A New Home for Mother Teresa’s Sisters
By Aida Bustos
SAN DIEGO — Some 18 members of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity lived in three small bungalows that served as their convent in San Diego.
Their leader, Sister Ancy, considered expanding the garage, which served as their chapel.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she recalled.
But Terry and Barbara Caster soon came up with one.
Long-time Catholic benefactors, the couple had been close friends with Mother Teresa, founder of the order, since she first visited San Diego in 1991. They traveled with her in their motorhome across California and Baja California, as she established houses.
Over the years, they rehabbed the bungalows to accommodate the arrival of more sisters in San Diego. Terry Caster is the founder of the Caster Group, which builds and manages A-1 Self Storage locations.
By December 2015, it was clear that expanding them, or doing more repairs, were not options.
“The plumbing was so old and the houses needed new wiring,” recalled Terry Caster.
The couple’s architect, Michael Stonehouse, suggested they look around for land to build on.
Coincidentally, the lot next door to the convent on Boston Avenue was for sale.
“Why don’t we buy it and build something?” Sister Ancy recalled Caster asking.
“That’s easier said than done,” she told him.
He instructed her to ask for permission from the order’s central office in Calcutta to build a new convent. It came swiftly, as did the rest of the construction process.
The couple bought the property. By last February, the architect had drawn up the plans for a new convent to be built to meet the sisters’ needs.
In April, they moved out of two of their three bungalows, which were demolished. Then construction kicked into high gear, with Terry Caster himself often at the controls of the tractor.
For nine months, “the project was like my baby,” Caster said.
By December, construction finished on the 8,000-square-foot convent, which more than quadrupled the sisters’ living space.
The new convent has a total of 18 sleeping quarters, called hermitages, nine bathrooms and four showers. There are “sick rooms” with wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs next to the chapel. Each has a tiny window that opens so the occupant can participate in Mass without leaving her room.
The sisters can wash their habits in a laundry room; they do not use washing machines. And they can prepare their meals in a kitchen stocked with new appliances and eat in a roomy dining room. They also have an office and a workshop.
The centerpiece of the new convent, however, is a spacious chapel with high-ceiling windows that bathe the interior with sunlight.
On March 6, practically 25 years to the day that the convent first opened, retired Bishop Robert H. Brom will celebrate an anniversary Mass in the new chapel. It’s only fitting. He had celebrated the convent’s first Mass in 1992, which opened with only four sisters.
On a recent day, Sister Ancy mulled how life has changed since they moved in just before Christmas.
“We can breathe now, we can move around, without getting on each other.”
A total of 18 women live at the convent, ages mid-twenties to nearly 90. They are part of the contemplative branch. They pray either individually or as a community up to seven hours a day. The new house has plenty of space to do that, including a landscaped courtyard that has a statue of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
The sisters kept one of the bungalows, which the Casters finished remodeling a few days ago as a guest house.
Why did the couple build the new convent?
Terry Caster answered quickly.
“There’s God, your wife, and then there’s Mother Teresa,” he said, chuckling.
“They needed it,” his wife added. “They pray for the world.”
The Southern Cross