Mother Teresa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Editing of this article by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled. If you are prevented from editing this article, and you wish to make a change, please discuss changes on the talk page, request unprotection, log in, or create an account.

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa (1985)
Born August 26, 1910
Flag of Republic of Macedonia Skopje, Macedonia, then part of Ottoman Empire, to Albanian parents
Died September 5, 1997 (age 87)
Flag of India Kolkata, India

Mother Teresa, born: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu [ˈagnɛs gɔnˈʤa bɔˈjaʤiu] (August 26, 1910September 5, 1997), was an Albanian Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work. She ministered to the needs of the poor, sick, orphaned and dying of Calcutta, India. As her religious order grew she expanded her ministry to other continents. Over time she gained international prominence as a humanitarian and advocate for the poor and helpless. In 2003 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and designated Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.[1][2]


Early life

Agnes Bojaxhiu was born on 27 August,[3] 1910, in the center of Uskub, in the Kosovo Province of the Ottoman Empire (now Skopje, Republic of Macedonia). Her parents were Albanians: Nikollë and Dranafille Bojaxhiu, her father originally from Mirëdita (North Albania) and her mother from Đakovica (Gjakovë). Raised as a Catholic by her parents, her father died when she was about eight years old.[4] During her early years, she was fascinated with stories of missionary life and service. Deciding to become a nun, she left her home at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto. She never again set eyes on her mother or sister.[5]

Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata (Calcutta).
Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata (Calcutta).
Mother Teresa on Macedonian stamp.
Mother Teresa on Macedonian stamp.

She initially went to the Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland in order to learn English, which was the language nuns used to instruct India's schoolchildren. [6] Arriving in India in 1929, she began her novitiate in Darjeeling, near the Himalayas.[7] She took her first vows as a nun on 24 May 1931, choosing the name Teresa after the patron saint of missionaries.[8] She took her solemn vows on 14 May 1937 after serving as a teacher at the at a Loreto convent school in Calcutta.[9]

The beginning of the Missionaries of Charity

On September 10, 1946 Teresa experienced what she later described as a "the call within the call" while travelling to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling 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 been to break the faith."[10] She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her long, traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border and then venturing out into the slums."[11] Initially she started a school in Motijhil; shortly thereafter, she start tending to the needs of the destitute and starving.[12] Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials, including the Prime Minister, who expressed his appreciation. [13]

Teresa received Vatican permission on October 7, 1950 to start the diocesan congregation which would become the Missionaries of Charity.[14] Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "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." It began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta; today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.

In 1952 Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying in space made available by the City of Calcutta. With the help of Indian officials she converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, a free hospice for the poor. She renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday).[15] She soon opened a home for those suffering from Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, and called the hospice Shanti Nagar (City of Peace). An orphanage followed. The order soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanages, and leper houses all over India. She was one of the first to establish homes for AIDS victims.

Teresa's order started to grow rapidly, with new homes opening throughout the globe. The order's first house outside India was in Venezuela, and others followed in Rome and Tanzania, and eventually in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, including her native Albania.

Global recognition and awards

By the early 1970s, Mother Teresa had become an international celebrity. Her fame can be in large part attributed to the 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God which was filmed by Malcolm Muggeridge and his 1971 book of the same title. During the filming of the documentary, footage taken in poor lighting conditions, particularly the Home for the Dying, was thought unlikely to be of usable quality by the crew. After returning from India, however, the footage was found to be extremely well lit. Muggeridge claimed this was a miracle of "divine light" from Mother Teresa herself.[16] Others in the crew thought it more likely ascribable to a new type of Kodak film.[17] Muggeridge later converted to Catholicism.

President Ronald Reagan presents Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony, 1985.
President Ronald Reagan presents Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony, 1985.

In 1971, Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, commeding her for her work with the poor, display of Christian charity and efforts for peace.[18] Other awards bestowed upon her included a Kennedy Prize (1971), the Balzan prize (1979) for humanity, peace and brotherhood among peoples, the Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975), the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985) and Congressional Gold Medal (1994), honorary citizenship of the United States (November 16, 1996), and honorary degrees from a number of universities. In 1972, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding. Later, in 1980, she received India's highest civian award, the Bharat Ratna, and the British Order of Merit in 1983.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $6,000 funds be given to the poor in Calcutta, stating that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" Her answer was: "Go home and love your family." In the same year, she also received the Balzan prize for promoting peace and brotherhood among the nations.

International charity

In 1982, at the height of the siege in Beirut, the nun rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerillas.[19]

When the walls of Eastern Europe collapsed, she expanded her efforts to communist countries that had previously rejected the Missionaries of Charity, embarking on dozens of projects. She was undeterred by criticism about her firm stand against abortion and divorce stating, "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work."

Mother Teresa travelled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.[20][21][22]

In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her homeland and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania.

By 1996, she was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. Over the years, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity grew from 12 to thousands serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centers around the world. The first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York.

Deteriorating health and death

Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome during 1983, while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989, she received a pacemaker. In 1991, after a battle with pneumonia while in Mexico, she suffered further heart problems.

She offered to resign her position as head of the Missionaries of Charity. However, the nuns of the order, in a secret ballot, voted for her to stay. Mother Teresa agreed to continue her work as head of the order.

In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell and broke her collar bone. In August of that year she suffered from malaria and failure of the left heart ventricle. She underwent heart surgery, but it was clear that her health was declining. On March 13, 1997 she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity and died on September 5, 1997, nine days after her 87th birthday.

The Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D'Souza, said he ordered a priest to perform an exorcism on Mother Teresa with her permission when she was first hospitalized with cardiac problems because he thought she may be under attack by the devil.[23]

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, 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 counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.

Mother Teresa was granted a state funeral by the Indian Government in gratitude for her services to the poor of all religions in India.[24] Her death was mourned in both secular and religious communities. The former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, for example, said: "She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world." Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan said that Mother Teresa was "a rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to our humanity."

Spiritual life

Analyzing her deeds and achievements, John Paul II asked: "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."[25]

In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI mentioned Teresa of Calcutta three times and he also used her life to clarify one of his main points of the encyclical. "In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service."

A Franciscan influence

Although there was no direct connection between Mother Teresa's order and the Franciscan orders, she was known as a great admirer of St. Francis of Assisi.[26] Accordingly, her influence and life show influences of Franciscan spirituality.

Her sisters say the peace prayer of St. Francis every morning before breakfast and many of the vows and emphasis of her ministry are similar.[27] St. Francis emphasized poverty, chastity, obedience and submission to Christ. He also devoted much of his own life to service of the poor, especially lepers in the area where he lived.

Influence in the world

Mother Teresa with Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandrann and J&K Chief Minister Farook Abdullah.
Mother Teresa with Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandrann and J&K Chief Minister Farook Abdullah.

Mother Teresa's work inspired other Catholics to affiliate themselves with her order. The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests,[28] and in 1984 founded with Fr. Joseph Langford the Missionaries of Charity Fathers to combine the beauty of the vocation of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the ministerial priesthood.[29] Today over one million workers worldwide volunteer for the Missionaries of Charity.

During her lifetime and after her death, Mother Teresa was consistently found by Gallup to be the single most widely admired person in the U.S., and in 1999 was ranked as the "most admired person of the 20th century" by a poll in the U.S. Notably, Mother Teresa out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.

Miracle and beatification

Following Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the second step towards possible canonization, or sainthood. This process requires the documentation of a miracle performed from the intercession of Mother Teresa. In 2002, the Vatican recognized as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, following the application of a locket containing Teresa's picture. Monica Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor.

The issue of the alleged miracle proved controversial in India around the time of Mother Teresa's beatification.[30] Teresa was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003 with the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.[31] A second miracle is required for her to proceed to canonization.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Besra's husband initially said that the tumor was cured by medical treatment. He is quoted as saying: "This miracle is a hoax. It is much ado about nothing. My wife was cured by the doctors." He later changed his mind, however, and told an interviewer: "It was her miracle healing that cured my wife. Our situation was terrible and we didn't know what to do. Now my children are being educated with the help of the nuns and I have been able to buy a small piece of land. Everything has changed for the better."[32] According to Monica Besra in TIME Asia,[33] records of her treatment were removed by a member of the order from the hospital and are now with a nun.


The criticism that Mother Teresa faced, especially in non-Christian countries, was that the ultimate goal of her work was to proselytize. The Hindu priests at a Kali temple were unhappy when Mother and the Sisters began their work at Nirmal Hriday in Kalighat close to the temple. Then something happened that brought about a complete change of heart. Mother heard that one of the priests of the temple was dying of an infectious disease and nobody would touch him. She collected his emaciated body in her arms and brought him to her home. The local people asked her to stay. A Hindu priest of the temple said to her with folded hands, "for thirty years I have worshipped the goddess Kali in stone, but today the goddess Mother stands before me alive.

—Joly, Chaliah eds.[34]

Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.

—Mother Teresa[35]


Critics of Mother Teresa, namely Christopher Hitchens, Aroup Chatterjee, and Robin Fox, have argued that her organization provided substandard care, were primarily interested in converting the dying to Catholicism, and used donations for missionary activities elsewhere, rather than being spent on improving the standard of health care. These critics represent a small minority[citation needed] but have voiced strong objections to Mother Teresa's virtue. The Catholic Church has dismissed most of these criticisms[36].

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, wrote that Mother Teresa's own words on poverty proved that "her intention was not to help people", and he alleged that she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. Hitchens was the only witness called by the Vatican to give evidence against Mother Teresa's beatification and canonization process, as the Vatican had abolished the traditional "devil's advocate" role that filled a similar purpose.[37][38]

Hitchens suggested that Mother Teresa used a double standard when she called on people in the Republic of Ireland to vote no against a referendum to legalise divorce, then in an interview with Ladies Home Journal about her friend Princess Diana, said of her marriage: "It is a good thing that it is over. Nobody was happy anyhow". [39]

Mother Teresa made some public statements regarding political leaders that have produced controversy even in Catholic media, including her friendships and connections with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Robin Fox

In 1994, Dr. Robin Fox, then editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, visited the Home for Dying Destitute in Calcutta and described the medical care the patients received as "haphazard".[40] Dr. Fox criticised Teresa, claiming that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, putting curable patients at risk. He observed that the staff re-used hypodermic needles after merely washing, but not sterilizing, them.

Aroup Chatterjee

Aroup Chatterjee stated that none of the eight facilities that the Missionaries of Charity run in Papua New Guinea have residents living there; their sole use is converting people to Catholicism. He also questioned the number of people whom Mother Teresa claims to help at her facilities.


Mother Teresa has garnered criticism for her encouragement of sacramental baptisms being performed on the dying (a majority of whom were Hindus and Muslims), thus converting them to the Catholic faith.[41] In a speech at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, California in January 1992, she said, "Something very beautiful... not one has died without receiving the special ticket for St. Peter, as we call it. We call baptism 'a ticket for St. Peter.' We ask the person, do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused. So 29,000 have died in that one house [in Kalighat] from the time we began in 1952." Critics argue that this attitude is contradictory to the Missionaries of Charity oft-stated principle to help others regardless of religious beliefs.[42]

The Catholic Church's response to criticism

In the process of examining Teresa's suitability for beatification and canonization, the Roman Curia (the Vatican) pored over a great deal of documentation of published and unpublished criticisms against her life and work. Vatican officials say Hitchens' allegations have been investigated by the agency charged with such matters, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and they found no obstacle to Mother Teresa's canonization.[43] Due to the attacks she has received, some Catholic writers have called her a sign of contradiction. [14]


Memorial plaque dedicated to Mother Teresa at a building in Václavské náměstí in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
Memorial plaque dedicated to Mother Teresa at a building in Václavské náměstí in Olomouc, Czech Republic.

Memorial Museum of Mother Teresa

A memorial room (museum) was opened in the Feudal Tower in Skopje, a building in which she used to play as a child. The museum has a significant selection of objects from Mother Teresa's life in Skopje and relics from her later life. In the Memorial room there is a model of her family home, made by the artist Vojo Georgievski.

Next to the Memorial room, there is an area with the image of Mother Teresa and her prayer as well as a memorial park and a fountain.

Memorial plaque where Mother Teresa's home stood

Just at the edge of Skopje's city mall is the place where the house of Mother Teresa used to stand. The memorial plaque was dedicated in March of 1998 and it reads: "On this place was the house where Gondza Bojadziu - Mother Teresa - was born on 26 August 1910". Her message to the world is also inscribed: "The world is not hungry for bread, but for love."

Mother Teresa in Albania

  • The second largest square in Tirana, the largest being Scanderbeg Square, was named after Mother Teresa. A monument of Mother Teresa is also found there.
  • The biggest Civil Hospital in Tirana, was named after her.

Mother Teresa in Kosovo

The main street in Kosovo's capital Pristina is called Mother Teresa Street (Rruga Nëna Terezë).

Honorary degree in India

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ feature on Mother Terea's beatification ceremony, Oct 14, 2003 [1]
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica online edition [2]
  3. ^
  4. ^ Although some sources state that she was 10 when her father died, in an interview with her brother, the Vatican documents her age at the time as "about eight." Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)
  5. ^ USA Today, 5-9-1997 [3]
  6. ^ Clucas, Joan Graff. Mother Teresa, (New York: 1988) pp. 28-29.
  7. ^ Clucas (1988), p. 31.
  8. ^ Clucas (1988), p. 31.
  9. ^ Clucas (1988), p. 32.
  10. ^ Clucas (1988), p. 35.
  11. ^ Clucas (1988), p. 39.
  12. ^ Clucas (1988), pp. 48-49.
  13. ^ Williams, Paul. Mother Teresa, (Alpha Books, 2001) p. 57.
  14. ^ Williams, (2001) p.62.
  15. ^ Sebba, Anne. Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image (Doubleday, 1997) pp. 58-60.
  16. ^ Sebba, (1997) pp. 80-84.
  17. ^ Alpion, Gezmin. Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? (2007: Routledge Press), p. 9
  18. ^ Clucas, (1988) pp. 81-82.
  19. ^ CNN profile on Mother Teresa [4]
  20. ^ "Mother Teresa Laid to Rest After Multi-Faith Tribute". The Washington Post, 9-14-1997 [5]
  21. ^ EWTN profile on Mother Teresa [6]
  22. ^ The Embasy of India in Armenia describes how Mother Teresa journeyed to Armenia in December 1988 following the great earthquake. She and her order established an orphanage. [7]
  23. ^ Archbishop: Mother Teresa underwent exorcism. CNN, September 7, 2001
  24. ^ Houston Chronicle 14-9-1997, p.1 [8]
  26. ^ Mother Teresa of Calcutta Pays Tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. American Catholic [9]
  27. ^ Mother Teresa of Calcutta Pays Tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. American Catholic [10]
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  31. ^ feature on Mother Terea's beatification ceremony, Oct 14, 2003 [11]
  32. ^ Telegraph: News: Medicine cured 'miracle' woman - not Mother Teresa, say doctors. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  33. ^ TIME Asia Magazine: What's Mother Teresa Got to Do with It? -- Oct. 21, 2002. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  34. ^ Joly, Chaliha, eds. "Mother Teresa's Reaching Out in Love: Stores Told by Mother Teresa" Barnes & Noble Books, NewYork 1998: p68.ISBN 0-7607-3372-4
  35. ^ Walker, Jim, Ready, Aim, Inspire!: 101 Quotes on Leadership, pp.48, IUniverse, ISBN 0-59524-884-5
  36. ^ LIVING SAINT: Mother Teresa's fast track to canonization The San Francisco Chronicle. October 12, 2003
  37. ^ Christopher Hitchens, " Less than Miraculous." Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 24 Number 2.
  38. ^ Medicine and books: The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice BMJ 1996;312:64-65 (6 January) [12]
  39. ^ ["Saint to the Rich"], Salon magazine, Sept 5 1997
  40. ^ Fox R., Mother Theresa's care for the dying. Lancet. 1994 Sep 17;344(8925):807-8. [PMID 7818649]
  41. ^ [13] A Life of Selfless Caring. Frontline Magazine, 9-20-1997. Giriraj Kishore, secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Party, was reported as saying that "her first duty was to the Church and social service was incidental." He accused her of conducting "secret baptisms" of the dying and favouring Christians among the poor in rendering succour.
  42. ^ A Life of Selfless Caring. Frontline Magazine, 9-20-1997
  43. ^ LIVING SAINT: Mother Teresa's fast track to canonization The San Francisco Chronicle. October 12, 2003
  44. ^ The Senate of Serampore College (University) was founded by the Serampore trio, Carey, Marshman and Ward. With them began the start of the modern mission movements in India. The Senate was incorporated as a University by a Danish Charter in the year 1829 and later ratified by the Legislature of Bengal in the year 1918

External links


Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


Preceded by
Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity
Succeeded by
Nirmala Joshi