Msgr. Lofton recalls Mother Teresa’s visit to South Carolina

Mother Teresa may be the only saint in history with a documented opinion on iced tea.

She shared her view with Msgr. Edward Lofton during a whirlwind three-hour visit to Charleston on June 21, 1982, her only time in South Carolina.

Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler and Mother Teresa speak during the ceremony at The Citadel.

Msgr. Lofton, then a deacon, had the daunting honor of driving Mother Teresa from a visit in downtown Charleston to the airport, where she boarded a plane and flew back to Kentucky, where she was staying.

On that hot June day, Mother Teresa spoke in front of a crowd of about 9,000 who packed into Johnson Hagood Stadium at The Citadel. The event, 34 years ago, is a memorable moment in the history of the Church in South Carolina, crystallized in preserved news articles, photographs and the memories of those who were there.

Many of the people who took part in bringing the newest saint to the Holy City, from the late Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler to the dignitaries she greeted, have long since passed away.

Msgr. Lofton, now pastor of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville, remembers the day vividly.

At the time, he often served as a driver for Bishop Unterkoefler, who was responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to Charleston. He drove the bishop’s car to the airport to meet Mother Teresa when she arrived and remembers seeing her step off the airplane.

Msgr. Edward Lofton, then a deacon, has the honor of leading Mother Teresa into and out of Johnson Hagood Stadium.

“It immediately struck me there was nothing pretentious about her at all, and that she was very, very humble,” Msgr. Lofton said. “I also remember thinking that I was going to remember this all my life because I was probably meeting a saint.”

Later that day, Msgr. Lofton had the honor of leading the procession into The Citadel stadium, where Mother Teresa delivered a moving and passionate talk about the value of all human life.

Diocese of Charleston Office of Archives: The late Father Robert Kelly holds an umbrella over Mother Teresa as she speaks to the crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium at The Citadel in 1982.

During her speech, one of the famous Charleston rain showers rolled over and the late Msgr. Robert Kelly hopped on stage to hold an umbrella over the nun as she spoke. A photo of him beaming as he holds the umbrella over her is one of the most enduring images of the day.

After the speech, Msgr. Lofton drove Bishop Unterkoefler and Mother Teresa to a house on Rivers Avenue maintained by a group of Franciscan sisters. It was there that he learned what she thought of the Southern staple of iced tea.

The sisters’ house did not have air conditioning, and as the group stood in the warm afternoon air, the nuns asked Mother Teresa what she would like to drink. She asked for hot tea.

“I was surprised and invited her to have sweet iced tea instead, and she told me I should never drink iced tea because it wasn’t good for me,” Msgr. Lofton said.

After more casual conversation, he was asked to drive her back to the airport. When they arrived, she told the young deacon how important his work was. He never forgot the comment. He also said Mother Teresa’s work has inspired him in his years as diocesan director of the Propagation of the Faith.

“I learned that with her, what you saw is what you got,” Msgr. Lofton said. “Her comment about cold tea — you’d never expect her to say that. You’d expect a saint to always talk about saintly things. She knew how to live. She was down to earth and realistic. She knew life and she simply loved to serve God.”


Feature photo from Diocese of Charleston Office of Archives: Msgr. Edward Lofton, then a deacon, can be seen leading Mother Teresa and the late Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler into the stadium, where she gave a talk about the value of all human life.