Collection: St. Teresa of Calcutta
ARTIST: Brenda Nippert
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania and later became a citizen of India. After twenty peaceful years as a sister of Loreto, her plans were radically changed. On a train ride from Calcutta, Jesus spoke to her heart. He told her to go out into the streets and take care of the poorest of the poor. Like Mary, she obeyed without question. Mother Teresa formed the Missionaries of Charity to minister to the poor, sick, dying, orphaned, and abandoned of India, and then the world. She said “we can do no great things, only small things with great love” and that's just what she did.
She believed God dwells in every human heart, and responded with an overwhelming desire to serve Him in these unfortunate, unwanted souls. The world can be changed profoundly beginning with just one person. Mother Teresa achieved international fame, yet she never lost her sense of humility. She used her fame to further her cause, meeting with some of the most influential people in the world. She was not afraid to call all of humanity out on the world's treatment of the helpless, yet you could still find her out in the street, nursing and feeding them one at a time.
Her feast day is September 5.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor, was beatified October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950 as a diocesan religious community. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests.
Born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia, Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was the youngest of the three children who survived. For a time, the family lived comfortably, and her father's construction business thrived. But life changed overnight following his unexpected death.
During her years in public school, Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At age 18, she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. It was 1928 when she said goodbye to her mother for the final time and made her way to a new land and a new life. The following year she was sent to the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling, India. There she chose the name Teresa and prepared for a life of service. She was assigned to a high school for girls in Calcutta, where she taught history and geography to the daughters of the wealthy. But she could not escape the realities around her—the poverty, the suffering, the overwhelming numbers of destitute people.
In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them." She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor."
After receiving permission to leave Loreto, establish a new religious community, and undertake her new work, she took a nursing course for several months. She returned to Calcutta, where she lived in the slums and opened a school for poor children. Dressed in a white sari and sandals (the ordinary dress of an Indian woman) she soon began getting to know her neighbors—especially the poor and sick—and getting to know their needs through visits.
The work was exhausting, but she was not alone for long. Volunteers who came to join her in the work, some of them former students, became the core of the Missionaries of Charity. Others helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, and the use of buildings. In 1952, the city of Calcutta gave Mother Teresa a former hostel, which became a home for the dying and the destitute. As the order expanded, services were also offered to orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the aging, and street people.
For the next four decades, Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds. Nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 5, 1997, God called her home. She was canonized by Pope Francis on September 4, 2016.
Mother Teresa's beatification, just over six years after her death, was part of an expedited process put into effect by Pope John Paul II. Like so many others around the world, he found her love for the Eucharist, for prayer, and for the poor a model for all to emulate.