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Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Do small things with great love... together we can do something beautiful for God.


Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was born on August 26, 1910 to Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Albania, a city situated at the crossroads of the Balkans. Baptized Gonxha Agnes, she was the youngest of three children. Her brother, Lazar, described the family’s early years as “well-off” (living in one of the two homes they owned). She received First Communion at age five and a half and was confirmed at age six. She believed that as soon as she received her First Communion, a love for souls was placed deep within her.

Mother TeresaHer father was a contractor, working with a partner in a successful construction business. He was also heavily involved in the politics of the day. Her father suddenly died (her brother claims poisoning because of his political involvement) when Mother Teresa was seven-years old, which left the family in financial straits.

Her mother raised her children firmly and lovingly, greatly influencing her daughter’s character and vocation. Mother Teresa received her religious formation from Sacred Heart Jesuit Parish where she was very involved. She was fascinated with stories of missionary life and service. She was known to locate any number of missions on the map and tell others of the service being given in each place. At age eighteen, moved by the desire to become a missionary, Mother Teresa left her home in September 1928 to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland (officially known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary). She received the name “Sister Mary Teresa” in honor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In December, she departed for India and arrived in Calcutta on January 6, 1929. After making her First Profession of Vows in May 1931, she was assigned to the Loreto community in Calcutta and taught at St. Mary’s School for girls. On May 24, 1937, she made her Final Profession of Vows, becoming, as she said, the “spouse of Jesus for all eternity.” From that time on she was called “Mother Teresa.” She became principal of the school in 1944. She was known to be a deep person of profound prayer and love for her religious sisters and students and expressed that she was filled with happiness during her twenty years with the Loreto sisters. Mother Teresa was noted for her charity, unselfishness and courage, her capacity for hard work and a natural talent for organization.

On September 10, 1946, during the train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Mother Teresa experienced a profound inspiration which she called her “call within a call.” On that day, she claimed, Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate His thirst became the driving force of her life. Christ asked her to “Come be my light” and revealed to her His pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him and His longing for their love. Christ asked Mother Teresa to establish a religious community dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor. Technicalities and practicalities abounded. She had to be released formally from living within the community of the Sisters of Loreto (but she was not released from her perpetual vows). 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, Mother 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. After two years of testing and discernment, she left the Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor.

Mother Teresa first went to Patna, India, for a few months to prepare for her future work by taking a nursing course with the Medical Mission Sisters. She returned to Calcutta and found temporary housing with the Little Sisters of the Poor. On December 21, 1948, she went for the first time to the slums. She visited families, washed the sores of some children, cared for an old man lying sick on the road and nursing a woman dying of hunger and Tuberculosis. Other ways Mother Teresa started reaching out to the poorest of the poor was 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. To be in communion with Christ and to maintain her strength for the journey, Mother Teresa started each day with the Eucharist, then went out with a rosary in hand to find and serve Christ in the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for."

Mother Teresa was not alone for long. Within a year, she was joined, one by one, by her former students. 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.

Her “little Society” of twelve members was officially established on October 7, 1950. The religious branches include the Sisters, followed by the Brothers on March 25, 1963, then the Contemplative Sisters on June 25, 1976, the Contemplative Brothers on March 19, 1979, and the Fathers on October 31, 1984. For diocesan priests, the Corpus Christi Movement was founded on June 26, 1981. A member of the Congregation must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and the fourth vow, to give "wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor". The 4,500 Sisters today respond to the needs of the poor by establishing over 610 communities in over 123 countries. Missionaries of Charity care for those who include refugees, ex-prostitutes, the mentally ill, sick children, abandoned children, lepers, people with AIDS, the aged, and convalescent. They have schools run by volunteers to educate street children, they run soup kitchens, as well as many other services as per the communities' needs. They established homes for women, for orphaned children, and for the dying (an AIDS hospice). They care for the blind and disabled, alcoholics, the homeless, victims due to floods and a leper colony. These services are provided, without charge, to people regardless of their religion or social caste.

During the years of rapid growth, the world began to turn its eyes to Mother Teresa and the work of the Missionaries of Charity. Numerous awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, honored her work. The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and work witness the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with great love.

During the last years of her life, despite increasingly severe health problems, she continued to govern the Missionaries of Charity and to respond to the needs of the poor and the Church. In 1997, six months before her death, the Missionaries of Charity selected a new Superior General, enabling Mother to spend her final weeks of life receiving visitors and instructing her sisters. On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa died. She was given the honor of a state funeral by the Government of India (a rare occurrence for a non-government official) and her body is buried on the grounds of the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Less than two years after her death, in view of Mother Teresa’s widespread reputation of holiness, Pope John Paul II permitted the opening of her Cause of Canonization. On December 20, 2002, she was beatified and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.” Mother once said: “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” The Church celebrates her life on September 5.

Resources on Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Mother Teresa:  Come Be My Light  - the Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta.   Edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk.  New York, NY:  Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, 2007.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta.   No Greater Love.  Edited by Becky Benenate and Joseph Durepos.  New York, NY:  MJF Books, 1997.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta.   A Simple Path.  Compiled by Lucinda Vardey.   New York, NY:   Ballantine Books, 1995.

“Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997).”   The Vatican Website. (accessed July 7, 2012).

Martin, James, S.J.   Becoming Who You Are:  Insights On the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints.   Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring (Paulist Press), 2006.

McBrien, Richard P.  Lives of the Saints:  from Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa.  San Francisco, CA:  HarperSanFrancisco (Division of HarperCollins Publishers), 2001.

Schorn, Joel.   Holy Simplicity: The Little Way of Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day and Thérèse of Lisieux.   Cincinnati, OH:   St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008.

“Who Was Blessed Mother Teresa?” American Catholic. (accessed July 7, 2012).