It seems a peculiar linkage: Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mother Teresa, caregiver to the poor, united as objects of mourning around the world.
They were, after all, women born half a century apart, living in social strata infinitely removed from one another, and holding radically different attitudes toward clothes, personal wealth and the high life.
But they shared a status as being among the most admired women today, each the center of unremitting media fascination (and skillful at using the attention), and each celebrated for her compassion and humanitarianism.
While Diana is hailed as an inspiration for her warmth, emotional resilience and charitable efforts, it is, of course, Mother Teresa who leaves the bricks-and-mortar legacy of good works, one all the more remarkable for its having been achieved against great odds.
Her beginnings were as far from the limelight as one could imagine. Born Agnes Bojaxhiu in 1910, the child of an ethnic Albanian family in a provincial Balkan city under the decaying Ottoman Empire, she became a Roman Catholic nun as a teenager and was shortly sent to India to serve as a parochial-school teacher near Calcutta.
That she should become so renowned testifies to the personal resources and talents a person may discover when she understands herself to be called to a task by God.
In her case, Mother Teresa recalled, it happened in 1946, when she was riding on a train and heard a divine command to help the poor.
Within three years, she had founded an order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, and in 1952 she opened a shelter in a southern neighborhood of Calcutta, where the poorest of the poor could be taken in off the streets and allowed to die with dignity.
Most people probably associate Mother Teresa’s work primarily with that hospice (a place she named Nirmal Hriday, or Place of the Immaculate Heart), envisioning the nuns, clad in the order’s distinctive blue-bordered white saris, moving among the cots of the destitute.
But the image neglects Mother Teresa’s flair for organization. She built her order into a global network of nuns and lay volunteers, who today operate hospitals, health clinics, homeless shelters and youth centers from the United States to Yemen.
When she won the Nobel Prize in 1979, those who honored her praised not just her commitment to the poor but her managerial skills, too.
What made her work all the more unusual was that she began in a largely Hindu, partly Muslim nation where her faith placed her in a small minority. Yet through the years, she was able to cross India’s often hostile borders of religion and nationality.
News reports Friday said that she had planned, before her death, to spend Saturday praying for Diana. The two women had met on occasion through the years and Mother Teresa, by one account, had said she thought the princess to be “extremely sympathetic” to the poor.