"Peace begins with a smile - Mother Teresa"
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje*, Macedonia, on August 26, 1910.
Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on May 24, 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun.From 1931 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary's High School in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. Although she had no funds, she depended on Divine Providence, and started an open-air school for slum children. Soon she was joined by voluntary helpers, and financial support was also forthcoming. This made it possible for her to extend the scope of her work.
Mother Teresa was the youngest child of Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu and was originally named 'Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu'. Agnes received her first communion at the age of five. From her childhood, she attended prayers and devoted herself in the worship of the Almighty. When Agnes was eight years old, her father died, because of which, the family faced financial crisis. Drane Bojaxhiu, then, assumed the dual role - of being a mother and a father - and helped her children develop a good character. Under the influence and guidance of her mother and a priest, Agnes decided to carry out missionary work.
Agnes decided to become a Catholic nun, in order to do missionary work and spread the message of love and compassion in the world. In 1928, she became a Catholic nun and changed her name from Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to Teresa. Later on, she joined the Irish order 'The Sisters of Loretto'. In order to carry out missionary work in India, she was sent to Calcutta on 6th January 1929, where she was appointed as a teacher at St. Mary's High School. Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa on 24th May 1937, when she made final Profession of Vows to become the ‘Spouse of Jesus for Eternity’. She continued to work as a teacher. In 1944, she was made the Principal of the school.
Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School from 1931 to 1948. The condition of poor people outside the convent made such a deep impact on her that she decided to serve the destitute. In 1948, she was granted permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and take on the task of serving the poor slum dwellers in Calcutta. Although she had no funds, it was her determination that kept her going. With strong faith on the Divine Providence, she started an open-air school for slum children. Soon, she was joined by volunteer helpers. Financial assistance started pouring in. This made it possible for Mother Teresa to extend the scope of her social service.
Mother Teresa’s work was not limited to teaching the poor children; she also educated the adults. As she traveled across the slum areas of Calcutta, she noticed that there was a lack of basic facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, for the poor. Hence, she learnt some basic medication techniques and started giving treatment to those who could not afford medication. Her efforts influenced her former pupils to form a group known as ‘Missionaries of Charity’. The group soon started a facility wherein poor people, who were dying on the streets, were brought and taken care of. The service inspired people to join the noble cause and donate funds for the organization working under Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa made use of the donations and thousands of missionaries who had joined her, for the establishment of several centers for poor and needy people across the world.In 1980, she started Homes for people with no one to look after them,people suffering from various incurable diseases, prostitutes, drug addicts and orphans. One of her most significant works was the establishment of center for AIDS patients in 1985, wherein thousands of patients were provided shelter. The Missionaries of Charity was officially recognized as an International Association, on March 29, 1969. By the beginning of 1990s, the number of co-workers had increased manifold and there were about a million of them, working in about 40 countries across the world.
Mother Teresa’s service to humanity received worldwide recognition. She stood as the icon of peace, love and compassion. Her determination to serve the poor and needy fetched her about 124 prestigious awards, including 'Padmashree Award' (in 1962 from the President of India), 'John F. Kennedy International Award (1971), 'Bharat Ratna' , 'Order of Merit' from Queen Elizabeth, 'Nobel Peace Prize’ (1979), The Pope John XXIII Peace Prize', 'Medal of Freedom' (the highest US Civilian award) and many more.
On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, "The Missionaries of Charity", whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.
Today the order comprises Active and Contemplative branches of Sisters and Brothers in many countries. In 1963 both the Contemplative branch of the Sisters and the Active branch of the Brothers was founded. In 1979 the Contemplative branch of the Brothers was added, and in 1984 the Priest branch was established.
The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees. The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers.
The Missionaries of Charity throughout the world are aided and assisted by Co-Workers who became an official International Association on March 29, 1969. By the 1990s there were over one million Co-Workers in more than 40 countries. Along with the Co-Workers, the lay Missionaries of Charity try to follow Mother Teresa's spirit and charism in their families.
Mother Teresa's work has been recognised and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding (1972). She also received the Balzan Prize (1979) and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.
Called to Religious Life
At 18, Gonxha decided to follow the path that seems to have been unconsciously unfolding throughout her life. She chose the Loreto Sisters of Dublin, missionaries and educators founded in the 17th century to educate young girls.
In 1928, the future Mother Teresa began her religious life in Ireland, far from her family and the life she'd known, never seeing her mother again in this life, speaking a language few understood. During this period a sister novice remembered her as "very small, quiet and shy," and another member of the congregation described her as "ordinary." Mother Teresa herself, even with the later decision to begin her own community of religious, continued to value her beginnings with the Loreto sisters and to maintain close ties. Unwavering commitment and self-discipline, always a part of her life and reinforced in her association with the Loreto sisters, seemed to stay with her throughout her life.
One year later, in 1929, Gonxha was sent to Darjeeling to the novitiate of the Sisters of Loreto. In 1931, she made her first vows there, choosing the name of Teresa, honoring both saints of the same name, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. In keeping with the usual procedures of the congregation and her deepest desires, it was time for the new Sister Teresa to begin her years of service to God's people. She was sent to St. Mary's, a high school for girls in a district of Calcutta.
Here she began a career teaching history and geography, which she reportedly did with dedication and enjoyment for the next 15 years. It was in the protected environment of this school for the daughters of the wealthy that Teresa's new "vocation" developed and grew. This was the clear message, the invitation to her "second calling," that Teresa heard on that fateful day in 1946 when she traveled to Darjeeling for retreat.
The Streets of Calcutta
During the next two years, Teresa pursued every avenue to follow what she "never doubted" was the direction God was pointing her. She was "to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets. I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor."
Technicalities and practicalities abounded. She had to be released formally, not from her perpetual vows, but from living within the convents of the Sisters of Loreto. She had to confront the Church's resistance to forming new religious communities, and receive permission from the Archbishop of Calcutta to serve the poor openly on the streets. She had to figure out how to live and work on the streets, without the safety and comfort of the convent. As for clothing, Teresa decided she would set aside the habit she had worn during her years as a Loreto sister and wear the ordinary dress of an Indian woman: a plain white sari and sandals.
Teresa first went to Patna for a few months to prepare for her future work by taking a nursing course. In 1948 she received permission from Pius XII to leave her community and live as an independent nun. So back to Calcutta she went and found a small hovel to rent to begin her new undertaking.
Wisely, she thought to start by teaching the children of the slums, an endeavor she knew well. Though she had no proper equipment, she made use of what was available—writing in the dirt. She strove to make the children of the poor literate, to teach them basic hygiene. As they grew to know her, she gradually began visiting the poor and ill in their families and others all crowded together in the surrounding squalid shacks, inquiring about their needs.
Teresa found a never-ending stream of human needs in the poor she met, and frequently was exhausted. Despite the weariness of her days she never omitted her prayer, finding it the source of support, strength and blessing for all her ministry.
A Movement Begins
Teresa was not alone for long. Within a year, she found more help than she anticipated. Many seemed to have been waiting for her example to open their own floodgates of charity and compassion. Young women came to volunteer their services and later became the core of her Missionaries of Charity. Others offered food, clothing, the use of buildings, medical supplies and money. As support and assistance mushroomed, more and more services became possible to huge numbers of suffering people.
From their birth in Calcutta, nourished by the faith, compassion and commitment of Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity have grown like the mustard seed of the Scriptures. New vocations continue to come from all parts of the world, serving those in great need wherever they are found. Homes for the dying, refuges for the care and teaching of orphans and abandoned children, treatment centers and hospitals for those suffering from leprosy, centers and refuges for alcoholics, the aged and street people—the list is endless.
Until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa continued her work among the poorest of the poor, depending on God for all of her needs. Honors too numerous to mention had come her way throughout the years, as the world stood astounded by her care for those usually deemed of little value. In her own eyes she was "God's pencil—a tiny bit of pencil with which he writes what he likes."
Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous ailments, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. Only months before her death, when she became too weak to manage the administrative work, she relinquished the position of head of her Missionaries of Charity. She knew the work would go on.
Finally, on September 5, 1997, after finishing her dinner and prayers, her weakened heart gave her back to the God who was the very center of her life.
Last Years Of Life
During the last years of her life, despite facing several health problems, Mother Teresa continued to serve the poor and needy and work for her Society and Church. By 1997, Mother Teresa’s Sisters numbered nearly 4000, working in about 610 foundations in 123 countries across the world. Her newly-elected successor was appointed the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, in March 1997. After meeting Pope John Paul II, she returned to Calcutta, where she spent her last weeks receiving visitors and giving instructions to her Sisters.
Death and Post Death
The death of Mother Teresa was a huge loss to humanity. She departed from this world, in Calcutta, on 5th September 1997, when she was 87 years old. On 19th October 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa. The beatification, which took place in Rome, marked the first step of her sainthood.
Mother Teresa Timeline:
- Aug 27, 1910 - Born as Agnes Gionxhu Bejuxhiu in Skopje in the former Yugoslavia
- 1928 - Becomes Roman Catholic Loretto nun and begins noviate training in Loretto Abbey, Dublin, Ireland, takes name Sister Teresa
- 1929 - Arrives in Calcutta, India, becomes a teacher at St. Mary's High School
- 1937 - Takes final vows as a nun
- 1948 - Permitted to leave order and moves to slums to start school
- 1948 - Transfers her citizenship from Yugoslavia to India. Left the convent to work alone in the slums. Receives medical training in Paris
- 1950 - Founds the Missionaries of Charity
- 1952 - Opens Nirmal Hriday ("Pure Heart"), home for the dying
- 1953 - Opens orphanage
- 1957 - Begins her work with lepers for which her order becomes well known around the world
- 1958 - Order's first facility outside of Calcutta opens in Drachi, India
- 1962 - Wins first prize for work among the poor: Padma Shri award
- 1965 - The Catholic Church grants the order permission to organize missions outside of India
- 1971 - Receives the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and uses the $25,000 to build a leper colony
- 1979 - Awarded Nobel Peace Prize for work with destitute and dying
- 1982 - Persuades the Israelis and Palestinians to cease fire long enough to rescue 37 retarded children from Beirut
- 1983 - Has heart attack while visiting Pope John Paul II
- 1985 - Awarded ‘Medal of Freedom’
- 1989 - Suffers second heart attack, fitted with pacemaker
- 1990 - Re-elected superior general of her order of the Missionaries for Charity, despite her wish to step down
- 1992 - Enters the hospital in La Jolla, California for treatment of pneumonia and
- congestive heart failure
- 1993 - Falls and breaks three ribs in May, hospitalized for malaria in August, undergoes surgery for blocked blood vessel in September
- 1996 - Falls and breaks collarbone in April, suffers malarial fever and left ventricle failure in August, receives honorary citizenship on November sixteenth
- March 13, 1997 - Steps down as the head of her order, is succeeded by Sister Nirmala
- September 5, 1997 - Dies of a massive heart attack in Calcutta at the age of 87