1993-10-04 00:00:00

Jesuit Father Celest Van Exem, 85, spiritual director of Mother Teresa, died Sept. 20 in Calcutta, India.

Father Van Exem was Mother Teresa´s spiritual director since they met in 1944 in Loreto School in Calcutta´s Entally suburb, where he was a confessor for students and nuns.

St. Xavier´s College rector Jesuit Father Horace Rozario says Father Van Exem´s notes are "the only sources that will shed light on Mother Teresa´s inner life, struggles and strengths and also on her earlier companions."

These journals and documents pertaining to the founding of the Missionaries of Charity are "of utmost secrecy and will be documented and kept sealed for 30 years in Calcutta Jesuit archives."

Father Van Exem and the late Belgian Jesuit Father Julian Henry helped and guided Mother Teresa since the founding days of Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to free service to the poorest of the poor, sick and destitute.

He helped draft her congregation´s rules and constitutions in 1950 which he rewrote in 1952 and it was approved by the Holy See in 1955.

In a letter to Mother Teresa written Sept. 16, Father Van Exem said "Tomorrow morning I shall say Holy Mass that you have no operation, that you may be in China by (Oct. 7), that the Lord may take me and not you if that is his will."

Mother Teresa was unable to attend the priest´s funeral Sept. 22 because she was convalescing from a successful balloon angioplasty. But she watched from a window as the funeral procession passed her house.

She was admitted Sept. 13 in Calcutta´s B.M. Birla Heart Research Center and was discharged Sept. 19. She is scheduled to visit China Oct. 20.

Father Van Exem was born on Oct. 4, 1908 in Brussels, Belgium.

He was a graduate of Louvain University, Belgium, and studied in Syria and Egypt for a special apostolate among Muslims before coming to India in 1938.

He served as the rector of Calcutta´s Oriental Institute and editor of a monthly "The Light of East" series.

He knew Arabic, English, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Sanskrit and taught Islam in a Calcutta college.

Father Van Exem was hospitalized in 1980 due to a gangrenous wound in a leg. He was since confined to his room as his wound required frequent operation.

Father Van Exem will be remembered "for his pastoral concern for the poor, for priests, for purity of doctrine and fidelity to the Church´s magisterium, the bishops and the pope," said Archbishop Henry D´Souza of Calcutta.

Sister Bernard from Calcutta, one of the pioneers of the congregation, told UCA News that "He preached very well and officiated at our first vows and other services when the bishop was not available."

Father Van Exem influenced Mother Teresa´s devotion to Mary and the miraculous medal, the nun added.

Father Van Exem also was the spiritual director of the Blue Army, a laity association later known as the World Apostolate of Fatima.


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