He looked surprised and said that nobody ever said an ‘out loud’ prayer for him before. Marlene put her hands together and we bowed our heads. Marlene began, saying one of the most beautiful prayers I had ever heard. Marlene was asking God to help Stan and his family; she called on Jesus, the Blessed Mother, Mary, and all the Angels and Saints, to surround him with love and graces. She called on St, Michael to protect him from the evil one. I looked up to see Stan’s face in the rear view mirror, weeping so much that he had to pull the van over to the side of the street. Marlene continued to ask Mother Teresa to intercede on behalf of Stan, his wife and his son.
There we were, three people, in a Holiday Inn van, parked to the side of a Peoria main street, weeping. Finally, Stan was able to speak. He first thanked Marlene then asked her if he could give her a hug. Still weeping, Marlene nodded and Stan came around to open the van. I witnessed this 6’4” black man hugging Marlene, on the sidewalk and shaking uncontrollably, with tears streaming down his face. I stood there and wept also….how could I not!!! People walking by just looked, some turning twice, but they did not disturb the moment. Stan pulled away and said, “I don’t know how, but I believe things are going to be OK now. Thank you, thank you thank you!”
We all got back in the van and continued on our way. I saw that Marlene was once again exhausted, but I took the time to tell her what a beautiful prayer she had said for Stan. Marlene, as usual, took no credit saying the Holy Spirit must have done it. Then she said something I will never forget, “MICHAEL, THIS IS WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DO, WITH MOTHER TERESA’S HELP … BRING PRAYER AND HOPE, THINK ABOUT IT. THIS TOOK BUT A FEW MINUTES, DID NOT COST A DIME AND IT LET THIS SUFFERING MAN KNOW THAT HE IS NOT ALONE. HOW BLESSED WE ARE TO BE ABLE TO HELP.”
We arrived at the hotel, taking Marlene and her luggage to her room so she could get a needed rest. We then took my bags to my room. Stan and I then went off to get me a new belt. He asked me how I had met Marlene and I told him the story. I began to share with him some of the amazing experiences that happened each time we did a Tribute. He told me that this was an incredible thing I was doing and he asked if I made enough to pay the bills. I told him that we send the money to help Mother’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity. Stan said that people needed to know what we were doing so we can bring Mother Teresa’s life story to others. I iterated that it was exactly what we were trying to do.
I got a belt and as we headed back to the Holiday Inn, Stan wanted to hear more stories. I told him several, but the one about forgiveness made his eyes tear up. As we parked the van he must have shaken my hand ten times and said thank you 20 times! He was a different man now, than the man I had met about an hour earlier. I went up to my room to unpack and to my amazement, the black belt, which I thought I had forgotten, was on the hanger with my suit! That ‘missing’ belt had opened the door to our conversations and to the prayers; it was not missing at all! I was smart enough to realize, that this was another of Mother’s amazing ways of touching and helping people!
We went to the coffee shop to get something to eat then went to Marlene’s room to sit down and go over the new version of the Tribute. It was apparent Marlene was exhausted, so I got up, telling her to get to bed. I would take care of obtaining the van to get us over to the hospital by 8 AM.
We got to the hospital and I immediately checked out all the equipment. Everything was fine. Marlene looked better than I expected, as we sat waiting for the first tribute to begin. The lady who conducted the new employee orientation was the person who got up to introduce Marlene. The first thousand or so people gave Marlene a big warm welcome. Marlene said that before she began her tribute, she wanted to share something with each of them about St. Francis Medical Center. Marlene explained that we had sat in on the new employee orientation yesterday and that we were touched by the Praying Hands Program that the hospital had. And told of how it had touched us yesterday. Marlene told them about Stan, and that we had prayed for Stan like they do for the people who come into their hospital, and what affect it had on our driver Stan. Marlene encouraged the employees that their role as Praying Hands is a real opportunity to help someone who may be in real need. Marlene praised the trainer who got up from her seat with tears in her eyes. She grasped the microphone to say how much she appreciated hearing the story and thanked Marlene for making her day.
She began the tribute, with Marlene being so weak, that we had to put on the CD’s for her sing along with herself, to save her strength for the later Tributes. Marlene brought Mother Teresa up close and personal for the group. She explained how she met Mother and took her audience through the many years, with slides, audio tapes, stories and songs she had written, inspired by Mother. Marlene’s eyes began to fill up and she shared how she found out about Mother dying. She shared the amazing journey of how she got to Calcutta to sing at her funeral without money or a passport. She fought back tears as she explained how difficult it was to see Mother in a glass case the night before the funeral. She told how one nun took her up to the glass case so she could be near her friend one more time. One of the nuns handed Marlene a microphone and asked that sing one of the songs she wrote after being inspired by Mother. The song, “Mother Teresa”, filled the church and the nuns joined in to make this another special moment for Marlene.
Marlene shared how difficult it was to sing the two songs as the body of her friend was brought into the Stadium for the funeral Mass. The stadium was filled with dignitaries from all over the world and a worldwide television audience watching. Marlene remembered what Mother had told after the first two days in Calcutta, “They have enough tears of their own they don’t need yours”……The whole world was watching as she sang goodbye….with “See Jesus’ and the song that Mother chose as her anthem, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”. Marlene wept as she explained the friendship and closed by telling stories of how Mother had helped her in her own life. Marlene opened her heart to share how Mother taught Marlene how to forgive a man who tried to kill Marlene’s daughter….the story of forgiveness is one that touches so many. Marlene sang “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” to close the tribute.
The teary eyed people rose to give her a standing ovation. We had 30 minutes before the next one then the remaining four would be back to back. The people surrounded Marlene to hug her and thank her and pray with her. I forced her to sit down while talking with the people still waiting in line.
The next four Presentations were like a blur as she finished one, people were walking in for the next one, and so she went on. I was so concerned for Marlene that I almost forgot to re-do the slides and music, my small part. Each one ended and I kept asking her if she was OK. There were so many people around her, she did not even answer. I quietly reminded Mother Teresa that Marlene needed her now.
The last one was special for Marlene. The room filled not only with workers from the hospital, but with nuns who were a major part of the hospital. During the portion where Marlene sang the first song that she had sung at the funeral, “See Jesus, ” the nuns knelt down on the hard floor. Their eyes were filled with tears and their presence was like having angels at the tribute. They knelt during the remainder of the tribute, I felt like they were honoring Mother Teresa by continuing to kneel. As she explained how she got the news of Mother’s death Marlene broke down, there was something special going on the room. I had felt Mother’s presence at each event but this one was like no other. I was frozen trying to figure what to do……can she keep going, should I go hug her?, should I stop the tribute? Something told me to hang tight. A miracle happened. Marlene got herself together, apologized and said “I still miss her”…which caused the room to be so quiet that only the sobs coming from the around the room could be heard…people were trying to be quiet….it was not possible. The last song of the last Tribute was about to begin, but before she cued me, she stopped to thank each of the people who had come. She said she felt the love they had for Mother so deeply, that she would never forget this day. She sang for the last time that day, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” As Marlene sang, she walked from person to person, shaking as many hands as she could. Marlene was thanking them, instead of them thanking her. Only a handful knew that just a few days earlier, she was in a hospital bed, close to death and now she was thanking them for loving her friend, Mother Teresa. This was a moment I had to fix in my mind. I must remember this forever, for these kinds of experiences, don’t come along very often. The song ended, Marlene bowed. The place was alive with a thunderous standing ovation. The ovation was for Mother Teresa and her friend Marlene Elias. The nuns were now standing, and Marlene was surrounded by people shaking her hand, hugging her, asking for prayers, wiping tears from their eyes…..all of these things were happening at once! I had witnessed a small miracle…and I knew it.
I made my way to Marlene trying to get her to sit down while she talked, but people kept asking for pictures, prayers and blessings. Many of these beautiful people were thanking me; how humbled I was to be a small part of this blessed event. Since this was the last event and most of the people were off of work, they stayed and stayed. I got more and more worried about Marlene. I thought to myself, when the high of this event wears off, what will happen to Marlene? I can’t tell you how long it was before the last person hugged her, but I said we needed to get back to the hotel. There was no real reason, but, concerned, I needed to get her out of the hospital auditorium. As we finally began to leave, I said to her, “All of the Tributes were so good. The last was even better than the first.”
She gently smiled at me, and fell to the floor. I called for help and they got a doctor to come to check her. “It’s EXHAUSTION!” She needed rest immediately! We took her in a wheel chair to the van so we could be taken immediately back to the Holiday Inn. The driver, who picked us up, asked if we were Mother Teresa’s friends. I said that Marlene was. He told us that all of the staff at the hotel had been so grateful for what Marlene had done for Stan that they would be glad to do anything they could for us. Then he exclaimed, “Just name it.” Stan had told them the story of his experience with us and with Mother Teresa’s part and how it had changed his life. Praised be to God! Thanks to Mother Teresa!
We got our bags and were heading to Roseville, IL to spend a few days with my Aunt Kate Grant. One year earlier one of my other Aunts, Dolly, was dying and so Marlene and I traveled to my home town, Monmouth, Illinois so my Aunt “Dolly” Romano could see the tribute before she died. We did three events: one for the school children, one for the hospital where Aunt Dolly was, and one at the church that I had attended growing up, Immaculate Conception. During those days, we stayed with my Aunt Kate on her farm. We picked up a rental car to drive the 60 miles from Peoria to my aunt’s farm. Marlene was so exhausted that somehow she had misplaced her purse. She discovered the loss about half way to Roseville. It was not in the car or in the trunk. Desperate, I called the Holiday Inn to see, if by some miracle, they had found it. One of the drivers excitedly told them he had found it in the van. They told us to stay where we were. The Holiday Inn driver brought it to us!
We arrived at my Aunt Kate’s and Marlene was so happy to see Aunt Kate. They talked for a while. Then Marlene became quite sleepy. Aunt Kate sent her straight to bed, where she slept for 18 hours straight. Before I went to sleep that night, I thanked Mother Teresa for the small miracle of which I was privileged to be a part. I had such a feeling inside me. I still can’t explain it, but it sure felt good!
After we returned, we received calls from St. Francis Medical Center, recounting the fact that so many people told them how much they enjoyed the Tributes and were deeply touched by Mother Teresa. Lives had been changed. They also shared the news that it was by far, the best event that had ever been presented at their hospital! There is a perfect reason for that … we had divine intervention…we had Mother Teresa!
My Friend, My Inspiration
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