Mother Teresa was the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor.
Born in 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa taught in India for 17 years before she experienced her 1946 “call within a call” to devote herself to caring for the sick and poor. Her order established a hospice; centers for the blind, aged, and disabled; and a leper colony. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. She died in September 1997 and was beatified in October 2003. In December 2015, Pope Francis recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, clearing the way for her to be canonized as a saint in 2016.
Catholic nun and missionary Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, the current capital of the Republic of Macedonia. The following day, she was baptized as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Her parents, Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, were of Albanian descent; her father was an entrepreneur who worked as a construction contractor and a trader of medicines and other goods. The Bojaxhius were a devoutly Catholic family, and Nikola was deeply involved in the local church as well as in city politics as a vocal proponent of Albanian independence.
In 1919, when Agnes was only 8 years old, her father suddenly fell ill and died. While the cause of his death remains unknown, many have speculated that political enemies poisoned him. In the aftermath of her father’s death, Agnes became extraordinarily close to her mother, a pious and compassionate woman who instilled in her daughter a deep commitment to charity.
Although by no means wealthy, Drana Bojaxhiu extended an open invitation to the city’s destitute to dine with her family. “My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others,” she counseled her daughter. When Agnes asked who the people eating with them were, her mother uniformly responded, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.”
Agnes attended a convent-run primary school and then a state-run secondary school. As a girl, she sang in the local Sacred Heart choir and was often asked to sing solos. The congregation made an annual pilgrimage to the Church of the Black Madonna in Letnice, and it was on one such trip at the age of 12 that she first felt a calling to a religious life. Six years later, in 1928, an 18-year-old Agnes Bojaxhiu decided to become a nun and set off for Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin. It was there that she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
A year later, Sister Mary Teresa traveled on to Darjeeling, India, for the novitiate period; in May 1931, she made her First Profession of Vows. Afterward she was sent to Calcutta, where she was assigned to teach at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls, a school run by the Loreto Sisters and dedicated to teaching girls from the city’s poorest Bengali families. Sister Teresa learned to speak both Bengali and Hindi fluently as she taught geography and history and dedicated herself to alleviating the girls’ poverty through education.
On May 24, 1937, she took her Final Profession of Vows to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. As was the custom for Loreto nuns, she took on the title of “Mother” upon making her final vows and thus became known as Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa continued to teach at Saint Mary’s, and in 1944 she became the school’s principal. Through her kindness, generosity and unfailing commitment to her students’ education, she sought to lead them to a life of devotion to Christ. “Give me the strength to be ever the light of their lives, so that I may lead them at last to you,” she wrote in prayer.
A New Calling
However, on September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa experienced a second calling, the “call within a call” that would forever transform her life. She was riding in a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills for a retreat when she said Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city’s poorest and sickest people.
But since Mother Teresa had taken a vow of obedience, she could not leave her convent without official permission. After nearly a year and a half of lobbying, in January 1948 she finally received approval to pursue this new calling. That August, donning the blue-and-white sari that she would wear in public for the rest of her life, she left the Loreto convent and wandered out into the city. After six months of basic medical training, she voyaged for the first time into Calcutta’s slums with no more specific a goal than to aid “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.”
The Missionaries of Charity
Mother Teresa quickly translated this somewhat vague calling into concrete actions to help the city’s poor. She began an open-air school and established a home for the dying destitute in a dilapidated building she convinced the city government to donate to her cause. In October 1950, she won canonical recognition for a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded with only a handful of members—most of them former teachers or pupils from St. Mary’s School.
As the ranks of her congregation swelled and donations poured in from around India and across the globe, the scope of Mother Teresa’s charitable activities expanded exponentially. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics.
In 1971, Mother Teresa traveled to New York City to open her first American-based house of charity, and in the summer of 1982, she secretly went to Beirut, Lebanon, where she crossed between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut to aid children of both faiths. In 1985, Mother Teresa returned to New York and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly. While there, she also opened Gift of Love, a home to care for those infected with HIV/AIDS.
International Charity and Recognition
In February 1965, Pope Paul VI bestowed the Decree of Praise upon the Missionaries of Charity, which prompted Mother Teresa to begin expanding internationally. By the time of her death in 1997, the Missionaries of Charity numbered more than 4,000—in addition to thousands more lay volunteers—with 610 foundations in 123 countries around the world.
The Decree of Praise was just the beginning, as Mother Teresa received various honors for her tireless and effective charity. She was awarded the Jewel of India, the highest honor bestowed on Indian civilians, as well as the now-defunct Soviet Union’s Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. And in 1979, Mother Teresa won her highest honor when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work “in bringing help to suffering humanity.”
Despite this widespread praise, Mother Teresa’s life and work have not gone without its controversies. In particular, she has drawn criticism for her vocal endorsement of some of the Catholic Church’s more controversial doctrines, such as opposition to contraception and abortion. “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” Mother Teresa said in her 1979 Nobel lecture.
In 1995, she publicly advocated a “no” vote in the Irish referendum to end the country’s constitutional ban on divorce and remarriage. The most scathing criticism of Mother Teresa can be found in Christopher Hitchens’s book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, in which Hitchens argued that Mother Teresa glorified poverty for her own ends and provided a justification for the preservation of institutions and beliefs that sustained widespread poverty.
Death and Legacy
After several years of deteriorating health, in which she suffered from heart, lung and kidney problems, Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87. She was beatified in October 2003.
Since her death, Mother Teresa has remained in the public spotlight. In particular, the publication of her private correspondence in 2003 caused a wholesale re-evaluation of her life by revealing the crisis of faith she suffered for most of the last 50 years of her life.
In one despairing letter to a confidant, she wrote, “Where is my Faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith—I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart—& make me suffer untold agony.” While such revelations are shocking considering her public image, they have also made Mother Teresa a more relatable and human figure to all those who experience doubt in their beliefs.
For her unwavering commitment to aiding those most in need, Mother Teresa stands out as one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. She combined profound empathy and a fervent commitment to her cause with incredible organizational and managerial skills that allowed her to develop a vast and effective international organization of missionaries to help impoverished citizens all across the globe.
However, despite the enormous scale of her charitable activities and the millions of lives she touched, to her dying day she held only the most humble conception of her own achievements. Summing up her life in characteristically self-effacing fashion, Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
On December 17, 2015, Pope Francis issued a decree that recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, clearing the way for her to be canonized as a saint in 2016. The second miracle involved the healing of a man in Santos, Brazil, who was diagnosed with a viral brain infection and lapsed into a coma. His wife, family and friends prayed to Mother Teresa, and when the man was brought to the operating room for emergency surgery, he woke up without pain and cured of his symptoms, according to a statement from the Missionaries of Charity Father. Mother Teresa’s canonization is expected to be scheduled for September 2016 around the date of her death.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, the future Mother Teresa, was born on 26 August 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, to Albanian heritage. Her father, a well-respected local businessman, died when she was eight years old, leaving her mother, a devoutly religious woman, to open an embroidery and cloth business to support the family. After spending her adolescence deeply involved in parish activities, Agnes left home in September 1928, for the Loreto Convent in Rathfarnam (Dublin), Ireland, where she was admitted as a postulant on October 12 and received the name of Teresa, after her patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux.
Agnes was sent by the Loreto order to India and arrived in Calcutta on 6 January 1929. Upon her arrival, she joined the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling. She made her final profession as a Loreto nun on 24 May 1937, and hereafter was called Mother Teresa. While living in Calcutta during the 1930s and ’40s, she taught in St. Mary’s Bengali Medium School.
On 10 September 1946, on a train journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa received what she termed the “call within a call,” which was to give rise to the Missionaries of Charity family of Sisters, Brothers, Fathers, and Co-Workers. The content of this inspiration is revealed in the aim and mission she would give to her new institute: “to quench the infinite thirst of Jesus on the cross for love and souls” by “labouring at the salvation and sanctification of the poorest of the poor.” On October 7, 1950, the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially erected as a religious institute for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Mother Teresa expanded the work of the Missionaries of Charity both within Calcutta and throughout India. On 1 February 1965, Pope Paul VI granted the Decree of Praise to the Congregation, raising it to pontifical right. The first foundation outside India opened in Cocorote, Venezuela, in 1965. The Society expanded to Europe (the Tor Fiscale suburb of Rome) and Africa (Tabora, Tanzania) in 1968.
From the late 1960s until 1980, the Missionaries of Charity expanded both in their reach across the globe and in their number of members. Mother Teresa opened houses in Australia, the Middle East, and North America, and the first novitiate outside Calcutta in London. In 1979 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By that same year there were 158 Missionaries of Charity foundations.
The Missionaries of Charity reached Communist countries in 1979 with a house in Zagreb, Croatia, and in 1980 with a house in East Berlin, and continued to expand through the 1980s and 1990s with houses in almost all Communist nations, including 15 foundations in the former Soviet Union. Despite repeated efforts, however, Mother Teresa was never able to open a foundation in China.
Mother Teresa spoke at the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1985. On Christmas Eve of that year, Mother Teresa opened “Gift of Love” in New York, her first house for AIDS patients. In the coming years, this home would be followed by others, in the United States and elsewhere, devoted specifically for those with AIDS.
From the late 1980s through the 1990s, despite increasing health problems, Mother Teresa travelled across the world for the profession of novices, opening of new houses, and service to the poor and disaster-stricken. New communities were founded in South Africa, Albania, Cuba, and war-torn Iraq. By 1997, the Sisters numbered nearly 4,000 members, and were established in almost 600 foundations in 123 countries of the world.
After a summer of travelling to Rome, New York, and Washington, in a weak state of health, Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta in July 1997. At 9:30 PM, on 5 September, Mother Teresa died at the Motherhouse. Her body was transferred to St Thomas’s Church, next to the Loreto convent where she had first arrived nearly 69 years earlier. Hundreds of thousands of people from all classes and all religions, from India and abroad, paid their respects. She received a state funeral on 13 September, her body being taken in procession – on a gun carriage that had also borne the bodies of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru – through the streets of Calcutta. Presidents, prime ministers, queens, and special envoys were present on behalf of countries from all over the world.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was a Roman Catholic nun, who devoted her life to serving the poor and destitute around the world. She spent many years in Calcutta, India where shed founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation devoted to helping those in great need. In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and has become a symbol of charitable selfless work. She was beatified in 2003, the first step on the path to sainthood, within the Catholic church.
“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”
– Mother Teresa
Short Biography Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was born, 1910, in Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia. Little is known about her early life, but at a young age she felt a calling to be a nun and serve through helping the poor. At the age of 18 she was given permission to join a group of nuns in Ireland. After a few months of training, with the Sisters of Loreto, she was then given permission to travel to India. She took her formal religious vows in 1931, and chose to be named after St Therese of Lisieux – the patron saint of missionaries.
On her arrival in India, she began by working as a teacher, however the widespread poverty of Calcutta made a deep impression on her; and this led to her starting a new order called “The Missionaries of Charity”. The primary objective of this mission was to look after people, who nobody else was prepared to look after. Mother Teresa felt that serving others was a key principle of the teachings of Jesus Christ. She often mentioned the saying of Jesus,
“Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”
As Mother Teresa said herself:
“Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service .” – Mother Teresa
She experienced two particularly traumatic periods in Calcutta. The first was the Bengal famine of 1943 and the second was the Hindu/Muslim violence in 1946 – before the partition of India. In 1948, she left the convent to live full time amongst the poorest of Calcutta. She chose to wear a white Indian Sari, with blue trimmings – out of respect for the traditional Indian dress. For many years, Mother Teresa and a small band of fellow nuns survived on minimal income and food, often having to beg for funds. But, slowly her efforts with the poorest were noted and appreciated by the local community and Indian politicians.
In 1952, she opened her first home for the dying, which allowed people to die with dignity. Mother Teresa often spent time with those who were dying. Some have criticised the lack of proper medical attention, and refusal to give painkillers. But, others say that it afforded many neglected people the opportunity to die knowing someone cared.
Over time the work grew. Missions were started overseas, and by 2013, there are 700 missions operating in over 130 countries. The scope of their work also expanded to include orphanages, and hospices for those with terminal illness.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
- Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa never sought to convert those of an another faith. Those in her dying homes were given the religious rites appropriate to their faith. However, she had a very firm Catholic faith and took a strict line on abortion, the death penalty and divorce – even if her position was unpopular. Her whole life was influenced by her faith and religion, even though at times she confessed she didn’t feel the presence of God.
The Missionaries of Charity now has branches throughout the world including branches in the developed world where they work with the homeless and people affected with AIDS. In 1965, the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.
In the 1960s, the life of Mother Teresa was first brought to a wider public attention by Malcolm Muggeridge who wrote a book and produced a documentary called “Something Beautiful for God”.
In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace.” She didn’t attend the ceremonial banquet, but asked that the $192,000 fund be given to the poor.
In later years, she was more active in western developed countries. She commented that though the west was materially prosperous, there was often a spiritual poverty.
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
- Mother Teresa
When she was asked how to promote world peace, she replied.
“Go home and love your family”
Over the last two decades of her life, Mother Teresa suffered various health problems but nothing could dissuade her from fulfilling her mission of serving the poor and needy. Until her very last illness she was active in travelling around the world to the different branches of “The Missionaries of Charity” During her last few years, she met Princess Diana in the Bronx, New York. The two died within a week of each other.
Following Mother Teresa’s death the Vatican began the process of beatification, which is the second step on the way to canonisation and sainthood. Mother Teresa was formally beatified in October 2003 by Pope John Paul II and is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa was a living saint who offered a great example and inspiration to the world.
Awards Mother Teresa
- The first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. (1971)
- Kennedy Prize (1971)
- The Nehru Prize –“for promotion of international peace and understanding”(1972)
- Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975),
- The Nobel Peace Prize (1979)
- States Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985)
- Congressional Gold Medal (1994)
- Honorary citizenship of the United States (November 16, 1996),