There are only a handful of people in this world who can truly claim that they have changed the world to make it a better place. Mother Teresa is definitely one such personality. In a world where suffering is everywhere, and peace is seldom, she came and provided salvation and indeed became the “Mother” this world needed. But she didn’t manage to become this overnight; rather, it was a long journey that she accomplished over the course of time.
But who was she before she became mother?
In this post, we will look at this fantastic journey.
Autobiography of Mother Teresa
Mother Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu was on 26 August 1910, and she was honored in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. As far as her heredity is concerned, she was an Albanian-Indian and worked as a Roman Catholic nun and missionary. Mother was born in Skopje (now the capital of North Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire. She spent her first 18 years of life in and after that she moved to Ireland and then to India. This is where she lived for most of her life.
She continued her charitable work throughout her life, and in 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic Religious congregation. It had over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries in 2012. This congregation manages houses for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. They also work on soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s and family counseling programs, and on top of that, they manage other things such as orphanages and schools.
For her life’s work, she has won many accolades and awards. Two of the most remarkable ones were the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. After her death, she was canonized on 4 September 2016. Also, the anniversary of her death (5 September) is her feast day. She was a remarkable figure during her life and after her death as well, and she was admired by many for her philanthropic works. Much like many other famous personalities, she was praised and criticized various counts for the views she had. For example, a huge controversy happened due to her views on abortion and contraception. Navin Chawla wrote the authorized biography of this famous personality was, and it was published in 1992. There are several other films and books written on her life.
It is challenging to write an autobiography of such an amazing person in such a short span. But I am trying to trace the formative years of her becoming “Mother”.
Becoming Mother Teresa….
My name was Anjezë Gonxhe (or Gonxha) Bojaxhiu; Anjezë is a cognate of “Agnes”; Gonxhe means “rosebud” or “little flower” in Albanian. I was born on 26 August 1910 into a Kosovar Albanian family in Skopje, Ottoman Empire (now the capital of North Macedonia). I was Baptised in Skopje the day after my birth. Due to this reason, I started considering 27 August, my “true birthday”.
I was the youngest child of my family, and my parents were Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu (Bernai). My father used to be always involved in Albanian-community politics in Ottoman Macedonia; he died in 1919 when I was just eight years old. He was born in Prizren, which is now known as Kosovo); however, my family was from Mirdita, now known as Albania). My mother was from a village near Gjakova.
When I was very little, I used to be very much fascinated by the stories and the lives of missionaries living and serving the needy in Bengal. So when I was 12, I thought that I should follow this holy path as well and I should commit myself to this religious life. I felt a surging power inside my heart and felt my resolve strengthened on 15 August 1928 when I prayed at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice. It was my favorite place to go for pilgrimages.
Due to this and having a firm belief, I had left home in 1928. At that time, I was only 18, and I traveled to Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English with the hope of becoming a missionary. I was aware that English was the language of instruction of the Sisters of Loreto in India. But there was a downside to all this as well. The moment I embarked on this journey, I knew that I would never see neither my mother nor my sister again. They used to live in Skopje until 1934 when they moved to Tirana.
I guess it was in 1929 when I had arrived in India, and I began my novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas. During that time, I also managed to learn Bengali, and I used to teach at St. Teresa’s School near her convent. I had taken my first religious vows on 24 May 1931, and I chose the name of Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. But later, I found out that another nun in the convent had already chosen that name, so I had opted for its Spanish spelling (Teresa).
As days passed, I grew stronger and stronger, and I had taken my solemn vows on 14 May 1937 while I was a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Entally, eastern Calcutta. This is the place where I spent nearly twenty years, and I was appointed its headmistress in 1944. I loved teaching at school, and I wanted to continue doing it, but the poverty and the terrible situation around me gave me a lot of agony during my stay in Calcutta. It was the time when I had witnessed The Bengal famine of 1943, which brought nothing but misery and death to the city, and the August 1946 Direct Action Day began a period of Muslim-Hindu violence. Thousands of people died during that period, which aggrieved me dearly.
So, when I was making a visit to Darjeeling by train, I heard the call of my inner consciences speaking to me. I felt that I should serve the poor by staying with them. This is why I asked permission to leave the school, and they had granted me that. In 1950 I founded ‘Missionaries of Charity’ and thus began my journey to serve humanity with two saris with a blue border.
What I had experienced on 10 September 1946 is something that I had always referred to as “the call within the call”. Around that time, I was traveling by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for my annual retreat. I understood that it was my calling to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. I cannot fail otherwise; it would have been to break the faith. Almost no one knew it at the time that I, Sister Teresa, had just become Mother Teresa.
I started doing my missionary work with the poor in 1948, and I had let go of all my traditional Loreto habits and donned only a simple, white cotton sari with a blue border. This was the time when I had adopted Indian citizenship as well. I had spent several months in Patna to receive basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital, and then I started working in the slums.
I had also founded a school in Motijhil, Kolkata before I started tending to the poor and hungry. Around the beginning of 1949, I was joined in my effort by a group of young women, and that created the foundation for a new religious community helping the “poorest among the poor”.
I knew that my efforts would quickly gain the attention of Indian officials, including the prime minister. But the journey was not easy. I used to beg for food and supplies, and the hardship often made me doubt and long for the comfort of my earlier convent life.
But things changed when On 7 October 1950, I received the Vatican permission for the diocesan congregation. Later, I turned it into the Missionaries of Charity. We vowed to help the needy, the poor, the unloved, and anyone or everyone who feels unwanted in this vast society.
In 1952, I managed to open my first hospice with help from Calcutta officials, and I had used an abandoned Hindu temple to make a shelter for the needy. I had named it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Here, we used to give medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith. For Muslims, we used to read the Quran, the Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction.
On 13 March 1997, Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity, and she died on 5 September. The organization she established has flourished vastly even after her death, and currently, it has over 4,000 sisters operating no less than 610 missions in 123 countries.
Even after so many years of her death, the legacy of Mother Teresa lives on throughout the globe.
You can check our few interesting essays for further study,