Mother Teresa was born Agnesa Gonxha Bojaxhiu, 1910, as the youngest child of Nilola and Drana in the city of Skoje, present day Macedonia. Influenced by the Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart, she received her First Communion at age 5 and was confirmed at 6. Her father’s death at age 8 created financial challenges for the family. After a pilgrimage when she was 12, she made a decision to spread the word of Jesus’ teachings throughout the world. She left home at age 18 with a strong desire to become a missionary, traveling to Ireland to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto. After receiving the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux, she learned to speak English, and departed for India to be a teacher.
Mother Teresa, whom she later became known as, completed nursing training at the Holy Family Hospital in Patna before moving to Calcutta in 1948. She had a deep yearning, from a young age, to provide service to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. The purpose of her organization was to create a hope of survival to the needy, sick and destitute.
“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” Mother Teresa
An encounter with Mother Teresa as told by Susan Conroy in Mother Teresa’s Lessons of Love and Secrets of Sanity.
“During my first encounters with Mother Teresa…I was struck by her profound humility. I knew that she was world famous and I had imagined that all famous people have a sense of their own greatness, a pride that shows through in their words and manners. There was none of that in Mother Teresa. There was an apparent selflessness in her, a quality that is not easy to find, even in non-famous people. It was as if she was totally unaware of herself, as if she was aware of only God and others. I had never met anyone in my life as humble as Mother Teresa. She was as humble as the poor whom we would lift up out of the gutters. Her humility was strikingly beautiful to me. Mother Teresa embodied so many other qualities as well, qualities that are all too rare in the world today. I wished that I could have brought her home with me, shown her to everyone, and said: “Just look at her!” Her appearance, her spirit, and her presence spoke a thousand words about integrity, about God, about true beauty, about inner strength, about love. Before meeting her, I had held incredibly high expectations and hopes concerning her, and I was not disappointed in the least. The reality was even better than what I had imagined. All that I learned about her and from her had been true-to-life.”
Mother Teresa was tough yet practical, plain yet prayerful, small yet mighty. She felt that God had given, not just her, but each of us the capacity to achieve deeds in the service of others. In her words, “when a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”
She received many awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She founded new healing communities in South Africa, Albania, Cuba, and war torn Iraq. By 1997, her Sisters numbered nearly 4,000 members, and were established in almost 600 foundations in 123 countries of the world. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003 with her canonization approved by Pope Francis, September 2016.
The story of Mother Teresa exemplifies love in action. In her quiet way, she sparked a movement, an example of the difference that can be made by the yearning of one simple soul. She truly became the change she wished to see in the world, and in her sainthood, continues to urge each of us to make a difference in the world. What about you? Are you willing to be a spark to something big?