Mother of the Poor
Mother Teresa’s charitable contributions have made her a universal model for humanity and peace.
Mother Teresa continues to be an inspiration through the legacy of humanitarian work she has left behind.
R“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.”
- Mother Teresa
eputed for ministering to the “poorest of the poor,” Mother Teresa, of Albanian descent, was born in Skopje, Macedonia on August 26, 1910. Though she came to be known globally as Mother Teresa, her original name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.
At the age of twelve, Bojaxhiu felt the urge to spread the message of Christ. Six years later, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns. After a few months training she was sent to India, where on May 24, 1931 she took her initial vows as a nun. Since then until 1948, Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta. Greatly affected by the suffering and poverty she saw in her neighbourhood, in 1948 she took permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devoted herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.
Without any funds, Teresa started an open-air school for slum children. Her noble intentions soon drew volunteers and financial support became readily available, allowing her to extend the scope of her work. In 1950, with permission from the Holy See, Mother Teresa started her own Order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after.
For over 45 years, she tended to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. She also travelled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia and radiation victims at Chernobyl.
By 1996, she was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. The Missionaries of Charity had grown from twelve to thousands serving the “poorest of the poor” in 450 centres around the world.
Mother Teresa suffered her first heart attack in Rome in 1983, while visiting Pope John Paul II. She had a second attack in 1989. In 1991, after an attack of pneumonia in Mexico, she suffered further heart problems. She offered to resign her position as head of the Missionaries of Charity, but the sisters of the order voted for her to stay.
In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell and broke her collarbone. In August the same year, she suffered from malaria and failure of the left heart ventricle. Despite heart surgery, her condition continued to decline and she departed on 5 September 1997
At the time of her death, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counselling programs, personal helpers, orphanages and schools.
Mother Teresa’s work has been recognised and acclaimed worldwide. Apart from the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, she received a number of awards and distinctions that included the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Pacem in Terris Award, an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, the Order of Merit from both the United Kingdom and the United States, Albania’s Golden Honor of the Nation, the Balzan Prize, the Albert Schweitzer International Prize, as well as a number of honorary degrees.
In India, she received the Padma Shri in 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969 and India’s highest civilian award -- the Bharat Ratna-twice, once in 1972 and again in 1980.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II who gave her the title, “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta”, beatified her posthumously. On 28 August 2010, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, the government of India issued a special Rs.5 coin, which was the sum she had landed in India with.
However, Mother Teresa also had her detractors, Christopher Hitchens being the bitterest among them. The criticism levied against her was directed largely at financial matters but also pointed at her peculiar philosophy that suffering would bring people closer to Jesus. As a result, in her Home for the Dying, maggots were tweezed from open wounds without giving patients any painkillers, even though their screams of pain could be heard beyond the walls of the hospice.