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Building a family with Mother Teresa's help

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Ellen Alterman feels as if she owes a debt of gratitude to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. After all, her four daughters were adopted from India, and, in one way or another, were cared for by the sisters.

When Alterman and her late husband, Neil, began looking into adoption, the couple found themselves pulled toward “Mother Teresa’s children,” said Alterman, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Burke. They were first given a black and white passport picture of a little girl with the description: “clever, playful and friendly,” and knew they wanted to adopt her. Mini, whom they later renamed Sandra Mini, met them at National Airport after being escorted from her native country by a flight attendant in 1977.

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Ellen Alterman and her daughters, Sandra Mini and Shana Martha, meet Mother Teresa in 1981. CATHOLIC HERALD FILE

Three years later, they adopted two-year-old Shana Martha, who was post-polio, just like Alterman. In 1981, the little family was able to meet Mother Teresa when she came to Washington for the opening of a convent in Anacostia.

The Altermans and other adoptive families gathered at Assumption Church in Washington — “in the middle of June with no air conditioning,” said Alterman. She remembers seeing the tiny future saint come into the room. “(Mother Teresa) spoke to the children and told them they had new families and to always appreciate everything they had,” said Alterman. “That was our first experience with her.”

In 1986, they adopted their third child, Priya, from a Missionaries of Charity home for special needs children. She was 6 years old and “hard of hearing,” said Alterman. Several years after that, they adopted their fourth and final daughter, Sonia Mary, from southern India.

At first, they thought Sonia had no connection to the Missionaries, but they later learned that Sonia's birth mother first placed her with the Missionaries. “We’re so grateful to Mother (Teresa) for our daughters,” said Alterman.

In 1995, Mother Teresa visited Washington again, this time to open a maternity home in Washington. Priya, who was then 15, remembered seeing Mother Teresa when she was an orphan in India and she met her again during that visit to America with the help of her sign language teacher. The Altermans still keep the photo of Priya and Mother Teresa prominently displayed in their home.

“(We went) from (being) a couple to becoming a family. (That) is what Mother Teresa and her sisters did for us,” said Alterman.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter@zoeydimauro.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016