20 years ago, Mother Teresa lobbied New York’s mayor for a parking permit

Posted On Fri, June 9, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, June 9, 2017 By In History

Photo via Ed Reed/City of New York

In June of 1997, an unlikely meeting of Mother Teresa and then Mayor Rudy Giuliani took place–and it was over the ever frustrating matter of New York parking. She had come to the city for a surprise visit to spend time with the South Bronx branch of her organization, Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa, then 86, would die just a few months later, but during this visit, her charity work wasn’t what she wanted to discuss with the mayor. Instead, she came to him with a very New York request: picking up a few extra parking permits for her nuns.

Double parking in the 1970s, courtesy of the EPA

A New York Times article from the time explained that the nuns staying in the South Bronx would frequently visit people with AIDS and used city-issued permits in their windshields to park in spots that would otherwise be illegal. Unbeknownst to the rest of New Yorkers who get stuck searching for parking spaces, the city government will issue special permits to a lucky few, including teachers, government employees, clergy, and employees of nonprofit organizations. According to Atlas Obscura, “These permits allow their holders to bend the rules: a car with a clergy permits, for example, can be left in no parking zones near hospitals for up to three hours.”

This wasn’t the first time Mother Teresa took advantage of the special permitting system. As the Missionaries of Charity convent grew over the years, she made similar requests of prior mayors. As the Times puts it: “Her saintly reputation makes it difficult for any politician to turn her down.”

It was reported that Mayor Giuliani happily granted the permits. “I would do anything Mother Teresa wanted,” he said at the time. “If Mother Teresa wants more parking, she can have more parking. If she wants more buildings, as she does, we will find more buildings for her. Anything she asks me for she can get, because I have confidence that it is going to be used for the benefit of people.”

It’s not unheard of for New Yorkers to replicate these special parking tickets, using the fakes to their advantage, or abusing the privilege and parking by hydrants, in crosswalks or on sidewalks. (Although that’s allowed under the terms of the permits, cars with these permits rarely, if ever, get ticketed.) Paul Steely White, of Transportation Alternatives, put it this way: “You’re a member of protected class and a rarified class if you can get a magic placard that lets you park wherever you are.”

Mother Teresa and her nuns, we can safely assume, didn’t abuse any parking privileges. And they wouldn’t dream of creating fake permits… in requesting the real deal, she knew the mayor wouldn’t be able to turn her down.


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