Inside The Relationship Of Mother Teresa And Princess Diana

They were two of the most famous figures of the late 20th century, and they died within days of each other. Otherwise, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana wouldn't appear to have much in common, but in fact, the two had a surprising friendship.

In February 1992, Diana visited Mother Teresa's convent in Kolkata, India, meeting the nuns and the sick children they cared for. She prayed with the nuns, and they sang to her, in what she described as "a deeply spiritual experience." However, she wasn't able to meet Mother Teresa that day, as the nun was ill (via the Mirror).

They met not long afterward in Rome at the Missionaries of Charity complex. At the time, Diana's marriage was breaking down — she would separate from Prince Charles later that year — and praying with Mother Teresa helped bolster her to deal with the stress, according to the Express.

Their first meeting

Mary C. Johnson, a former nun who spent 20 years at Missionaries of Charity, detailed Diana's 1992 visit for the HuffPost. Whereas Diana was scheduled to arrive at the convent at 2 p.m., the paparazzi began to arrive in the morning. It was Johnson's job to deal with them. When she refused to let them in, they set up on balconies in neighboring buildings to wait for Diana's limo to arrive.

Once again, the nuns sang for Diana when she arrived, and they gave her a gift: a necklace made from pink tulle from a ballet tutu. Then Mother Teresa took Diana to her combined office and bedroom to talk. Johnson guarded the door, "hoping these two women — so hounded and so admired — might find solace in each other's company," she said.

The two women talked privately for about 30 minutes, after which the royal photographer was allowed into the room and took a picture of them sitting on Mother Teresa's bed. She and Diana then crossed the nuns' compound to pray in the chapel. Johnson guarded the door again and reflected on the stark difference between the two women's shoes, discarded outside the chapel. As Diana left, the nuns formed a chain to block the paparazzi from getting to her.

Their second meeting

Mother Teresa and Princess Diana met once more in a surprising location: a convent in the Bronx, New York City. It was June 18, 1997, only a few months before each of them died. Diana had just come from a meeting with Hillary Clinton at the White House (via Good Housekeeping).

According to PopSugar, before praying together the two shared a hug and a kiss, and then Mother Teresa blessed Diana. They then took a walk through the Bronx; Diana helped Mother Teresa down the stairs as they left the convent, according to the Dallas Morning News. They only spent about 40 minutes together, but it was enough time for them to discuss Diana's children and some of the charitable causes they both cared about, especially global poverty, (via PopSugar).

According to the Dallas Morning News, the two were supposed to meet again in London for an award ceremony not long afterward, but once again, Mother Teresa's health prevented her from attending. She had already been sick when they met in New York. The two women would never see each other again.

Diana's spiritual awakening

Visiting the convent in Kolkata 1992, and then meeting Mother Teresa, had a profound impact on Diana, according to her former butler Paul Burrell. She wrote to him about her experience in Kolkata, saying, "Today, something very profound touched my life. I went to Mother Teresa's home and found the direction I've been searching for all these years. The sisters sang to me ... I soared to such heights in my spirit" (via the Mirror).

The experiences inspired her to become even more involved with humanitarian work, especially in helping the poor. Burrell said, according to the Express, that praying with Mother Teresa gave Diana the strength to deal with her separation from Charles and the accompanying scrutiny, as well as helped her feel more independent and develop an identity of her own, separate from her royal image. "She said it did change her life forever," Burrell said (via The Mirror).

Burrell recalled seeing Mother Teresa's influence on Diana when he accompanied her to Bosnia in 1997, during the war there. As Diana held a blind baby in a shantytown in Sarajevo, Burrell felt that Mother Teresa's work was continuing through Diana (via The Mirror).

Their charitable causes

Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were both known for the time and energy they dedicated to charity work, and in many cases, their concerns overlapped. Both of them were focused on helping the poor. As a young woman, Mother Teresa moved to Kolkata to teach at Saint Mary's High School for Girls, which offered education to impoverished Bengali girls. According to Biography, Mother Teresa hoped education would help these girls escape poverty. Later, she left teaching to aid Kolkata's poor more directly, particularly by offering medical care.

Similarly, Princess Diana worked with the homeless, particularly through Centrepoint shelters in the 1990s. She often took her sons with her to the shelters, and Prince William has continued her patronage of the organization, according to Harper's Bazaar.

The two women also focused their efforts on the sick and dying and particularly on those suffering from certain illnesses. Mother Teresa founded a leper colony in Kolkata, and Princess Diana traveled to countries with high rates of leprosy, including India, to meet with patients. She hoped to reduce the stigma around the disease, including the idea that leprosy patients can't be touched. She had the same goal when meeting with AIDS patients (via Harper's Bazaar). In 1985, Mother Teresa opened a home for people with HIV/AIDS in New York City, called the Gift of Love (via Biography).

Their deaths

Princess Diana died suddenly and unexpectedly in a car accident in Paris on August 31, 1997. At the time, Mother Teresa made a statement about her, saying she was "a very good friend, in love with the poor, a very good wife, a very good mother. She was very concerned for the poor. She was very anxious to do something for them. That is why she was close to me," (via the Dallas Morning News).

According to PopSugar, when Diana's butler, Paul Burrell, came to Paris to pay his last respects to her, he brought rosary beads Mother Teresa had given to the princess. He asked a nurse to put them in Diana's hands, and they were still there when Prince Charles and Diana's sisters came to see her. She also had a photograph of her sons that she reportedly kept with her at all times.

Mother Teresa died five days later, on September, 5. She was 87 and had been suffering from heart, lung, and kidney problems (via Biography). Her legacy, however, has continued, as has Princess Diana's.