In August of 1910 in a town called Skpje in the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, both of Albanian descent, were blessed with a daughter. The following day the baby was baptized and given the name Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhui. We know her today as Mother Teresa.
When Agnes was eight her father, a construction contractor and trader of medicines, died suddenly and it was speculated that his political enemies may have poisoned him.
The Boxjaxhuis were a devoutly Catholic family and following her father’s death, Agnes became even closer to her mother who instilled in her a deep commitment to charity. Although by no means wealthy, she insisted that their house was always open to all the city’s destitute to dine with them. She told Agnes on many occasions “My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”
Agnes attended a convent-run private school and later a state-run secondary school during which time she sang in a choir and was often asked to sing solos. At the age of 12, on one of the Church’s annual pilgrimages, Agnes felt her first calling to a religious life. Six years later, she decided to become a nun. She left for Ireland where she joined the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin and took the name Sister Mary Teresa.
One year later Sister Mary Teresa headed for Darjeeling, India, and in May of 1931 she made her first Profession of Vows. She then went to Calcutta and taught at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls which was run by the Loreto Sisters. Sister Teresa became dedicated to teaching the girls from the city’s poorest families. She strongly believed that poverty could be alleviated through education.
In 1937, Sister Teresa took her Final Profession of Vows to devote the rest of her life to poverty, chastity and obedience. She then took on the title of “Mother” and thereafter was known as Mother Teresa.
Here are a few interesting facts you may not have known about this incredible woman who was considered one of the 20th Century’s greatest humanitarians:
- She was the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor.
- She taught in India for 17 years
- Her Order established a Hospice, centers for the blind, the aged and the disabled, and she established a leper colony.
- In 1946 Mother Teresa experienced a second calling that would again transform her life. At the time she was riding on a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills for a retreat when she received her “second calling.” She said that Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching and instead work in the slums of Calcutta to aid the city’s poorest and sickest people.
- In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.
- She died in 1997.
- In 2016, she was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta by Pope Francis who the previous year had recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa.
By the time of her death, she had traveled the world and met many of the world’s leaders and Princess Diana, who died shortly before she did. She had spoken at the 40th Anniversary of the United Nations Assembly and had aided children of Christian and Muslim faith in West Beirut, Lebanon.
But Mother Teresa’s work was also criticized by many prominent people who claimed her practices and those of the Missionaries of Charity which she had founded were controversial. Objections were put forward about the quality of her medical care and it was claimed that many deathbed baptisms included forced conversion. She was also linked to colonialism and racism and others claimed that large sums of money were donated personally to her and to the Vatican instead of going to the poor.
Like all prominent people who make a difference in the world, there is always controversy surrounding them, and it is perhaps up to everyone to make their own decisions about what is truth and what is simply speculation.
Personally, I hardly think Mother Teresa could have personally benefited financially from her work because she continued to live in the slums of Calcutta surrounded by poverty until the end of her life.