by Dennis Dalman
Patrick Norton’s life was quite literally saved by Mother Teresa, and Norton and his St. Joseph family were at the Vatican in Rome for the thrilling moment when she was officially named a saint by the Catholic Church.
When Norton, an orphan in India for many years, saw and heard in news reports what is now happening at the American-Mexican border, his heart sank because all of the memories of his life came tumbling forth once again. He said he could relate so well to the images he was seeing.
As a public speaker, Norton always avoids partisan politics, but he said he feels he absolutely must speak out against what was happening at the United States/Mexico border. After intense public outrage, President Donald Trump signed an order June 20 disallowing his previous policy of the family-member separations. Norton was happy to hear that.
“I’m was not happy with Donald Trump,” he said. “He was breaking those families apart; he was treating them like criminals. I know what that’s like. I was one of those people a long time ago. Alone. No parents. And I remember how hard it was but then later I learned how wonderful it was to become an American.”
One day in 1961, a newborn baby boy was left abandoned on a street in Bombay, India. A nun found the baby and brought it to St. Joseph Orphanage in Bombay. The orphanage had just been opened by an organization started by a missionary nun named Sister Teresa. At that time, she had not yet become world-famous as Mother Teresa.
The baby found abandoned was named Patrick by the nuns of the orphanage. When Patrick was 7, he was placed in what was known as a “big-boy’s orphanage,” called Our Lady Home, also founded by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and also in Bombay. There were about 250 boys in that orphanage, and even though they had a roof over their heads, they suffered terrible privations, including frequent hunger. Some, like Patrick, had no cot and slept on the floor, using their folded arms as pillows. Food was always scarce, partly because of the war between India and Pakistan at that time. Patrick and others sometimes actually ate paper and erasers from pencils.
“I sometimes actually ate my homework,” Norton recalled.
Manna from heaven
Then, some years later, the orphanage children and staff experienced a sense of deliverance. Shipments of food began arriving from the United States and West Germany – mostly rations containing powdered milk, rice, wheat and cans of cooking oil. It was plain food, but to the hungry boys it was manna from heaven.
Patrick and his fellow orphans loved to play sports – football, volleyball, soccer. But they had to make their own play balls out of paper and other cast-off items. One day, while rummaging thorugh neighborhood trash, looking for useful objects or broken toys to play with, Patrick found a magazine page that had the letters “USA” on it and a picture of a house. That intriguing page suddenly stirred his very soul because he longed to have a house with a family in it, like the one in the picture.
He showed his precious new object, that page, to an orphanage priest:
“Look what I found!” he exclaimed.
He learned USA was a place, a faraway country.
“But don’t bother, you’ll never go there,” the priest told him.
Every night, lying on the floor, Patrick would pray and talk to himself with variations of “God, I hope to go to this place someday. God, will you take me to that place someday, to the USA?”
One day, sometime in 1968, Pope Paul VI visited an orphanage in Bombay. He knelt before each orphan and prayed with them. The pope’s visit made worldwide news.
During the India-Pakistan war, the lights in Bombay had to be extinguished each night because of the bombers overhead. On one clear night, Patrick looked up to marvel at the scintillating stars and the glowing moon. Pointing up at them, he said, “God, forget about the war. Look how beautiful the world is. I want you to bring me to one of the greatest nations on Earth, to the USA.”
In the meantime, Pope Paul VI’s visits to India orphanages caught the attention of a Connecticut couple, John and Marjorie Norton, devout Catholics who had nine biological children but who decided to adopt five more, including two from an orphanage in India.
One amazing day, an orphanage priest said to Patrick, “Pat, you and Martin are going to America.” (Martin was another boy in the orphanage.)
Patrick was stunned and had trouble understanding what he was hearing. But, sure enough, it was true. The adoption process took a long time, but finally, one day Patrick and Martin – both beside themselves with excitement – boarded a flight to New York City. Patrick was 14 at the time. They landed on Oct. 25, 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial celebration. At JFK Airport, the two boys were greeted with hugs and words of welcome by the Norton family.
Back home in Connecticut, the boys were asked if they wanted some spaghetti. When they saw the noodles, they thought they were some kind of strange worms. They looked at each other warily. When the red sauce was spooned over the “worms,” the boys thought it was some kind of animal, freshly killed and squashed. Patrick loved the dinner, and to this day spaghetti is his favorite food.
After dinner, he was shown to his bedroom. In it there was a real bed with a real blanket and a real pillow.
“I knew then I would never have to use my elbow as a pillow any more,” Norton recalled.
The years with the Nortons were blissfully happy ones. Mr. Norton was a well-respected judge who invented a game named “hocker,” similar to football and soccer. While promoting the game, he happened to meet famed Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner, who visited the Norton home and later appeared with the family on “Good Morning, America.”
After living eight years with the Nortons, Patrick’s beloved father died of colon cancer, sending him into an emotional tailspin. Marjorie, his mother, suggested, to comfort him, that Patrick take a trip to Medjugorje in Eastern Europe, a famed holy site where there had been sightings reported of the Virgin Mary.
In Medjugorje, while standing in front of a statue of Mary, Patrick turned around and saw a woman – a beautiful woman standing there.
“Hi,” he said. “My name is Patrick Norton. I’m from Connecticut.”
“Hello,” she said. “Glad to meet you. I’m Sandy Schindler. I’m from Holdingford, Minnesota.”
Something surely clicked because the two, back in America, began corresponding, and Norton paid a few visits to Sandy in Holdingford.
One day, while both were standing in front of a statue of Mary in a church, Patrick asked her if she would marry him, and they were happily engaged. After their marriage in Holdingford in 1992, the couple eventually moved to St. Joseph where Patrick became a house painter, owning his own business. They now have three children: Maria, 24; Anna, 18; Joseph, 16. Wife Sandy, Maria and Joseph all work at Bo Diddley’s in St. Joseph. Maria is a manager at McDonald’s, also in St. Joseph. All are devoted members of St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Norton still feels a sense of awe when he thinks how, as a baby orphan, his life was saved by the St. Joseph Orphanage of Bombay, and his later years were renewed and enriched when he moved to St. Joseph, Minn., finding at long last his own home, his own family.
He’s also still amazed that his wife remembers seeing him and his family on the “Good Morning, America” show long before she even met him.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I thank God every day of my life for all of this – my wife, my family, St. Joseph and the Benedictine Monastery here. I love the people here.”
St. Mother Teresa
Norton is convinced it was Mother Teresa herself who picked him up after he was abandoned on a Bombay Street.
Years later, when he was visiting the Missionaries of Charity organization in Minneapolis, nuns there had articles of clothing once worn by Mother Teresa. He was allowed to touch the clothing.
“I felt a surge of power going through me,” Norton recalled. “I think that was a confirmation from God that it really was Mother Teresa who picked me up from that street.”
In any case, Mother Teresa’s founding of the orphanage almost certainly saved the baby’s life.
Thank you, Mother
Born in Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa worked as a missionary, helping the poorest of the poor in many countries, mainly India. Her foundation, Missionaries of Charity, helps the poor in 133 countries – orphanages, clinics, schools.
She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her canonization was based on several miracles she performed as attributed by the Vatican. She died in 1997, at the age of 87.
Norton and his family were thrilled to be able to witness the canonization of Mother Teresa to sainthood Sept. 4, 2016. Their trip was made possible, all expenses paid, by an anonymous donor.
At the ceremony, the Nortons were in the front row, not far from Pope Francis.
In his prayer, Norton said, “Mother, thank you for picking me up from the street in India. I just know you are smiling down on me now.”
Anyone who would like Norton to speak at an event or to a group can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.