St Teresa of Calcutta
Celebrated on September 5th
Born in 1910 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 school Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At 18 she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. In 1928 she said goodbye to her mother for the final time . 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 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 neighbours-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. Other helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, 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. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests.
For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor . In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She died on this day in 1997.
Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity.
Speaking at the beatification Mass, Pope John Paul II declared her blessed, prompting waves of applause before the 300,000 pilgrims in St Peter’s Square. In his homily, the Holy Father called Mother Teresa “one of the most relevant personalities of our age” and “an icon of the Good Samaritan.” Her life, he said, was “a bold proclamation of the Gospel.”
Mother Teresa was declared a saint by Pope Francis on 4 September 2016.