KUSA - Coloradans might remember Mother Teresa's two visits to Denver in the late 1980s but arguably, those memories don't come close to Helen Onofrio's.
"I got to meet her, I got to see her, I got to talk to her, I got to get a blessing from her and I got to get a big hug from her," Onofrio recalled.
The 85-year-old devoted Catholic lights up a room with her smile when she talks about the soon-to-be saint who passed away 19 years ago.
Mother Teresa was known for her kindness, humility and devotion to the poor. The nun and missionary was called a "living saint" before her death in 1997. Nineteen years later, the Catholic Church will make that title official.
Mother Teresa will be canonized by Pope Francis at a special mass in Rome on Sunday, Sept. 4.
Like many people, Onofrio thought the petite woman with the giant heart should have been canonized years ago. Still, the process to name Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a speedy one.
"A canonization process normally takes, it could take anywhere from 50 to 100 years. Even more," explained Karna Swanson, with the Archdiocese of Denver.
There are five steps to sainthood. Someone has to formally ask the church for a person to be canonized, the church has to accept the request for the process to start, the person's life is studied in depth, beatification where a miracle is attributed to the future saint, and canonization where a second miracle is attributed and the beatified person is declared a saint by the pope.
Mother Teresa was known as a humble woman with tremendous love for the poor. Her works weren't just read about in books but witnessed by people alive today.
"I think this is another reason why people love Mother Teresa because we know Mother Teresa. We grew up watching her. We saw her meet with Princess Diana, we saw her meet the Pope John Paul II, we saw her meet presidents and leaders of great countries, we saw her working in the slums with the poorest of the poor. We've seen her, we know her and now we're recognizing her as a saint," Swanson said.
"Everyone hears those kind of things and I think that's why they love Mother Teresa," Onofrio said.
In 1989, Onofrio was given what she calls an "honorable task" to prepare the prayer room for Mother Teresa during a trip to Denver. She invited her sister to help.
An altar was set up in a small room in the old McNichols Arena and Onofrio brought the rug from her living room for the living saint to pray on before addressing the crowd. Mother Teresa prayed for 15 minutes kneeling before the monstrance, a gold-colored vessel used by Catholic churches to hold the consecrated Eucharistic host.
"And then when she stood up, and turned around she saw me and my sister standing there, we were waiting for her, and she came up and she introduced herself, she gave us a blessing, and then she gave us each a big hug and I can almost feel it," said Onofrio.
That rug never made it back to her living room floor but was kept in a Onofrio's hall closet for nearly three decades.
"After she knelt on it, we stored it, we put it away and it's just been stored in my home for 27 years. When I thought about the canonization, 'Oh my gosh, I have the rug!'" she said.
Onofrio donated the rug to Saint Rose of Lima in Denver, which has been her parish for 63 years. She hopes people will visit the church to see and touch the rug that is so special to her.
"That's my story of how I met Mother Teresa," said Onofrio. "And it has always stayed in my heart and in my mind and like I say, it was the biggest honor and experience that I'll never forget."
Local events celebrating Mother Teresa
The Denver community of the Missionaries of Charity are inviting the public to celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, their founder. Since Aug. 26, the sisters have opened their chapel to the public for prayer service. It will continue Sept.1-3 from 6-7 p.m. at the chapel on 633 Fox St. For more information, click here: http://bit.ly/2bGjp7G
On Sunday, Sept. 4, Archbishop Samuel Aquila will celebrate a special mass in honor of St. Teresa of Calcutta at St. Joseph Church at 5 p.m. The church is located at 600 Galapago St. For more information, click here: http://bit.ly/2bYVVsQ
On Monday, Sept. 5, St. Joseph will hold a mass for the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta at 6 p.m. For more information, click here: http://bit.ly/2cdklNR
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