by Joe DioGuardi*/
It was a wonderful day on the grounds of the St. Augustine Church in Ossining, New York, when, on June 20, 2019, the Papal Nuncio of Albania came to dedicate the shrine and bless the statue of St. Mother Teresa of Albania.
The Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, officiated the ceremony with St. Augustine’s pastor, Fr. Brian T. McSweeney, and former pastor, Msgr. Hilary Franco. Also present were Fr. Peter Popaj, pastor of Our Lady of Shkodra Albanian Church in Hartsdale, New York, Fr. Gjergj Meta, the Catholic Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Tirana and Durres, Albania, and former Member of Congress Joe DioGuardi, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church and founder of the Albanian American Civic League.
The idea for the shrine and statue of Mother Teresa was first conceived some ten years ago by then St. Augustine Church pastor Msgr. Hilary Franco, who knew Mother Teresa personally, and even attended her State funeral in Calcutta, India, where she founded her religious order of nuns that she named the Missionaries of Charity. Msgr. Franco publicly announced this plan on the occasion of the annual dinner of St. Augustine Church in 2009. He was joined by then New York Archbishop, now Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, Fr. Popaj, Joe DioGuardi, Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, and 50 Albanian American parishioners of Our Lady of Shkodra Church who supported the Albanian American Civic League and Foundation in planning for the shrine and the statue.
DioGuardi opened the ceremony on June 20, which was attended by more than 200 Albanian Americans, by thanking all for coming to his parish in Ossining and by giving special thanks to Fr. McSweeney, Msgr. Franco, Archbishop Brown, and to Zef and Lina Balaj for their sponsorship of the statue of St. Teresa in the name of Zef’s deceased mother and father, Gjon and Zoja Balaj. In his comments, DioGuardi remembered the day 26 years ago, on April 25, 1993, when he joined with Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II at the investiture of four Albanian priests as bishops at the newly reopened and reconstituted cathedral in the center of Shkodra, shortly after atheistic communism was brought down in Albania. One of the bishops was Zef Simoni who incredibly survived the barbaric Stalinist Communist regime of Enver Hoxha in horrible prisons for more than 45 years. The other bishops invested by the Pope were Franco Illine, Rrok Mirdita, and Robert Ashton.
DioGuardi concluded his comments before the dedication and blessing of the shrine and statue by Papal Nuncio Brown with the words of St. Mother of Teresa of Albania when she said, “By blood I am Albanian, by citizenship I am Indian, and by faith I am a Catholic nun who by my profession belongs to the world, but by faith I belong entirely to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
* New York, June 20, 2019
Hon. Joseph J. DioGuardi
President, Albanian American Civic League