Biography of a Global Icon: Mother Teresa – The Compassionate Servant of the Needy
Mother Teresa, also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was a devoted Roman Catholic nun who dedicated her life to serving the impoverished in India. She established the Missionaries of Charity congregation, committing herself to caring for the poor and those suffering from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
Despite her revered status, Mother Teresa faced criticism for her opposition to abortion and the perceived inadequacy of the living conditions in her homes for the sick. Here is a biography of the canonized saint who was declared a saint in 2016.
1. Early Life
Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje (now the capital of North Macedonia) as Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She came from an Albanian-Kosovar family. Her father, Nikola Bojaxhiu, was a known businessman and a supporter of Albanian independence.
During her childhood, she often heard stories about missionaries and their service in Bengal, igniting a sense of commitment to a religious life. Her desire grew stronger after she prayed on August 15, 1928, at the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice Monastery, a place she frequently visited on pilgrimages. At the age of 18, she left home to join the Loreto Sisters in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English for her future missionary work.
2. She Arrived in India
In 1929, she arrived in India, beginning her novitiate (religious training) in Darjeeling, where she learned Bengali and received an education at St. Teresa’s School. At the age of 18, she pronounced her religious vows on May 24, 1931, and chose the name Saint Therese de Lisieux as her patron, known for her devotion to missionaries.
On May 14, 1937, she professed her final vows while serving as a teacher at the Loreto Convent School in Entally, eastern Kolkata. Teresa served there for nearly 20 years and became the school’s headmistress in 1944. Despite enjoying her work, she was deeply troubled by the poverty she witnessed in Kolkata.
3. “Call Within a Call”
On September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa stated that she experienced a “call within a call” that profoundly changed her life. It began when she traveled to the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling for her annual retreat by train. During this journey, she heard a calling from Jesus Christ. Christ instructed her to abandon her role as a teacher and focus on her work in Kolkata to assist the poor and sick.
“That’s the call within the call. To fail would have been to break the faith,” said Mother Teresa. She began her missionary work in 1948, abandoning her traditional religious attire in favor of a simple white sari with blue borders.
Mother Teresa applied for Indian citizenship and took a medical training course at the Holy Family Hospital. She established a school in Motijhil before she began caring for the poor and sick.
4. Assisted by a Group of Young Women
In early 1949, she assist by a group of young women. On October 7, 1950, she received permission from the Vatican to establish the Missionaries of Charity congregation, along with former students and staff from St. Mary’s School.
In her diaries, Mother Teresa wrote about her initial difficulties during the first year when she received no income. She often had to beg for food and medical supplies. She was frequently tempted to return to the comfort of her former convent life.
However, after witnessing the hardships faced by the poor, she expressed gratitude to God and became more resolute in her mission. Her actions began to draw the attention of the Indian government, garnering recognition and support from all over the country, enabling her to expand the congregation.
From the 1950s to the 1960s, she founded leprosy centers, orphanages, child care facilities, and health clinics. In 1963, the Missionaries of Charity Brothers were established, and the Missionaries of Charity Sisters followed 13 years later. In 1971, Mother Teresa visited New York, USA, to inaugurate a foundation based there.