Born in Uskub, Ottoman Empire (which is today’s Skopje, Republic of Macedonia), Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu became a Catholic nun of both Albanian ethnicity as well as being an Indian citizen. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India and for over 45 years she made it her mission in life to touch the hearts and minds of people all over the worlds as well as minister to sick, poor, orphaned and dying people throughout the world. Her work was so well known and so great that after she passed away, Pope John Paul II beatified her and she was then given the title of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
During the 1970’s, Mother Teresa was known internationally as a humanitarian and became a huge advocate for poor and helpless people all over the world. Her fame rose to an international level after a documentary and a book titled “Something Beautiful for God” released by an author named Malcolm Muggeridge. For her work with humanitarian issues throughout the world, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 as well as India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna in 1980. Thanks to her hard work, her missions expanded throughout 123 countries around the world and operated over 600 different missions. These included hospices, homes for people with HIV/AIDS, homes for those with leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, family and children’s counseling programs, schools, and orphanages.
She began her long journey to becoming one of the most recognized figures in humanitarian aid and issues in 1946 while she was traveling to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling for her annual retreat. She felt that she was called to leave the convent and help the poor while she lived with them. She then began her missionary work in 1948. To do this, she replaced her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari that was decorated with only a blue border, adopted an Indian citizenship, and then ventured out into the slums to help and minister to the poor people that lived among them. She experienced such difficulty throughout her first year, as she wrote in her diary that she had no income, no home, no food, and was forced to beg for food and supplies. She stated how hard things were for her and she had the comfort of God to help her, so she felt even worse for those poor that she was ministering to that did not have that rock in their lives.
In 1950, she gained permission from the Vatican to start the diocesan congregation that would soon become her Missionaries of Charity. The mission was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”. She began with only 13 members whereas today it has over 4,000 nuns operating different missionaries throughout the world. In 1952, she opened her first Home for the Dying in Calcutta. Here, she gained help from Indian officials to convert an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home For The Dying, which was a free hospice for the poor. She ministered to all different religions, from Catholics to Muslims; making sure that everyone felt loved and wanted in their last few hours on Earth.
But it wasn’t just those that were dying that touched Mother Teresa’s heart, she felt the need to create a home for all of the lost children throughout the area and the world. She opened the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and those that were homeless. For her works, she began to receive recruits and donations and by the 1960’s she had opened several different places all over India. It was her love for people and children that caught the hearts of those all over the world, and brought her into dangerous places to rescue children. One of the most known rescues was in 1982, during the height of the Siege of Beirut, where she brokered a temporary cease-fire between both sides so that she could rescue 37 children that were trapped in a front line hospital. With the help of the Red Cross, she traveled through the war torn area to help the young patients to safety.
These types of acts made her an international figure that was loved and known for her good will toward people of all races, religions, and nationalities. Mother Teresa’s quotes and spirit lives on in the many nuns and missions around the world that follow in her footsteps and help to take care of the poor that need help so desperately.