AUGUSTA — For 17 years, Ralph W. Ardito Sr. faithfully guarded an important piece of history for his fellow Knights of Columbus of Abnaki Council 334.

The framed collage contains two original signatures of Mother Teresa, of Kolkata, India, the woman who will be canonized on Sunday by Pope Francis and become Saint Teresa.

In 1978, when Ardito was grand knight of the Augusta-based council, he proposed that the Knights dedicate the proceeds of their 80th Anniversary Charity Ball to Mother Teresa.

Ardito, now 84, had learned of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity through a friend and fellow member of St. Mary of the Assumption Church at the time, Mathew George, who had grown up in Kerala, India.

George agreed to describe some of the Mother Teresa’s work to the Knights of Columbus, and they, in turn, voted to donate the proceeds to her mission.

Tickets sold for $7 a couple for the April 22, 1978, event at the Augusta State Armory.

“We had liquor, so we made money on the cash bar too,” Ardito recalled.

Ardito sent a letter to Mother Teresa.

“Enclosed please find our check for $1000.00 to help you to continue the work you are performing in helping the poorest of poor in India in the name of Brother Jesus Christ.”

She signed a typed note dated Aug. 18, 1978, addressed to “Dear Friends” and saying, “Thank you for making it possible for us to bring God’s love to the poorest of the poor by your generous gift. It makes us very happy that you share in our work of love.

“If we pray — we will believe. If we believe — we will love. If we love — we will serve. Only then will we put our love for God into living action through service of Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.

“We shall pray for you and your families as you try to make God’s love real to the poor in your community.”

“God bless you, M. Teresa MC.” is handwritten at the end.

The note is in the collage, as is the check she endorsed with her signature.

“It’s a one-on-one deal,” Ardito said on Friday, as he viewed the collage after bringing it into St. Mary’s Church. “She became famous after we did what we did,” he quipped.

Mother Teresa, born in August 1910 in Albania, died Sept. 5, 1997. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003 — one step toward sainthood. The final step is to take place Sunday when she is canonized by Pope Francis in Rome as Saint Teresa of Kolkata.

That makes the items that she touched relics, including the items in the collage.

In acknowledgment of the local connection to Mother Teresa, members of the Knights of Columbus will carry the framed collage into the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Mary’s Church in Augusta, and the Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of the Augusta-area St. Michael Parish, will bless it in a brief ceremony.

“By that time, she’ll already be declared a saint,” Morin said, citing the six-hour time difference between Augusta and Rome, Italy.

“There was no expectation that she would be declared a saint,” Morin said Friday. “They were just helping her out. She had already been recognized in some ways for her work with the poor.”

He also cited Malcolm Muggeridge’s book on Mother Teresa, “Something Beautiful for God,” and a video interview, which came out in 1969-71, with helping to raise awareness of the Missionaries of Charity.

Keith R. Richardson, deputy for District 8 of the Maine State Council, Knights of Columbus, told his fellow members in the Abnaki Council how Ardito became the caretaker: “The note, along with the check, menu, news clippings, and sample dinner ticket were arranged into a collage, which was displayed at the Council Hall, on Riverside Drive in Augusta. In 1999, when the Council vacated the Riverside Drive location, the Council voted to appoint Ralph as the “guardian” of this piece of Council history.”

But instead of being housed in a back room at Ardito’s Augusta home again, the collage with the relics of St. Teresa of Kolkata will be taken next month to the New Haven, Connecticut, museum of the Knights of Columbus and placed on exhibit there.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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