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Doctor treasures Mother Theresa’s compassion

By CATRIONA SHAUGHNESSY | Wednesday, October 2, 2013


It may come as a surprise that Mother Theresa had something to teach a cardiologist about medicine, but Dr. Paul Wright said that is exactly what happened.

Wright, a prominent cardiologist and Notre Dame graduate, spoke at Hesburgh Library Auditorium Tuesday about his journey through medicine and how his experiences with Mother Teresa changed the way he practices medicine.

Wright said at the beginning of his medical career his practice in California was grounded in his strong educational background. He said, however, his life and career lacked a sense of purpose, which ultimately left him dissatisfied and lost.  

“The eternal question endured … Why are we here?” Wright said.

Spiritually distraught, Wright sought out the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who was staying in a nearby homeless shelter at the time. Although Mother Teresa was incapacitated due to a recent heart attack, she agreed to meet with Wright. Wright said he was “brought to his knees” upon witnessing Mother Teresa’s insistence on humility and compassion despite her weak physical state.

“In all my years as a physician, I had never seen anything as breathtakingly beautiful as Mother Theresa emanating compassion,” Wright said.

Mother Theresa introduced Wright to the ideology of compassion, he said. Mother Teresa addressed Wright’s questions about the meaning of life by reducing his complex concerns to the simple practice of alleviating the pain of others. Wright said he was astounded by the clarity of her advice.

“Something so unique, so special. … This compassion. Her compassion,” Wright said.

Wright said he went forth from this meeting with the aim of adopting a new dynamic approach to his practice of medicine, one which reflected the self-giving of Mother Teresa and her fellow missionaries. 

Wright said Mother Teresa told him to remain aware of the full spiritual import of his efforts to heal people.

 “Don’t forget who you’re touching,” Wright said, quoting Mother Theresa. “You’re touching humanity. You’re touching Christ within humanity.”

Wright said he continued to work with Mother Teresa, assisting in her efforts to initiate a medical clinic in Tijuana, Mexico and ultimately traveling with her to Calcutta, India. 

Through his witness of the intense suffering of the poorest of the poor at the moment death and the Missionaries of Charity’s awe-inspiring response, Wright said he came to understand compassion in a way that he would not have been able to otherwise. 

Wright said in this way Mother Theresa healed him spiritually.

“She turned out to be my physician,” he said.

Wright said all people have a human responsibility to attempt to alleviate the suffering of other people and, by doing so, manifest the example which Mother Theresa has provided. Most importantly, for Christians it is a matter of living out a faith identity, he said.

“Christianity is being compassionate,” he said.