Mother Teresa was an Albanian, Catholic nun who worked in India. In 1946 she received a call to devote herself to caring for the sick, poor and vulnerable. She established an order that established hospice, centers for the blind and disabled and a safe place for lepers. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work and was canonized as a saint this year. This is her story.
Mother Teresa was born on the 26th of August, 1910 in Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia. On August 17th, she was baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Her parents, Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu were of Albanian descent. The family were devout Catholics. Nikola was an entrepreneur and trader. He was also very involved in the local church and city politics and was an outspoken advocate of Albanian independence.
In 1919, when Agnes was eight years old, her father, Nikola, fell ill and died. The cause of his death is unknown to this day but many people say that he was poisoned by his political opponents. When Nikola died, Agnes became very close to her mother who was a loving, compassionate and charitable woman. It was her who made her daughter a charitable young woman.
Agnes attended a primary school run by nuns and then went to secondary school. While on an annual pilgrimage to the Church of the Black Madonna in Letnice at age 12, Agnes felt a calling to a religious life.
In 1928, aged 18, Agnes decided to become a nun and traveled to Dublin, Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto. It was in Dublin she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Therese of Lisieux.
One year later, Sister Mary Teresa traveled to Darjeeling, India. She was then sent to Calcutta where she was to teach Geography and History at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls. The school was established by the Loreto Sisters and was dedicated to serving the poorest families in the city. Sister Mary Teresa here learned to speak Bengali and Hindi fluently.
On the 24th of May, 1937, she took her final Profession of Vows to a life of poverty and obedience. She also took the title of “Mother” when she made her final vows, as is custom in the Sisters of Loreto. In 1944, Mother Teresa became the principal of Saint Mary’s High School for Girls. She was dedicated to lead her students to a life of devotion to Christ.
On the 10th of September, 1946, Mother Teresa had a second calling. This calling was described as a “call within a call”. It would change her life forever. She was on the train from Calcutta to the foothills of the Himalayas when Christ began to speak to her. He told her she was to abandon her work as a teacher and devote her life to helping the poor of Calcutta’s slums. Because she took a Vow of Obedience, Mother Teresa could not leave her position in Saint Mary’s without official permission. She lobbied for a year and a half before receiving approval from Archbishop Ferdinand Perier in January 1948. In August that year, She left the Loreto Convent and wandered out into the city. She took a six-month course in basic medical training and voyaged into the slums of Calcutta.
When she established herself in the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa began to take swift action to help the city’s poor. She opened an open-air school to educate the poor and convinced the city government to donate money to her cause. She used the donation money to establish a home for the dying in a dilapidated building. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity which was mostly made up of former teachers and pupils from Saint Mary’s High School for Girls.
As Mother Teresa’s congregation grew, donations from across India and across the world. She used this money to establish a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and several mobile home clinics.
In the Summer of 1982, Mother Teresa secretly traveled to Lebanon, where she crossed between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut to aid children of both faiths. In 1985, She spoke at the 40th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly. While in New York, she also opened a home to care for HIV and AIDS victims.
In 1965, the Pope awarded the Missionaries of Charity with the Decree of Praise. By the time of Her death, the Missionaries of Charity had more than 4,000 members in 123 countries. Mother Teresa was awarded with many honors including the Jewel of India and the Soviet Union’s Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. In 1979, She won her highest honor, the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her humanitarian aid.
Like many religious activists, Mother Teresa’s work did not go without criticism. She was criticized for her endorsement of Catholic doctrine such as opposition to contraception and abortion. She was also criticized for advocating a no vote in the Irish Referendum to end the country’s ban on divorce and remarriage.
For several years, Mother Teresa suffered from deteriorating health. She had heart, lung and kidney problems. Mother Teresa died on the 5th of September,1997, at the age of 87.
On December 17th, 2015, Pope Francis recognized a second miracle connected to Mother Teresa which cleared the way for her to be canonized (made a Saint by the Catholic church) on the 4th of September 2016.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”