For most lawyers, the highlight of their career is to be able to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States. I have one better. How many lawyers can say that they represented a saint? I can. I actually represented Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. As you have no doubt heard, Mother Teresa was raised to sainthood on September 4, 2016. In November of 1984, four Missionaries of Charity moved into the St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church convent which was vacant since the school had been closed.
The mission of the Missionaries of Charity is to serve the “poorest of the poor”, and they proposed a soup kitchen and shelter for abused women and children. Mother Teresa indicated that while walking through Norristown, she saw some of the “poorest of the poor”. I heard that the Borough of Norristown did not want Mother Teresa to open a shelter and soup kitchen because at that time the state was emptying out the mental institutions such as Norristown State Hospital, and they didn’t want the homeless people to stick around Norristown because they would now have a place where they could get meals.
I contacted the pastor of St. Patrick’s, Donald E. Leighton, and pointed out that I had gone to St. Patrick’s Grade School and would be happy to volunteer my services on a pro bono basis to help Mother Teresa.
Of the four nuns that were stationed at the convent, three were East Indian and one was American.
I remember when we met with the Norristown Planning Commission, the chairman asked the American nun what she would do in the middle of the night if there was banging on the door and there was a drug-crazed individual trying to get to his wife and children who were being sheltered. He said “What can you do?”. The nun was about 6-feet-tall, and she indicated that she had a black belt in judo, a doctorate in psychology, and had worked for years with drug and alcohol abusers.
The Planning Commission recommended against the relief that we sought. It was my position legally that the nuns were living in their home, and they constituted a family. Further, they were able to invite anyone that they wanted to their home for lunch or dinner, or to stay overnight.
The night of the hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board was a cold winter night, and I remember marveling at the fact that the nuns walked with me from the convent to Borough Hall in their sandals with bare feet. When we arrived at the hearing, all of the parishioners from St. Patrick’s Parish, plus the public who had read about this, were in attendance along with Channels 3, 6 and 10 television cameras covering the proceedings. It was the first time that I had ever walked into a zoning hearing and was met with applause.
Of course, we were successful, and the nuns entered into their work, and the poor have been fed, and the abused have been sheltered, and there has been no adverse impacts on the Borough of Norristown. I am honored to have been able to help St. Teresa with her mission.
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