President Reagan bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mother Teresa: “Mother Teresa is a heroine of our times”

By Dave Andrusko

This Sunday marks the 35th anniversary of the spell-binding speech Mother Teresa delivered at the 1985 National Right to Life Convention. I’d like to add a few words to what National Right to Life sent out earlier today about this momentous event.

Prior to her remarks, Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) met privately with a few people, including members of the National Right to Life staff. I came in and—I remember it like it was yesterday—there was an aura I sensed even before I saw Mother Teresa.

Over the decades, I have been in the presence of Presidents and Vice President, corporate big shots, even retired generals, and nothing approached that magical moment.

In the speech, which you can watch here, you hear that President Reagan had bestowed on her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Here are generous portions of the President’s incredibly gracious remarks found online at the Reagan Library webpage.

This great house receives many great visitors, but none more special or more revered than our beloved guest today. A month ago, we awarded the Medal of Freedom to 13 heroes who have done their country proud. Only one of the recipients could not attend because she had work to do — not special work, not unusual work for her, but everyday work which is both special and urgent in its own right. Mother Teresa was busy, as usual, saving the world. And I mean that quite literally. And so we rather appreciated her priorities, and we’re very happy, indeed, that she could come to America this week. …

Some people, some very few people are, in the truest sense, citizens of the world; Mother Teresa is. And we love her so much we asked her to accept our tribute, and she graciously accepted. And I will now read the citation.

“Most of us talk about kindness and compassion, but Mother Teresa, the saint of the gutters, lives it. As a teenager, she went to India to teach young girls. In time, Mother Teresa began to work among the poor and the dying of Calcutta. Her order of the Missionaries of Charity has spread throughout the world, serving the poorest of the poor.

“Mother Teresa is a heroine of our times. And to the many honors she has received, including the Nobel Peace Prize, we add, with deep affection and endless respect, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

[At this point, the President presented the award to Mother Teresa.]

May I say that this is the first time I’ve given the Medal of Freedom with the intuition that the recipient might take it home, melt it down and turn it into something that can be sold to help the poor. [Laughter]

And I want to thank you for something, Mother Teresa. Your great work and your life have inspired so many Americans to become personally involved, themselves, in helping the poor. So many men and women in every area of life, in government and the private sector, have been led by the light of your love, and they have given greatly of themselves. And we thank you for your radiant example.