Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was a Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She is known throughout the world for her extensive charity work. In this informational text, Jessica McBirney further explores Mother Teresa’s life and commitment to helping those in need.As you read, take notes on what made Mother Teresa a heroic figure and how she helped those in need.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, more commonly known as Mother Teresa, has become a symbol of charity and peace around the world. She left her home country of Macedonia to serve as a missionary and nurse in Calcutta, India. In 1950, she started The Missionaries of Charity — an organization for the sick and poor that spread to 133 countries over the next fifty years. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in 1979.
Teresa was born in 1910 in a town called Skopje, then part of the Ottoman Empire, today the capital city of Macedonia. She always loved to hear stories about missionaries working to help people in different countries around the world. She was active in the Catholic church for her whole life, and when she was 18 years old she moved to an Abbey in Ireland to learn English and train to be a missionary.
Moving to India
Mother Teresa’s given name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu; she picked the name Teresa for herself after she moved to India in 1929. She completed her training as a nun while teaching at St. Teresa’s school, which was near her convent. When she took her religious vows in 1931, she chose to be named after Therese de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries.Q1
She later moved to Calcutta, India, to teach at the Loreto Convent school. She enjoyed the job but was often disturbed by the suffering and violence she saw in the streets of Calcutta. She wondered what she could do to help.
Missionaries of Charity
The answer came on September 10, 1946, as she rode the train to her old convent in Darjeeling. She felt what she later called “the call within the call” — the call to live among Calcutta’s poor and dedicate her life to serving them.
Teresa traded in her nun’s habit for a simpler Indian sari and became an Indian citizen. She then underwent several months of medical training at a local hospital. In 1949, she and a group of other young women established themselves on the streets of Calcutta as a group committed to serving “the poorest of the poor.”
Although her ministry proved to be extremely difficult in the first few years, the Catholic church granted her some financial support, and her charity became more famous. It gained its official title, The Missionaries of Charity, in 1950, and it continued to grow from there.
Mother Teresa was able to help the poor and sick in Calcutta in many different ways. She opened hospice locations, so even the poor of the city could “die like angels — loved and wanted.” She gave medical care to people with leprosy. She also opened orphanages for the many homeless children who lived on the streets.Q2
As more people learned about the Missionaries of Charity, the organization earned more donations and was able to expand across the globe. During the 1960s and 70s, Mother Teresa founded new branches and partner organizations (such as the Missionaries of Charity Brothers) in Venezuela, Italy, Tanzania, Austria, and more. The groups continued to grow, and by 2007 they had over 5,000 members helping others around the world.
Mother Teresa sometimes traveled to different parts of the world in crisis situations. In 1982, she traveled to Beirut, where she negotiated a temporary peace treaty in order to save a group of 37 children trapped on the front lines of fighting. Later, she personally traveled to Eastern Europe in order to start Missionaries of Charity branches in several unwelcoming Communist countries. She also helped victims of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and the victims of a devastating earthquake that occurred in Armenia.Q3
Death and Legacy
Mother Teresa continued to do charity work even after she began having health problems in 1983. After many years of complications, she retired from the Missionaries of Charity in March of 1997; she died only six months later.
Mother Teresa received much praise during her life and after her death as well. She received several awards from the Indian government, and in some areas of the country she is worshipped as a goddess. The Indian government also minted a special coin to commemorate her 100th birthday. Beyond India, she received awards from countries around the world, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States. She received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The Catholic Church named her a saint after her death.
Not everyone has a positive opinion of Mother Teresa, however. Some activists in India criticized Teresa for glorifying poverty and suffering instead of trying to end it once and for all. Others questioned her hospitals’ practices, stating that the nuns were not always attentive and often used unhygienic equipment. Still others did not appreciate her religious beliefs, which she talked about frequently, or her conservative social views.
Despite her somewhat controversial legacy, Mother Teresa is generally praised as a symbol of charity for the rest of the world to look up to. Beginning on September 5, 2013, the anniversary of her death has been named the International Day of Charity, encouraging everyone to walk in her footsteps and help others in need.Q4
- a person sent on a religious mission, especially one to promote Christianity in a foreign country x
- a building where a community of monks or nuns live x
- a community of people devoted to religious life x
- the protecting or guiding saint of a person or place x
- a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious group x
- a woman’s garment, consisting of a long piece of cotton or silk wrapped around the body x
- a home providing care for the sick x
- Leprosy is the common name for a variety of skin conditions that usually cause people to be shunned by society. x
- to produce for the first time x
- not clean x