IN ROME, Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized Sunday, September 4. Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 and died on September 5, 1997 in Skopje now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia.
After having lived in Macedonia for 18 years, she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life. Thus, Mother Teresa says: “By blood, I am Albanian; by citizenship, an Indian; by faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
Mother Teresa was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries. It was on August 15, 1928, while praying at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, that she decided to commit herself to the Lord. She left home at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto in Rathfarnham, Ireland to learn English, with a view to becoming a missionary.
She arrived in India in 1929, began her novitiate in Darjeeling, near the Himalayan Mountains. She learnt to speak Bengali and taught at St. Teresa's School. She took her first religious vows as a nun there in May 1931. She wanted to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, but since a nun had already chosen that name, she opted for the Spanish spelling of Teresa.
Teresa then served in the Loreto convent in Entally, Eastern Calcutta for almost 20 years and in 1944 was appointed headmistress. She was, however, very disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta.
In 1946, while travelling by train to Calcutta, she heard an inner order. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor and live among them.” A year after, she began her missionary work with the poor.
She replaced her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship.
She spent a few months receiving basic medical training and then ventured out into the slums. She started a school in Motijhil (Calcutta) and soon after, she started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. By 1949, she was joined by a group of young women and laid the foundation of a new religious community helping the “poorest among the poor.”
Teresa received Vatican permission on October of 1950 to start the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, and all who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.
The congregation began with 13 members in Calcutta. Members must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, as well as a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
In 1952, Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying which she later renamed the Home of the Pure Heart. Medical attention was afforded as well as to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith.
“A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels – loved and wanted.”
Mother Teresa soon opened a home for those suffering from Hansen's disease, (leprosy), and called it City of Peace.
In 1955, she opened the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.
Mother Teresa then expanded the congregation throughout the globe. Its first house outside India opened in Venezuela in 1965. Others followed in Rome, Tanzania, and Austria in 1968; during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.
In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital. Mother Teresa travelled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia. In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her homeland and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania.
At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, 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, personal helpers, orphanages and schools. The Missionaries of Charity were also aided by co-workers, who numbered over one million by the 1990s.
In September 1997, Mother Teresa was granted a state funeral by the Indian government in gratitude for her services to the poor of all religions in India. Her death was mourned in both secular and religious communities.
Considered a living saint during her time, with her canonization, brings her to the list of recognized saints. Her legacy lives on. Her quotes are some of the most used and read. She had a gift for putting things simply and yet profoundly. Here are some of my favorites.
“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.” “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” “God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.” “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”