A Memorial for ‘Mother Teresa of Orange’

Times Staff Writer

With laughter, tears and references to Mary McAnena as the Mother Teresa of Orange, nearly 400 mourners gathered Saturday to remember the woman whose soup kitchen and giving spirit helped and inspired thousands.

Dozens of relatives and 12 priests were among those who attended the service at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange to celebrate the life of McAnena, who died Tuesday in her sleep at 100.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to since she passed has said, ‘Well, if anyone’s gone to heaven, Mary has,’ ” Msgr. John Urell said during the homily. “At an advanced age, when some just sit back and say, ‘Take care of me,’ Mary went out and did even more to help others.”

McAnena opened Mary’s Kitchen when she was 81, after seeing a woman and her two children eating pork and beans from a can. The former nurse, who moved from Ireland to Manhattan at 19, soon was serving 10,000 meals each year to the homeless who flocked to the Orange facility.


Tod D. Brown, Bishop of Orange, led the funeral Mass, which began with a bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” as pallbearers carried McAnena’s coffin into the cathedral. As others wiped away tears, one woman paused from singing to blow kisses at the casket.

Centuries ago, Brown said, local communities could canonize as saints people they knew were holy.

“I have no doubt that if we lived in a different century, everyone in here would have wanted Mary to be one of those people,” he said. “She was for all of us an incredible example of selfless love and service.”

Among those at the funeral were people McAnena met at the soup kitchen. Ron Iverson, 57, said after the service that she helped him find a job and stability.

“She got me off the streets and into the mainstream of society,” said Iverson, a construction worker who now lives in Cypress and volunteers at the soup kitchen. “She’s one of those people who helps you so much you want to pass that on and help others.”

McAnena was legendary for never missing an opportunity to ask others for help, always asking donors for extra coats or blankets after they gave her checks.

During her last lunch out with her family a few days before her death, her grandson said during his eulogy, McAnena recognized two men from a charity organization and asked them for sleeping bags for the homeless.

“That was Mary,” said Robert J. Giuffra Jr., one of her six grandchildren. “She built Mary’s Kitchen one donation, one volunteer, at a time.”

His grandmother collected many awards for her work and her speeches advocating charity, including one made before a rock concert at Chapman University, Giuffra said. But most of the awards ended up under a bed in her guest room. “The success of her speech was measured in what she collected in donations,” he said.

Her grandson drew chuckles when he said that although McAnena was a saint, she did have one weakness: designer clothing.

“In Orange County at least,” Giuffra said, “Mother Teresa wore St. John Knits suits.”

Standing in a cold drizzle after the service, McAnena’s daughter, Mary Giuffra, said her mother would have loved seeing all the people and the priests who came to her funeral.

“She would have wanted to put her arms around the whole congregation and hug them,” Giuffra said, “saying, ‘Good job, thank you; now go keep up my work.’ ”