By MATTHEW NASH
The late Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work among the poor, continues to make an impact in people’s lives — even in Sequim.
The Rev. Mark Stehly, 70, a retired priest and spirited personality living in Sequim, met Mother Teresa on Oct. 3, 1973. He was her chauffeur for a day and received a personal letter from her one week later.
“Whenever I meet someone who has met Mother Teresa, they almost always say the same thing: ‘When she talked to me, it was like I was the most important person in the world,’” Stehly said.
When Stehly met Mother Teresa, he was struggling with depression and uncertain he wanted to remain a priest.
He was serving in a Beverly Hills, Calif., parish with his long-time friend the Rev. Don Kribs, who asked him to be the chauffeur to a special luncheon honoring Mother Teresa. Stehly’s jobs were to shuttle Mother Teresa to and from the airport and escort her through the premises.
Before she spoke at the luncheon, Stehly discovered a side to the prominent woman he didn’t expect.
“Coming down in the elevator to the luncheon, she said, ‘Only Jesus could ask this of me,’” Stehly said.
“She wanted to be with the dying in the street and that’s where she wants to be. It didn’t seem she wanted to give talks but you never knew it.”
As soon as the event ended, Kribs and Stehly drove Mother Teresa through the city.
Kribs anticipated a large crowd, so he shouted to Stehly to drive fast.
“We were going down the street 5 miles over the speed limit and (the light) turns yellow and Don says ‘go go.’ Mother Teresa is in the backseat holding on tightly,” Stehly said.
“She says, ‘Now I know how people feel when they are getting away from a robbery.’”
Stehly got some time to speak one-on-one with Mother Teresa in the car. He expressed his self-doubt to her.
“Mother Teresa, I struggle. I need to know whether or not God wants me to be a priest. I’m not sure I really know that,” he said to her.
Mother Teresa gave him comforting words and later sent a handwritten letter.
“Mother Teresa heard enough of my story in the car that she sat down and wrote something instead of dictating it to a secretary,” he said.
“It’s on one sheet and I don’t know how she wrote in pen on both sides of the paper without it going through. I was amazed she sent me that letter.”
Stehly said he once was told that Mother Teresa wrote her correspondence before anyone woke up or after everyone else had gone to sleep.
“People ask her, ‘How do you get enough sleep?’ And she says, ‘I sleep fast,’” Stehly said. “She means everything she says, even if it’s in a joke.”
Letter from Mother Teresa
Written from Lima, Peru, 10-10-1973
Dear Mark the Priest,
Thank you for all that you did for me. We have to thank Our Lady much for obtaining for you the grace — of the joy of being only His — the counterpoint of Jesus in the world His priest. I know what you feel, but never look down — always look up. Never break your Word with God for you belong to Him for life. In Yemen they could not have had Jesus unless the Priest brought him on the altar. No other voice but the Priest’s can utter the words of being, ‘This is my body’ — ‘This is my blood.’ No other voice can take the burden of sin from a human soul, but the Priest’s ‘I absolve you …’
What greater work, what greater love, what greater Trust could our Father give a human being but this — to make you His Priest. When you hold Him in your hands pray for me.
Yours in Jesus,
M. Teresa MC
The last time Stehly read the letter aloud was in the Sept. 12 Mass at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Sequim. When he read the first line about her thanking him, Stehly said it just about knocked him over.
“I knew if I kept going, I wouldn’t stop crying,” Stehly said. “I was really careful about reading that line.”
Despite Mother Teresa’s early impact in his career, Stehly took a leave of absence from his duties to seek help with depression and do some soul searching.
A few months later, he was invited on a priests’ retreat — which he calls a lifesaving experience — where he opened up about his uncertainty in life with other priests. On the second-to-last day of the excursion, a priest Stehly calls Father Peters said, “God told me he wants to you to be a priest.” Stehly feels God told him the same thing.
“That has never changed,” Stehly said. “I’ve always appreciated God telling me that very clearly, very personally. After that retreat, it was life-changing, heart-changing and I found the commitments I needed in the priesthood.”
Hitting the streets
For years, Stehly helped and led street ministries, He said his struggles with faith continued when he’d be working with street people.
“I’ve always been a beginner and what’s most important is just to take a step,” he said.
“When I don’t feel I have the love that is needed to be here, then I follow the (Alcoholic’s Anonymous) slogan ‘fake it till you make it.’”
His experience meeting Mother Teresa and working on the streets has led him to keep an eye on those in need.
“I try to live the calling of meeting and watching for the needs of the poor. I always keep that as a center,” Stehly said.
“Somebody’s life who has just broken apart, that’s who I save time for.”
Stehly has served in Southern California, Aberdeen, Seattle, the Port Angeles area and west Clallam County.
One of the biggest highlights of his career was working at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as the Catholic chaplain.
Originally he didn’t like the idea of full-time ministry in a hospital but his time at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles helped him reconsider.
He believes the highest calling in his life has been to help with healing. Stehly said he jumps at opportunities to help.
“Anytime I have one or two anointings, I call it ‘having a Harborview kind of day,’” he said.
Stehly retired to Sequim but helps with church emergencies and Sunday Mass healings when needed at St. Joseph’s. He also ministers to old friends and people he worked with before retirement.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.