Mother Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and a missionary, born on 26 August 1910 and died on 5 September 1997.
She was the youngest child of Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu (Bernai). Her father, who was involved in Albanian-community politics in Ottoman Macedonia, died in 1919 when she was eight years old. He was born in Prizren (today in Kosovo), however, his family was from Mirdita (present-day Albania). Her mother may have been from a village near Gjakova.
According to a biography by Joan Graff Clucas, Teresa was in her early years when she was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal; by age 12, she was convinced that she should commit herself to religious life. Her desire was strengthened on 15 August 1928 as she prayed at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimages.
Teresa left home in 1928 at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English with the intent of becoming a missionary; English was the language of instruction of the Sisters of Loreto in India. She never saw her mother or sister again. Her family lived in Skopje until 1934, when they moved to Tirana.
She arrived in India in 1929 and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas, where she learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent. Teresa took her first religious vows on 24 May 1931 and took her solemn vows on 14 May 1937 while she was a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Entally, eastern Calcutta.
She served there for nearly twenty years and was appointed its headmistress in 1944. Although she enjoyed teaching at the school, she was constantly troubled by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. The Bengal famine of 1943 brought misery and death to the city, and the August 1946 Direct Action Day began a period of Muslim-Hindu violence.
During this visit to Darjeeling by train, she heard the call of her inner conscience where on 10 September 1946, she experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she traveled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. “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.”
She felt that she should serve the poor by staying with them. She asked for and received permission to leave the school. In 1950 she founded ‘Missionaries of Charity. She went out to serve humanity with two saris with a blue border.
Mother Teresa’s early life in India was a huge struggle with very little help from the Catholic Church in Rome, but it was her passion to see poor street children educated. She slowly gained attention through sheer grit and hard work.
In 1950, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation that had over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries in 2012. The congregation manages homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. It also runs soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s and family counseling programs, as well as orphanages and schools. Members take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and also profess a fourth vow – to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
She began missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple, white cotton sari with a blue border. Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent several months in Patna to receive basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital, and ventured into the slums. She founded a school in Motijhil, Kolkata before she began tending to the poor and hungry. At the beginning of 1949, Teresa was joined in her effort by a group of young women, and she laid the foundation for a new religious community helping the “poorest among the poor”.
Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials, including the prime minister. Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness, and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months:
Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food, and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. “You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again”, the Tempter kept on saying. … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
On 7 October 1950, Teresa received Vatican permission for the diocesan congregation, which would become the 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”.
In 1952, Teresa opened her first hospice with help from Calcutta officials. She converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, free for the poor, and renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. “A beautiful death”, Teresa said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”
She was admired by many for her charitable work, praised and criticized as well for her views on abortion and contraception, and was criticized for poor conditions in her houses for the dying. Her authorized biography was written by Navin Chawla and published in 1992, and she has been the subject of films and other books. On 6 September 2017, Teresa and St. Francis Xavier were named co-patrons of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta.
She received a number of honors, including the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She was canonized on 4 September 2016, and the anniversary of her death (5 September) is her feast day.
She was venerated by the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta after she passed. She was born in Skopje, then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, and her full name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu.
A lady who worked in a bank years ago said that Mother Teresa once entered their bank and this lady felt waves of love flowing out of Mother Teresa as soon as she entered the bank. This lady was blown away, she never experienced anything like that before. This was Mother Teresa, the saint who walked in a higher plane of love. The world needs more like Mother Teresa to wash away the garbage of hate!