Heroes of the Faith: Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was admired by many for her charitable work among the poor in Calcutta, India.

She was born Anjezë Gonxhe {Mary Teresa} Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in the Ottoman Empire. Her parents were Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. She was baptized the day after her birth and always considered August 27th her “true birthday”.

Mother Teresa as a young woman

According to biographer Joan Graff Clucas, she was fascinated about stories of missionaries from a young age and considered a religious life.

After praying to a shrine of the Black Madonna on a pilgrimage to Vitina-Letnice, her resolve strengthened and she left home in 1928 to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland. While there she learned English.

After leaving home, she never saw her mother or sister again.

She arrived in India in 1929 and took her first religious vows on May 24, 1931. She chose the name Therese after the patron saint of missionaries {Thérèse de Lisieux}, but changed the spelling to the Spanish spelling of Teresa, when another nun had the name.

She became a teacher at the Loreto Convent School in Eastern Calcutta where she would serve for twenty years. She took her solemn vows in 1937 and was appointed headmistress of the school in 1944.

She became disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta.
On September 10, 1946 while at an annual retreat she heard what she later described as “the call within the call”. She later said “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.

Joseph Langford later wrote, “Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa”.

Her missionary work began in 1948, and she replaced her traditional habit with a simple, white cotton sari with a blue border. She adopted Indian citizenship and received several months of basic medical training.

She soon laid the foundation for a new religious community to help the “poorest among the poor”. The first years were full of doubt, loneliness and temptation.

On October 7, 1950, she received permission from the Vatican to form the congregation which became known as Missionaries of Charity. In her words, it would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”

She opened her first hospice in 1952, a home for those with leprosy and in 1955 a Children’s Home for orphans and homeless youth. These homes laid the foundation for similar homes to be opened around the world.

She was fluent in five languages and made occasional humanitarian trips outside of India. By the time of her death, she’d opened 610 mission in 123 countries.

She received honorary degrees from various universities and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

She died on September 5, 1997 in Calcutta, India at the age of eighty-seven. Her body lay in a state for a week before her state funeral.

Mother Teresa

Pope John Paul II said: “Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, his Sacred Heart.” However, she is also known for expressing her doubts, lack of faith and concerns of God’s existence or him forgetting her, and her spiritual dryness.

She wrote to one spiritual adviser, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see—listen and do not hear—the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me—that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

However, she accomplished amazing feats for the poor and loved and served others the way Jesus taught.

The Roman Catholic church canonized her as Saint Teresa of Calcutta on September 4, 2016.

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