Many people have been celebrated for their works and on top of that list is mother teresa. She is best known for her involvement with charitable organizations, and most people have described her as a humble human being.
Most of the popular aspects most people know about her is that she was a nun and won a Nobel Peace Prize. All this is true, and in the article below, we shall look into her life more personally and reveal some lesser-known details about her.
As with any popular person, some statements have been made about mother teresa. We shall also look at some of these controversies she has been associated with as we seek to determine their validity or lack thereof.
Her Birth and Early Childhood
There is quite a fascination that has existed with this amazing woman, and people have done their research on some details about her life. There are some undisputable facts that we have learnt regarding mother teresa. One is that she was born in the town of Uskup in the Ottoman Empire, known as Skopje Macedonia, on 26th August 1910.
She was of Albanian descent and was the youngest child of Drane and Nikola Bojaxhiu. She came from a Catholic family and was baptized and given her birth name, Agnes Gonxha. She would later be confirmed as per Catholic laws and customs after receiving her First Holy Communion in November 1916, when she was five and a half years old.
Agnes’ father, Nikola, worked as a construction contractor and goods trader, especially in medicine. He was also involved in the politics surrounding Albanian independence and was a devout catholic. He passed on after suffering from an unknown illness when Agnes was eight years old, and this sent the family into financial despair contributing to her humble origins. Drane, the family’s matriarch, was a loving woman who raised her children in the church’s ways, which greatly influenced Agnes. Her mother also planted the seeds of being charitable in her daughter opining that she should never eat a mouthful without sharing with other people especially the less fortunate.
Her Calling To Become A Nun
She attended a local primary school run by nuns and enjoyed signing, which saw her perform many solos in the Sacred Heart choir. The convent school had annual trips to Letnice at the Church of the Black Madonna. Many historic texts state that mother teresa first felt her calling to serve as a nun when she was twelve years old inspired by one of their trips to Letnice. She felt a deep passion to become a missionary and spread the love of Christ as she knew best which was through charity.
This desire did not materialize until she was eighteen, when she joined a community of Irish nuns, Sisters of Loreto. In 1928, she joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dublin, where she was trained as a nun. She completed her training on December 1928 earning the title of Sister Mary Teresa after the saint Therese of Lisieux.
Her Teaching Career
After her training, mother teresa traveled to Calcutta, India, in 1929, where she became a teacher at Saint Mary’s High School. This all-girls school was run by the Loreto Sisters and was a way of eradicating poverty by providing education to impoverished families in Bengali. She taught history and geography and, owing to these interactions, became a fluent speaker of Hindi and Bengali.
In 1931, shortly before she began her teaching career, she took her First Profession of Vows. In 1937, mother teresa made her vow to a life of chastity, obedience, and poverty by taking her Final Profession of Vows to become “a spouse of Jesus for all eternity,” as she opined.
She continued to teach at the girls’ school and became the principal in 1944. She viewed her work as a teacher as a way of guiding the children to Christ. She found great joy in her work; this was the first time people came into contact with her generosity, kindness, zeal for hard work, unselfishness, and commitment to many charitable acts.
Her Other Calling
In any biography of mother teresa you read, you will come across the story that leads to what later became her second calling. As she was on a train ride to an annual retreat in Darjeeling, she felt what can be described as a “call within a call,” where she said that Christ called for her to quit her teaching career for a new path. The new path was not that different from what she was doing, only that now she would work to help the sick and poor in the slums of Calcutta.
This is a calling that she readily accepted; however, there was the vow of obedience she had taken that required her to get official permission before she could leave the convent. This was not an easy fete; it took one and a half years before she got the approval she needed to leave.
In 1948, she left the convent for her new calling in the slums. At this time, she first adorned her famous white and blue sari, which became her distinctive choice of clothing she would be known for till today. One thing we are in awe of about mother teresa is her courage and determination to get the job done. This was seen when she traveled to Patna, where she did basic medical training for six months at Medical Mission Sisters. This would allow her to care for the people she termed unloved, uncared for, and unwanted in society. After lodging at the Little Sisters of the Poor and with only a goal in mind and a strong passion, she went into the slums of Calcutta to begin her mission work.
The Missions and Charities
There is normally an association that makes people believe that being charitable has to be linked with the financial muscle one has. This was not the case for mother teresa because she was not well off when she began her mission.
After finding an old worn down building, mother teresa went to the local government, where she lobbied for them to donate it to her for charity work. They obliged, and the building would be used for caring for the needy and as an open-air school.
In October 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, established in the Archdiocese of Calcutta after the permission of the Holy See. The ministry comprised mainly of pupils and former teachers from her former school, St. Mary’s High school. Her first acts of charity included nursing a woman who had tuberculosis, caring for a sick older man she found on the streets, and washing children’s sores.
For the next ten years after establishing her first society mother teresa would be pivotal in establishing mobile health clinics, a leper colony, a nursing home, and an orphanage. Even as she did these acts of charity to cater to the physical health of those in need, she was still aware of the need to cater to their spiritual health. This conviction led mother teresa to set up the Missionaries of Charity Brothers in 1963.
Pope Paul VI decreed the society as part of the International Religious Family in 1965, which was a nod of praise for its amazing works. She was later involved in a significant capacity in establishing other societies, namely;
- The Contemplative Branch of Sisters (1976)
- The Contemplative Branch of Brothers (1979)
- Missionaries of Charity Fathers (1984)
These are some of the earlier works of mother teresa that set the stage for more to come. While most of her earlier charities were based in India, she opened her first charity house in New York in 1971. Although mother teresa was a devout catholic she viewed her calling as a way to serve everyone regardless of their religious beliefs. This belief drove mother teresa to secretly go to Beirut, where she helped children in East Beirut, which was dominated by Christians, and West Beirut, which Muslims
She initiated more charity houses in Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and other places to reach more underprivileged people. During her speech at the 40th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly in 1985, mother teresa opened, Gifts of Love. This was a charity house that cared for those dealing with substance abuse, shut-ins, and mostly those who have HIV/AIDS.
The people who work worldwide as Missionaries of Charity are referred to as Co-Workers, and on 29th March 1969, they officially became an International Association. They try to emulate and serve just as their founder, mother teresa did.
The Awards, Recognition, and Accolades
The humble beginnings of mother teresa with charitable works in a dilapidated building soon became a global trend. Currently, there are more than six hundred and ten foundations in one hundred and twenty-three countries.
These charities did not go unnoticed, and after the Decree of Praise that was bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI, she was thrust into worldwide recognition. Soon people from all walks of life began to donate and volunteer in the many global charity houses she founded. Her deeds also attracted a lot of media attention, which earned her fame and notoriety.
Some of the awards mother teresa received in her lifetime include;
- Indian Padmashri Award, also known as the Jewel of India in 1962 and is the highest honor ever awarded to an Indian civilian.
- Soviet Union’s Gold Medal by the Soviet Peace Committee.
- Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971
- Nehru Prize in 1972
- The Templeton and Magsaysay awards in 1973
- The Balzan Prize in 1979
- The Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
She received all accolades, awards, and recognition in the name of the poor and for the glory of God.
The Controversies and Criticisms
Many positive and outright good deeds can be found in any biography of mother teresa. However, there have been a few controversies that have been raised about mother teresa. While some do not necessarily have any backing and result from the public’s general feelings, some are rooted in evidence. The controversies and criticisms that have surfaced over the years include;
Perhaps one of her most controversial and widely known controversies was her statement on abortion. In her acceptance speech after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she said the abortion was a destroyer of peace. Her pro-life and anti-contraception views were tied to her religious beliefs as a catholic.
- Hell’s Angel Documentary
She was also heavily criticized in a documentary named Hell’s Angel by atheist Christopher Hitchens. The 1994 documentary was based on the claims by Aroup Chatterjee about the charities and homes she had founded. Aroup had worked as a volunteer in one of these homes, where he stated that he saw a lack of sanitation and medical abuse.
The medical abuse in question was regarding re-using unsterilized needles, encouraging the sick to withstand pain by withholding pain relievers, and giving unboiled water to the people in the homes. The question of how the patients were treated also extended to claims that they were treated inhumanely, where Aroup recounts seeing a boy bound with ropes to a bed. This was viewed as hypocritical because mother teresa was pro-pain relievers when it came to her health.
The documentary also called into question some of the people mother teresa was allied to. Some of the controversial people she was linked to include Ronald Regan, Robert Maxwell, Charles Keating, and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Her association with these people was attributed to her accepting monetary donations for them even though their lives were marred with controversy. For instance, Charles Keating was a scandalous financier, and she received a medal of freedom from Ronald Regan after he ordered the execution of four nuns and the archbishop of San Salvador.
The treatment of the sick at the charity houses was later brought into question by another medical journal, The Lancet. A Canadian study termed the level of care at the homes as dubious, which echoes the claims made by Hitchens that the staff was not medically trained. There was also a lot of claim of misappropriation of funds, which led to the deplorable conditions in which the patients were kept.
Hitchens’s overall opinion in this documentary and his book, The Missionary Position, is that she glorified poverty as a means to her own end and that she was more concerned with the fame brought by her activities rather than catering to the suffering.
In her line of work, mother teresa would eventually be in the presence of a person on their last breath. It is widely claimed that she would baptize the dying with or without their consent.
These debatable claims have been refuted by her supporters and propelled by her critics in almost equal measures.
- Mother Teresa’s Letters
She was known for her faith, and thus it came as a surprise that she has ever felt crisis in her years as a Christian. These letters revealed that she had felt an emptiness and darkness; in other texts, she felt that she lacked faith. These letters were made out to a confidant and were seen as a way of humanizing her, especially in her faith.
Her Death and Path to Sainthood
The woman known for her humanitarian ways had long suffered from lung, kidney, and heart issues and passed on at the age of 87 on 5th September 1997.
According to the Catholic faith, a believer can be declared a saint after performing two miracles that have to be approved by the pope. Pope John Paul II opened her Cause of Canonization in 1999. The Vatican recognized her first miracle in 2002 after Monica Besra claimed in 1998 that she had been cured of an abdominal tumor by praying through mother teresa.
On 19th October 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified her as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Her second approved miracle by Pope Francis was of healing Marcilo Andrino from a brain infection after his wife prayed to mother teresa.
Nineteen years after her death, she became saint mother teresa. Her canonization was led by Pope Francis, who declared her st mother teresa on 4th September 2016 at St.Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
She is best known for her charitable works in caring for the sick and poor, especially in Calcutta.
The humanitarian, st mother teresa won the prestigious award in 1979.
This is the highest honor for an Indian civilian awarded to saint mother teresa for her humanitarian works.