WELCOME TO MTCT
Mother Teresa Charitable Trust Mother Teresa (MTCT) is a Social Welfare Organization striving
for the upliftment of the poor, down trodden, and under privileged in the society irrespective of
caste, creed or religion in the footsteps of the great Mother Teresa!
Mother Teresa Charitable Trust (MTCT) ‘s history starts with the story of compassion. The mammoth crowd that followed the adieu procession of the legend Mother Teresa, Dr.G.K.Dhas, a kind hearted social activist took up the challenge of being and working for the poor . From this simple, yet heart breaking incident, brought the determination that, to take the mantle of Mother Teresa, that “Service to Mankind is Service to God”. The inspiration which helped to create “ Mother Teresa Charitable Trust “ is being carried out all these years. We took the initiative with the vision that “No one shall be deprived of the basic needs”. The overwhelming response from the general public is the impetus for the growth of Mother Teresa Charitable Trust. Now Mother Teresa Charitable Trust functions as a social relief NGO striving for the upliftment of poor, sick, downtrodden and the under privileged. The vision of the Mother Teresa Charitable Trust is to spread the ideals of Mother Teresa and motivate the younger generation to render service to the less fortunate. Its sub unit “Mother Teresa Forum” enrolls members and forms committees at national state, district, taluk and village levels. Mother Teresa Charitable Trust serves with the motto of “Service to Humanity“. With the partnership of Government & various State governments, as well as the generosity of thousands of our supporters, we have grown from a small endeavor to a mammoth force that stretches across the wide chemesphere . All these years MTCT serve the under privileged and the needy to transform a vision into a reality. Our fight will continue till the last breath of a suffering mass.
Services in USA Kindly View www.motherteresa.us
Dr.G.K.Dhas - Founder & Managing Trustee:
Mr. A.Xavier - Trustee:
Dr. C.Vijayakumar - Trustee:
Mr.B.V.Selvaraj IAS (Rtd) - Trustee:
Dr.Ruby.R.Manoharan - Trustee:
ABOUT MOTHER TERESA
The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.
LIFE AND LIVING
Quick Facts about Mother Teresa1910 On August 26, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu is born in Skopje.
1928 Bojaxhiu left Skopje to enter the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland.
1929 Sister Teresa entered the Loreto Novitiate in Darjeeling, India.
1931 Sister Teresa began teaching at St. Mary's High School in Calcutta.
1937 Sister Teresa makes her final vows to the Church and hence forth known as Mother Teresa.
1946 Mother Teresa received a call, which was to give rise to Missionaries of charity family.
1950 the congregation, Missionaries of charity sisters was officially erected.
1962 Mother Teresa received her first of several honours the Padmashree Award from the President of India.
1971 Mother Teresa received the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and John J.Kennedy International Award.
1971 Prize of the Good Samatiran, Boston.
1972 for her promotion of international, understanding she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award.
1972 Koruna Dut, angel of charity, from the President of India.
1973 Templeton Prize.
1974 Mater at Magistra.
1975 Albert Schweitzer International Prize.
1977 Honarary PHD in Theology (Doctor Honorius Causa in Theology), University of Cambridge, England.
1979 Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize.
1980 Mother Teresa was honoured “Bharat Ratna” India's highest civilian honour.
1982 She was given an honorary doctorate in Theology from Catholic University of Brussels, Belgium.
1985 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
1996 Mother Teresa became a honorary citizen of the United States and was honoured with the United States congressional Gold medal in 1997.
Mother Teresa left this world on September 5th, 1997, in Calcutta in India.
2003, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II beautified Mother Teresa in St.Peter’s square.
Mother Teresa - "The Angel of Mercy"Mother Teresa “The Angel of Mercy “was born in Albania (now Macedonia) on 26th August 1910. Her original name was Agnes Gonxa Bojaxhiu.
At the age of 18, moved by a desire to become a missionary, Gonxha left her home in 1928 to join the institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland.
One year later, she was sent to India to the Novitiate of the Sisters of Loreto in Darjeeling. On 6th January 1929 she arrived Calcutta and was assigned to the Loreto Entally community in Calcutta and taught at St.Mary’s School for Girls. Mother Teresa’s twenty years in Loreto were filled with genuine happiness.
On Sep.1946 during a train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, she was moved by an inner call that revealed her the pains and sorrows of the neglected poor on the streets and slums of Calcutta city. Thus was born the “Missionaries of Charity Sisters” dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor.
As support and assistances mushroomed more and more services became possible to huge number of suffering people. Homes for the dying, refugee camps, teaching of orphans, accommodating abandoned children, treatment centers and hospitals for those suffering from leprosy, centers for alcoholics, the aged and the street people, etc the list is endless.
Mother Teresa received her first honor in 1962 with the “Padmashree Award”. Seventeen years later, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1979. In the year 1980 the Indian Government conferred the highest civilian honor” “Bharat Ratna“on Mother Teresa. (Jewel of India)
She sacrificed her entire life for the cause of the downtrodden, underprivileged, diseased and the needy in the society. She also symbolizes dedication and total service and she is a role model to the future generations of the entire world. She saw the face of God in each and every suffering mass.
Mother Teresa loved the poor and served them and was the embodiment of peace and affection. She rendered wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor and her faith, selflessness and practical service was able to move mountains of insensitive and uncaring people around the world.
The angel of mercy spread love and compassion throughout the world and brought relief to the poorest of the poor. She was a burning and shining light in the dark hearts of the poor and was a unique personality. Mother Teresa was an outstanding humanitarian who devoted her life to care for the children, the destitute, the poor, the sick and the dying and she was the symbol of hope to them.
On 5th September 1997 at the age of 87 the world's compassionate servant passed away, "Heaven had gained another star", The entire humanity genuinely mourned the loss of the Angel of mercy. Mother Teresa's life and living was really an inspiration for many and she is a living witness in Human History.
Mother Teresa Charitable Trust (MTCT) and its unit Mother Teresa Forum (MTF) has been carrying out the activities of serving the poor and downtrodden in the society, the torch of service left by the “Angel of Mercy ”.
MOTHER TERESA -THE LORETO SISTERSAs the train pulled away from the Zagreb station on its way to Paris, Gonxha must have thought about the consequences of her decision. Not only was she leaving her family and friends, she was also leaving the only home she had ever known. If the Loreto Sisters accepted her application, it would mean lifetime separation from her family and her country. She could probably never even visit her homeland again.
The chances of her family visiting her were equally remote; travel was expensive and there would be little opportunity for her mother, brother, or sister to come to India. Whether she felt sad and lonely as the train rolled on toward Paris, Gonxha knew that she had made the right choice. Her life belonged to God. When first approached about the possibility of sending nuns to India to staff the girl’s school, Mother Teresa gently but firmly refused. There were too many children in Ireland in need of assistance. There was also a shortage of nuns. Her German visitor countered that in refusing to send members of her order to India.
The case went before the entire community; they would decide whether to accept the mission to India. In the end, seven sisters decided to go to India, marking the beginning of Loreto missionary work there. On August 23, 1841, the seven, accompanied by two priests and six postulants, or novice nuns, set sail. Almost four months later, they disembarked in Calcutta. The little band took possession of the house at 5 Middleton Row, where they were to live and teach. The sisters prepared the once lavishly furnished house into simpler living quarters and classrooms. The 67-foot dining room became the school hall.
The sisters then traveled to the local orphanage near the cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary to meet the church officials and the children. Finally, on January 10, 1842, the Loreto School opened its doors to boarders and day students.
The initial reports that Mother Teresa received from India were enthusiastic. Streams of volunteers now offered to go to India to aid the Loreto Sisters of Calcutta. In spite of a number of nuns dying of cholera, the flow of volunteers did not stop. It was this pioneering and courageous group of teachers that Gonxha Bojaxhiu soon hoped to join.
On December 1, 1928, the two women Gonxha and Betika set sail for India. Upon their arrival there, the two would begin their novitiate, which is the period of study and prayer which every nun takes before her final vows. The sea voyage proved long and arduous, winding its way Suez Canal, then the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and finally the Bay of Bengal.
On January 6, 1929, the ship arrived at Calcutta. But at this point, Gonxha had little chance to become acquainted with her surroundings. After just a few days, on January 16, she was sent to the Loreto Novitiate located in Darjeeling, a fashionable hill resort about 400 miles north of Calcutta.
LIFE IN THE LORETO CONVENTLife at the Loreto Convent for Gonxha Bojaxhiu was disciplined and rigorous. Entering a Catholic convent during the early twentieth century was like being plunged into another world, one that was isolated and relatively contained for the next two years, dressed in the black habit and veil of the order, Gonxha kept up with her English studies as well as learning the Bengali language. Under the watchful eye of the novice mistress, who oversaw the novitiates’ training, the young woman went weekly to confession.
Dinnertime was spent listening to one of the sisters reading about the lives of the saints, or from the rules of Loreto. Every day from 9 to 11, Gonxha and the other novitiates taught at St. Teresa’s School, a one-room schoolhouse affiliated with the convent. Here 20 small boys and girls met to receive instruction. She quickly earned a reputation for being hard working, cheerful, and charitable in her dealings with others. On March 24, 1931, Gonxha Bojaxhiu took her first vows—a lifetime promise to chastity, poverty, and obedience to God as a sister of Loreto.
At this time, Gonxha chose a new name Teresa for herself to symbolize her new life with God. For the sisters in the Loreto Convent, however, the new Teresa soon had a nickname that further distinguished her: Bengali Teresa, an acknowledgment of her ability to speak the language so well.
BENGALI TERESAGonxha Bojaxhiu, now called Sister Teresa, took the train from Darjeeling to Calcutta. There, she was to begin teaching at St. Mary’s School, located in the eastern district of Calcutta. It was to be her place of residence and work for the next 17 years.
During the 1920s, the contrast between the cities of Darjeeling and Calcutta was startling. In Darjeeling, one breathed clear mountain air, and a walk in a flower filled meadow was not far away. But the city of Calcutta teemed with humanity, overcrowded and spilling into the streets and alleys throughout. It was on one hand a city enriched by the culture and arts of India; on the other, it was a cesspool of human misery and degradation.
MOTHER THERESA - ST. MARY’S SCHOOLThe school was hidden from the everyday world by high gray walls and tall iron gates. Upon passing through the entrance gates, one came upon a complex of buildings with playing fields and well-tended lawns. The campus comprised several buildings of varying architectural styles. Besides an administrative building and smaller gray classroom building was St. Mary’s School. There were also quarters for the nuns and for those students who boarded at the school, mostly orphans, girls from broken homes, and children with only one parent. The school had already established a reputation for itself. Established in 1841, as one of the six Loreto schools in Calcutta, the Calcutta school in Entally educated orphans, the sons and daughters of the affluent and foreign families living in the city. All children wore the same uniform; there was no distinction by the sisters of the rich from the poor, the European from the Indian, Catholic from non-Catholic.
Mother Teresa taught history and geography. She also became more comfortable in her use of the Bengali language as St. Mary’s classes were taught in both English and Bengali. She soon added another language, Hindi.
She also found solace and comfort through the happiness and gratitude of her young charges. Merely placing a hand on a dirty forehead or holding the hand of a small child brought her great joy. Many of the children took to calling her “Ma” which meant “Mother,” a term that she treasured. Former students remember Sister Teresa as an engaging teacher. When teaching Sunday School catechism lessons, she often told stories of her own childhood in Skopje. Her geography classes were exciting; many students believed that she made the world come alive for them in a way not seen or felt before.
Self discipline was essential if one was to accomplish everything in a timely fashion. Failure to do so indicated an inability to stay within the order. Throughout her time at the school, Sister Teresa showed herself to be a pious but not overly demonstrative woman. She was charitable and did not tolerate unkindness from anyone, whether a child or an adult.
She was, by all appearances, an ordinary nun, carrying out her religious duties. Neither was she particularly intelligent: her education at best was adequate. Some at the convent remember her more for her inability to light the candles at the Benediction service. As one sister who lived with her during this period recalled, “She was very ordinary. We just looked upon her as one of our sisters who was very devoted and dedicated.”
Working with Father Julien Henry, a Belgian Jesuit priest, Sister Teresa participated in the meetings, prayers, and study club sponsored by the group. On the other side of the convent wall was the slum area (bustee) known as Motijihl, or Pearl Lake, named for a discolored sumpwater pond located in the center of the area. It was from this pond that the residents drew their drinking, cooking, and washing water. Surrounding the pond were the wretched, mud-floor huts of the poor who lived in the neighborhood. It was an area desperately in need of comfort. For Father Henry, this was an opportunity to teach the older girls of St. Mary’s about works of service. Every day during the school week, the priest met with the girls whose ages ranged from the early teens to their early twenties.
On Saturday, the girls left the walls of their compound and ventured into Motijihl in groups to visit with these families, often bearing small items for the children of the poor. Other groups traveled to the Nilratan Sarkar Hospital to visit the sick, where they comforted family members or wrote letters for those unable to do so. Although Sister Teresa took great stock in the efforts of her students, she could not join them because of the rule of enclosure practiced by the Loreto nuns. But perhaps the most important outcome of these efforts was the indirect link forged between the poor of Calcutta and Sister Teresa.
On May 24, 1937, Sister Teresa traveled to Darjeeling to take her final vows. During the ceremony, Teresa solemnly committed herself to the Loreto Sisters and to a lifetime of poverty, chastity, and obedience in service to the Lord. Upon her return to Calcutta, she once again plunged into her busy days and teaching, much to the delight of several young children who feared that she had gone away for good. Nothing had changed, save Sister Teresa’s name. She was now to be addressed as Mother Teresa, the name she would go by for the rest of her life. At the age of 27, her destiny seemed to be fulfilled. At the same time, India was in the midst of trying to fulfill its own destiny.
Inspiration Day was a turning point in the life for Mother Teresa. But there have been accounts of her life that have made erroneous connections between her desire to leave Loreto and her calling on the train to Darjeeling. One popular story stated that the killings and carnage she viewed during the August 19 6 riots were the sole inspiration for her leaving. Another account stated that she could view the slums of Calcutta from her bedroom window, which led to her decision. Mother Teresa was no stranger to the poverty in Calcutta. She had seen it firsthand upon her arrival as a novitiate and later as a teacher instructing the children of the poor. But until her train ride to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa firmly believed that she was carrying out God’s plan for her life and that she would best serve God as a nun living in Loreto. That was now all about to change.
THE FIRST STEPAs Mother Teresa recalled “The message was clear, I knew where I belonged, but I did not know how to get there.” On her return from Darjeeling, she immediately sought out Father Van Exem, her adviser showing him two sheets of paper on which she had written down her plans.
He found the key ingredients as to what she was supposed to do: she was to leave Loreto, but she was to keep her vows. She was to start a new congregation or order of nuns, who would work for the poor in the slums. Years later, Father Van Exem stated that he believed her new vocation was just as true as her decision to leave Skopje and become a nun in leaving her mother. Now she was fully prepared to make a second decision, leaving the safe confines of the convent at Loreto and venturing out into the streets of Calcutta to work with the poor.
Leaving the convent was not easy for Mother Teresa. It was, she admitted years later, the most difficult thing she had ever done, even harder than leaving her family and homeland. Besides the emotional turmoil, she still needed permission to leave.
A RELUCTANT APPROVALIn Calcutta, the order of the Daughters of St. Anne, with whom Mother Teresa had worked while at the Loreto School, already ministered among the poor. They also dressed in Indian style, slept in a dormitory, ate simple food, and spoke Bengali. The archbishop asked Mother Teresa if she could work with the Daughters of St. Anne. Mother Teresa did not think so. What Mother Teresa was proposing was quite different. Her congregation wanted to be more mobile; they would visit the poor where needed. And she did not want just to work among the poor; she made it clear that she intended to work among the “poorest of the poor.
She also wanted to start from scratch and train her novices in her own way. An entire year passed before the archbishop was satisfied with the information he had received. Only then he gave permission to Mother Teresa to write to the mother general of the Loreto Sisters, asking for permission to be released from the order. Having to leave the Loreto Order was a severe disappointment, but she was to trust God fully and send the letter. With a heavy heart, Mother Teresa posted the letter to the mother general in Rathfarnham in early January 1948. Less than a month later, she had her reply:
“Since this is manifestly the will of God, I hereby give you permission to write to the Congregation in Rome. Do not speak to the Provincial. Do not speak to your Superiors. Speak to nobody. I did not speak to my own counselors. My consent is sufficient”.
Mother Teresa and Father Van Exem were overjoyed with the response. Mother Teresa now wrote another letter, this time to the office of the Vatican in Rome. Finally in February 1948, she sent the letter to Rome. In addition to Mother Teresa’s request, Archbishop Périer also included a letter that outlined her life and service in Calcutta.
Weeks and then months went by with no response from Rome. Finally in July 1948,. Rome had granted Mother Teresa’s request for exclaustration. She would be allowed to remain a member of the Loreto Order and work outside of the convent. It was a wonderful victory for Mother. There was, however, one condition: Mother Teresa would remain outside the cloister for a year, at which time, the archbishop would review her progress and decide whether she would return to the convent.
On Sunday, August 8, 1948, Father Van Exem told her that he had received news from Rome. According to his account, Mother Teresa turned pale and requested to go to the chapel to pray. When she returned, he gave her the good news: not only did Rome agree to her request to leave the convent, but also that she continue her life as a Loreto Sister. She then signed three copies of the permission: one for Rome, one for the archbishop, and one for herself. She then asked, “Can I go to the slums now?”
AN EMOTIONAL DEPARTUREDespite Mother Teresa’s willingness to leave immediately to begin her work, there was still much to be done to prepare for her departure. First, she needed to inform the convent that she was leaving. Archbishop Périer had feared a shocked reaction from the sisters. His fears were justified. When the decree was made public, the mother superior took to her bed for a week. Another sister wept uncontrollably; many were shocked at the announcement or mystified as to why one of their own, particularly one who seemed happy in her surroundings, would want to leave the convent.
Those close to Mother Teresa worried about her health and whether she could sustain a rigorous life on the Calcutta streets. A notice posted on a Loreto blackboard requested the sisters not to criticize or praise Mother Teresa, but pray for her and her decision.
In preparation for her departure from the convent, Mother Teresa purchased three saris from a local bazaar. Each one was white with three blue stripes; this simple garment would become the distinctive habit of her new order. The fabric was the cheapest available at the time, and was of the kind usually worn by poor Bengali women. The blue stripes held a special meaning for Mother Teresa, as the color is usually associated with the Virgin Mary. Father Van Exem later blessed the garments, along with a small cross and rosary, which had been placed on each garment in the St.Mary’s chapel. Mother Teresa needed to write a letter to her mother, explaining all that had happened. She believed that if her spiritual advisor also wrote the letter, that would settle any fears or worries her mother might have about her daughter’s decision to leave Loreto.
Father Van Exem suggested that Mother Teresa take some medical training. Working in the slums, there would be plenty of opportunity to offer medical assistance. She agreed and decided to go to Patna in the state of Bihar where she would receive training from the Medical Mission Sisters at their hospital. Archbishop Périer supported the decision and Sister Stephanie Ingendaa, the mother superior at the hospital, warmly agreed to the request to help Mother Teresa in whatever way the sisters could. On August 16, a week after learning of the Vatican’s decision, Mother Teresa changed her clothes. The long black habit, with its floor-length skirt, the white coif, and black veil were laid aside.
She now wore her new religious habit, a symbolic breaking with the religious uniform she had worn for the past two decades. Even though many of her former pupils wished to see their teacher in a sari, her leaving was a solitary affair. That evening, she left the convent grounds in a taxi as quietly as she had come almost 20 years before. In her pocket, she carried five rupees and a ticket to Patna.
A NEW BEGINNINGOn August 17, Mother Teresa arrived at Patna, an old city located on the banks of the Ganges River. Sister Stephanie was there waiting to welcome her. They went together to the Holy Family Hospital, where Mother Teresa would spend the next few months receiving her medical training.
The hospital was staffed by nuns who were doctors, mainly gynecologists, obstetricians, and surgeons. Other nuns served as nurses, laboratory technicians, and nutritionists. The hospital also housed a nursing school that many Indian girls attended. Many of the sisters realized that she was in a period of transition, and while Mother Teresa knew what she was to do, she was still unclear about how she was to carry out her calling. In the meantime, the Medical Mission Sisters tried to make her feel at home and helped prepare her for the grueling work ahead. Now, instead of lecturing students, Mother Teresa’s days were filled with new experiences; she never knew what to expect from one day to the next. Whenever there was a new admission, an impending birth- or operation, Mother Teresa was summoned at the same time as a doctor was.
This experience not only gave Mother Teresa an opportunity to practice her Hindi, in which she was not very fluent, but to become acquainted with expectant mothers, fatal accidents, ill and abandoned children, and death on the operating table. She also learned to tend to patients ill and dying with cholera or smallpox. One nun remembered that, no matter what the calamity, Mother Teresa remained unfazed by it, maintaining her focus on the patient. She could always be counted on to hold a dying patient’s hand, to comfort a small child frightened by the hospital, or to cradle a newborn infant in her arms. She learned how to do many simple medical procedures such as making a hospital bed, giving injections, and administering medicines.
She helped to assist in delivering babies, something in which she took special delight. Working with the nutritionists, Mother Teresa learned about the importance of a healthy diet, hygiene, and adequate rest. This knowledge was key to carrying out her work in the slums. As Mother Teresa came to know many of the poor families of the area, she attended weddings, feasts, and funerals, slowly entering their world and becoming one of them.
BUILDING A FOUNDATIONDuring the evenings when not working at the hospital, Mother Teresa discussed her plans with many members of the Medical Mission Sisters. She welcomed ideas, practical suggestions, and criticism from others about how she should best implement her plans. One thing became clear: if Mother Teresa’s proposed order wanted to work with the poor, they would have to commit themselves to working only for the poor.Out of these discussions became the foundation for Mother Teresa’s congregation-”Missionaries of Charity”.
Mother Teresa completed her four months of medical training at the Medical Mission Sisters Hospital, Pune and returned to Calcutta. On her return to the Archbishop found a place for her to live with the Little Sisters of the Poor. She arrived at the St. Joseph’s Home for the elderly, located at 2, Lower Circular Road, Calcutta on December 9, 1948. The St. Joseph’s Home proved to be a good choice for Mother Teresa. She also spent part of her time during those first days at the convent helping the sisters who care for the aged patients.
Remarking that she had no idea how she was going to proceed or where she would even begin, Mother Teresa nonetheless remained confident that God would direct her. And with that thought, she made her way back to Calcutta to undertake her life’s work. Although Calcutta had the third highest per-capita income in India, it was a vast sea of suffering and despair. The streets, where people were born and died , were crowded with beggars and lepers, together with a host of refugees from the countryside who had never known a home. Unwanted infants were regularly abandoned and left to die in clinics, on the streets, or in garbage bins. There were thousands of pavement dwellers within the city itself, 44 percent of the city did not have sewers. It was into this sea of misery that Mother Teresa now came.
MOTIJIHLOn December 21, 1948, Mother Teresa left her small room on the first floor near the gate of St. Joseph’s and went to mass. After breakfast, she left the convent grounds and boarded a bus bound for Mauli Ali to begin her work. She was dressed in her white sari, but she wore it not as a poor Bengali woman but instead wrapped around her head covering a tiny cotton cap. Completing her habit was a small black crucifix, attached to her left shoulder by a safety pin. Under her rough leather sandals, a gift from the Patna sisters, she wore no stockings. With a meager lunch in a small packet she entered the world of the Calcutta slums.
Her first stop was in the slum of Motijihl, which means “Pearl Lake”. While there was no lake, there was a large brackish sump in the center of the neighborhood that provided the area’s residents with water. Raw sewage fl owed into open drains and garbage lay piled on the streets. The slum’s residents lived in small hovels with dirt floors. There was no school, no hospital, and no dispensary. Motijihl was already a familiar place for Mother Teresa. So she personally visited with as many families as she could and told them she had permission to start a school right in the area. As a result, several parents promised to send their children to her the next morning.
BEGINNING RIGHT ON THE GROUNDThe next morning, Mother Teresa was back in Motijihl and was happy to see several children waiting for her on the steps of a railway bridge Mother Teresa that led down into the slum. In trying to find a spot where they could meet, Mother Teresa noticed that the only open area was a tree near the sump. With no blackboard, chalk, books, or desks, Mother Teresa took a stick and used it to write in the mud. As the children squatted and watched, she traced the letters of the Bengali alphabet with the stick. Mother Teresa had made a start, or as she would later describe it, beginning “right on the ground,” which became one of the defining concepts of the constitution of the Missionaries of Charity.
Soon the number of pupils attending classes multiplied as word spread that a school had been started in Motijihl. In time, the sounds of children reciting the alphabet competed with the other everyday noises of the slum. When morning lessons were finished, Mother Teresa looked for someplace to eat her small lunch, seeking out a quiet spot where she could find drinking water. Once, when she stopped at a local convent to ask if she could come inside to take her meal, the nuns, thinking Mother Teresa was a beggar, refused. Instead, they directed her to the back to eat under the stairs where the other beggars ate. In later years, she would never mention the name of the convent that had turned her away. Mother Teresa became a familiar, if strange, sight on the Calcutta streets: many watched as the lone woman, dressed like a poor Indian, spent her time visiting the alleyways and mean streets of the slums.
A small part of this fascinating record survives with the pages of her first days working in Motijihl, especially with the children. Children who were dirty were given a bath. After lessons in hygiene and reading, she helped the children learn their catechism. She noted especially the joy the children gave her, remembering how she laughed when teaching them. Attending to one poor man who had a gangrenous thumb, Mother Teresa realized that the thumb would have to be amputated. Saying a prayer and taking a pair of scissors, she snipped it off. Her patient then fainted in one direction and she in the other. She often gave her bus fare away to those who needed it more and, instead, walked home.
THE DARK NIGHTIn spite of the tremendous loneliness that Mother Teresa felt, she made her way through the slums of Calcutta. In those first months, her faith in God was absolute, and so she kept up her work, despite the exhaustion and pain she felt at the end of the day.
Since winning independence from the Great Britain, India had been divided into two nations: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Many Hindus seeking jobs flooded the streets of an already-overcrowded Calcutta. Most ended up in the streets, and with a growing shortage of food and water, many were plunged into unrelenting poverty.
As people heard of what she was doing, they came forth with money, supplies, time, and favors. The bus driver who drove the route to St. Joseph’s made her sit in a seat next to him so that she would not have to make the hour-long walk back to St.Joseph’s. A former teacher at St. Mary’s came to help her teach classes. Mother Teresa went to a priest who was so delighted with what she had accomplished, that he presented her with a gift of 100 rupees to help carry on her work. It was a princely sum that allowed Mother Teresa to rent two small huts in Motijihl for five rupees each. One hut served as a school where the students met for class and where they were given milk at lunchtime and free bars of soap as prizes.
The infectious enthusiasm of the children spread throughout the community. Here and there, people came forward with small gifts for the school: a stool, an odd table, even books and slates appeared. By January 4, 1949, less than two weeks after she first set out, Mother Teresa had a schoolhouse, over 50 students, and three teachers to help her. Not only were the children learning their alphabet and numbers, but classes in needlework were offered for the young girls as well as the continuing emphasis on teaching the children hygiene and catechism. The school was soon formally blessed. It was one of Mother Teresa’s greatest successes.
The other hut on the premises was used for a more solemn purpose: caring for the ill and dying poor, a place where Mother Teresa offered comfort, solace and above all, dignity to those who had no home and no hope. Her reasons for creating the small hostel arose out of one of her many experiences in dealing with the poorest of the poor. One day, Mother Teresa saw a woman dying on the street beside a hospital. She picked the woman up and took her to the hospital but was refused admission because the woman had no money. The woman later died on the street. Mother Teresa then realized that she must make a home for the dying. She later wrote of this period as the “dark night of the birth” of her order, the Missionaries of Charity.
CREEK LANENow Mother Teresa decided that it was time for her to have a place of her own where she could start her work and no longer impose on the Little Sisters of the Poor. But Mother Teresa’s first efforts to find affordable housing met with little success. Father Van Exem finally stepped in. He spoke to a member of a Bengali Catholic family, Albert Gomes, who, along with his brothers, owned a sizeable property at 14, Creek Lane in East Calcutta. One brother, Michael Gomes, lived in the house with his family. Finally an agreement was reached in which Mother Teresa would move into a room on the second floor. She would pay no rent. The home’s location was later described by Mother Teresa as “rich in its poverty.”In February 1949, she moved into her new quarters, bringing with her only a small suitcase.
Mother Teresa now had some helpers who accompanied her so that she would not be alone in the slums. Charur Ma, a widow who was the cook at St. Mary’s at Entally, often went with her on shopping trips. Mable Gomes, the younger daughter of the family with whom she boarded, also went with Mother Teresa on occasions. Even Michael Gomes, when he had time, went with Mother Teresa to chemists’ shops, similar to American pharmacies, to ask for donations of medical supplies. She was even joined by some of her former students who came to visit her. Seeing her in her sari, some burst into tears. But all were glad to see her and to offer what help they could.
On one occasion, when Michael accompanied Mother Teresa on a rainy day watching from the train window, they saw a man, completely drenched, slumped under a tree. The two hurried to finish collecting medicines and went back with the hopes of helping the man. However, when they reached him, he was already dead. As Gomes later recounted, Mother Teresa was in anguish over the incident, and the fact that many other poor and gravely ill men and women, like the unknown man, might have wanted to say something to someone, to have some comfort in their final hours. The incident hardened her resolve to search for a facility where the terminally ill could die in dignity and peace.
The days followed a set routine: mornings were spent teaching school, while afternoons were given to the sick and dying. By this time, there were two schools to tend to: the first one in Motijihl and another in the slum of Tiljala, where Mother Teresa rented another small room for her new students. The young women and Mother Teresa also established a dispensary. After school hours, the large room was turned into a screening room for tuberculosis patients. To help the sisters, an announcement at Sunday mass was made calling for mushti bhikka, a Bengali custom where any families that were able put aside a handful of rice for a beggar. This effort marked the start of the feeding program that the Missionaries of Charity oversaw and that would in time include not only food, but clothing and soap for the poor.
A YEAR’S ENDOn August 16, 1949,the first year was over, Mother Teresa and her growing band of young women had no turning back .She took another very important step, she applied for and was granted Indian citizenship. The first three vows all would take when coming into the order - poverty, chastity and obedience was added with a fourth vow, “to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor,” which would become known as “our way.”She also decided on a name for the new order - the “Missionaries of Charity”. Thus on October 7, 1950, the church had a new congregation in its fold - the Missionaries of Charity, headed by Mother Teresa. It was soon apparent that the quarters at Creek Lane were becoming too small for the growing number of sisters. Later, a suitable house was found at 54 A, Lower Circular Road, Calcutta. In February 1953, Mother Teresa and her group moved into their new residence. Later, in tribute to their founder, the sisters called the new house as “Mother House”.
Lower Circular Road is a humming center of activity in Calcutta. The street is usually filled with pedestrians and traffic. The everyday drone of people, car horns, rickshaw bells and trams is broken occasionally by the passing of Hindu processions and political parades. With all the commotion, it is easy to overlook the residence located at A Lower Circular Road; the noise of the everyday world drowns out the daily prayers of the home’s residents. To get to A Lower Circular Road, one has to take a narrow lane that leads to a three-storied, gray-washed building.
POOR BY CHOICEWith their move into Motherhouse in early 1 3, the Missionaries of Charity had their own base of operations. Not only did the new residence offer more room for the growing number of newcomers to the order; it also had its own chapel and a dining hall. Mother Teresa also had her own quarters. Slowly, new recruits appeared asking to be taken into the congregation as a Missionary of Charity.
Despite the spacious new surroundings, Mother Teresa was determined that her congregation live a life shaped by extreme poverty. Finding properly fitting shoes was a continual challenge for the nuns. On one occasion, Mother Teresa allocated the same pair of sandals to three different sisters, all of whom were in desperate need of footwear. On another occasion, the only pair of shoes available for one sister to wear to church services was a pair of red stiletto heels. However, she chose to wear them and the sight of her hobbling was the source of much amusement for many days.
Articles of clothing were also at a premium; habits were made out of old bulgur wheat sacks; sometimes the labels were still visible under the thin cloth cover of the white saris, even after repeated washings. One sister’s habit clearly bore the label Not for Resale under her sari. One Christmas, there were not enough shawls for the sisters to wear to Midnight mass; instead those without wore their bed covers.
JOINING THE ORDERWhen Mother Teresa first established the Missionaries of Charity, she worked hard to help prepare the young women who entered the order. Father Van Exem and Father Henry also helped instruct the newcomers in preparation for their lives as nuns. Gradually, these tasks became more the duties of senior nuns. Mother Teresa always emphasized that the work of a Missionary of Charity was no different from that of social workers.
Women who apply to join the order must meet four requirements. They must be physically and mentally healthy. They must have the ability and the desire to learn. Common sense is a necessity as is a cheerful disposition; they would need all they could muster in working with the poor.
LIFE AT MOTHERHOUSEThe daily routine for those who choose to be Missionaries of Charity was long and grueling. Weekdays, the sisters rose at 4:40 A.M. to the call of Benedicamus Domino (“Let us bless the Lord”) and the response of Deo Gratias (“Thanks be to God”). Dressing at their bedsides with a sheet covering their heads, they went downstairs to wash their faces with water that came from the courtyard tank and was carried in empty powdered milk cans. They then collected ash from the kitchen stove to clean their teeth. Each sister washed herself with a small bit of soap; this same bit of soap was used to wash their clothes as well. Between 5:15 A.M. and 6:45 A.M. the sisters went for morning prayers, meditation, and then mass.
They then went to the dining hall where each drank a glass of water before breakfast. In the beginning, there was no tea for breakfast; instead milk made from American powdered milk was given. Breakfast consisted of five chapattis (homemade bread made from wheat or other grain flours and baked without yeast) spread with clarified butter (ghee). The chapattis provided strength and energy to the body and it was required that all eat their allotment, something that many had a harder time doing than going without food.
Father Henry once told a story of how, when the first newcomers joined the order, they came with the expectation that food would be insufficient and one of many deprivations they would suffer. At their first meal, Mother Teresa put their plates before each one. Amazed, the women looked at the plates full of food. They were told to eat it, as it was their due. Mother Teresa then reminded them that God “wants obedience rather than victims.” In addition to their food, all of the residents took a vitamin pill with their meal. After their quick breakfast, the sisters were out on the streets by 7:45 A.M. to begin their work. The sisters made a point of traveling together in pairs for their own safety as well as to help one another.
By noontime, many sisters returned to Motherhouse for prayers and a midday meal, which consisted of five ladles of bulgur wheat and three bits of meat if there was any available. After the meal, housework was attended to and then came a rest of 30 minutes. Afterward, there was more prayer and afternoon tea at which the nuns ate two dry chapattis. There followed another half-hour of spiritual reading and instruction from Mother Teresa.
The sisters then returned to the city. By 6 in the evening, the sisters returned to the Motherhouse for prayers and dinner, which usually consisted of rice, dhal (a spicy dish made with lentils), tomatoes, onions and various seasonings, and other vegetables. During the meal, there was also 10 minutes of spiritual readings. After dinner, attention was given to darning and mending, using a razor blade, needle, and darning thread kept in a cigarette tin. There was also time for recreation; this was the one time that conversation about subjects other than work was permitted. The signal for this recreational conversation to begin was Laudetur Jesus Christus (“Praise is Jesus Christ”), to which the sisters answered “Amen.” Now was the time that all could share what happened to them during the day. Then at 10 o’clock, the day was over; and everyone retired for the night.
Because Sundays were often as busy as weekdays, Mother Teresa set aside Thursdays as days of respite for the residents of Motherhouse. On this day, the sisters might engage in prayer and meditation. Quite often in the early days, Mother Teresa would take her group to the home of a Calcutta doctor, where they would have a picnic and relax on the grounds. The physical demands of the sisters’ work were strenuous.
On any given day, they might have to jump railway tracks or ditches or slog through pools of standing water. During the rainy seasons, there was the danger of being caught in a flash flood. Mother Teresa instructed her nuns always to say their rosaries that each sister carried with her. In time, measuring distances covered was not added up in miles, but in how many rosaries were said. When the conditions they encountered were desperate or terrible, the Sisters sang High Mass in Latin.
Even with the emphasis on poverty, there were times when the sisters went without necessities. When there was no fuel to cook their meals, the sisters ate raw wheat that had been soaked overnight. No matter the sacrifice, the sisters did it willingly and often with smiles on their faces.
Not all welcomed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity into their lives. Some of the poor resisted the sisters’ efforts to help them, seeing them as trying to convert the poor to Catholicism. Others simply did not want charity. For those young women who offered their lives in service to the poor, rejection also waited. Many girls’ families were ashamed of their vocation to help the poor and outcasts of the city. In some cases, family members, if coming upon a daughter or sister who had become a Missionary of Charity, crossed the streets or turned away to avoid looking at them. Many parents urged their daughters to leave and were often disappointed and surprised to hear their advice rejected.
THE JOY OF BEING POORNo task was too menial or disgusting for Mother Teresa to undertake. One sister, repelled at the thought of cleaning the toilet, hid herself away. Mother Teresa passed by, not noticing the Sister in the hall. Seeing the state of the toilet, she immediately rolled up her sleeves and cleaned the toilet herself. The sister never forgot the experience and applied herself more fully to her tasks. From all the sisters, Mother Teresa asked obedience. Those unable to eat the allotted five chapattis a day were not considered Missionaries of Charity material and were asked to leave. Other requirements of the order included speaking English at all times. Those who came to the order without finishing their studies were to complete them in addition to their work.
AT THE MOTHERHOUSEThe faith and devotion to God often rewarded Mother Teresa and her sisters in amazing ways. On one occasion when there was no food in the house, a knock came at the door. A woman standing outside had with her bags of rice. She later told Mother Teresa that she did not have any intention of going there, but for some reason came bringing the rice. That evening, Mother Teresa and the sisters had their dinner. In another instance, Father Henry asked Mother Teresa for some money to print some leaflets. She searched the house and found only two rupees, which she gladly turned over to Father Henry.
As he was leaving, he remembered a letter that he had brought for her. Opening it, Mother Teresa discovered a gift of 100 rupees. When a newcomer arrived at the Motherhouse, there was no pillow available for her; Mother Teresa offered the young woman hers, but the sisters refused to allow it, stating that she needed the pillow for her own rest. Mother Teresa insisted and while doing so, an Englishman appeared at the Motherhouse with a mattress. He was leaving the country and wanted to know if the sisters would have any use for his mattress. This and other events demonstrated to Mother Teresa the power of faith as well as God’s providence when people completely surrendered their lives into his care.
Places of PeaceBy 1955, Mother Teresa turned her energies to another group in need: the children of the poor. In a relatively short time, Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity had made progress in providing education for poor children with the creation of schools in the slums. Since India’s independence, the number of unwanted children roaming in the streets of Calcutta has increased. Orphaned, sick, and disabled children were oft en cast into the streets to fend for them. Young girls and infants particularly were at great risk. For Mother Teresa, children were a special gift from God. She wrote: Children long for somebody to accept them, to love them, to praise them, to be proud of them. Let us bring the child back to the center of our care and concern. This is the only way the world can survive because our children are the only hope for the future.
SHISHU BHAVANTo Mother Teresa, the sight of so many unloved children was heartbreaking. It is a need to rescue as many children as possible from the streets, the gutters, and the garbage heaps, and the alley ways. As a result of her previous successes, she received recognition and cooperation from the highest offices in the city. During one of her many forays through the city, Mother Teresa made the acquaintance of Dr. B.C. Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal and a medical doctor. Dr. Roy oft en gave frees consultations at his home office and Mother Teresa lined up with the rest of the poor every day at 6 A.M. More oft en than not, her requests was political, rather than medical. She told the doctor about the needs for water or electricity in a slum area that she had visited. Dr. Roy dutifully wrote memos to the official responsible, informing him of the problem. In time, he began to pay closer attention to the tiny nun who showed such great concern for the poor of his city. Mother Teresa now could call on him freely; in turn, Dr. Roy trusted her completely. With his help, she began to implement her latest project for the children of the poor.
And so it was on September 23, 1955, Mother Teresa opened the first Shishu Bhavan, a home for children. Located near Creek Lane, and just a short walk from the Mother House, the small unpainted bungalow was the first of several children’s homes established by the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa never turned away a child, even if it meant that infants slept three to a cot.
By 1958, the Missionaries of Charity had established Shishu Bhavans to care for more than 90 children. Besides seeking out children themselves, the Missionaries of Charity also sent letters to all medical clinics and nursing homes in Calcutta, stating that they would welcome any child without a home. The home also acted as an afternoon high school for young boys who would otherwise have been on the streets learning to rob and steal.
CARING FOR THE CHILDRENAs with many of her undertakings, Mother Teresa chose a practical approach in overseeing the Shishu Bhavans. She firmly believed in teaching the older children a skill or giving them a practical education that would allow them to make their way in the world. This practice helped the children to receive the education or technical skills they needed to become self-supporting. Over the years, the circle of donors widened considerably, as donors throughout the world sponsored children at the Shishu Bhavans. The support monies donated for the children were placed in a bank account until the child reached school age; the funds were then used to pay for the child’s education. This system proved so successful that in 1975 Mother Teresa organized the World Child Welfare Fund, which shared the financial assistance among all of the children under the care of the Missionaries of Charity.
THE PROMISE OF A NEW LIFEFor residents of Shishu Bhavan who were of marrying age, Mother Teresa, in accordance with religious custom, helped arrange marriages. Perhaps the most important program that Mother Teresa created for the children’s homes were adoptions. When the program began, the majority of children were placed with Christian families. Slowly, many Hindu middle-class families opened their homes to unwanted and abandoned children. Initially, boys were still preferred over girls, but, over time, many Hindu families were happy to welcome a new child, regardless of sex, into their homes. Soon, Mother Teresa began to find homes for Indian children with overseas adoptive parents from Europe and North America. However, the majority of families wishing to adopt wanted only healthy children. In emphasizing adoption, Mother Teresa was also battling abortion, which she strongly opposed. She once wrote that with abortion: the mother kills even her own child to solve her problems. For Mother Teresa, adoption was the best way to combat abortion.
REACHING OUT IN OTHER WAYSBesides organizing the children’s homes, Mother Teresa reached out to the poor in other ways. In 1956, she organized her first mobile clinic to help those who could not get to one of the free clinics. With the help of some doctors, a small laboratory was set up in Shishu Bhavan to do medical testing. The Shishu Bhavan also became a buzzing center of activity for feeding the poor. In the home’s small kitchen, the sisters cooked as much rice as they could, which they handed out along with bananas. On any given afternoon, there were anywhere from 50 to 100 women with children waiting to receive food. For many, this was the only meal of the day.
TENDING TO THE UNCLEAN –SHANTHI NAGARMother Teresa introduced the mobile dispensary in 1956 in response to another growing problem on the Calcutta streets: lepers. Some American benefactors donated an ambulance to the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa hoped the vehicle would be the first of many mobile leprosy clinics. More help came from a Dr. Sen, a physician and specialist in the treatment of skin disease and leprosy. Sen had recently retired from the Carmichael Hospital for Tropical Diseases. Unsure of what to do with his free time and having heard of the works of the Missionaries of Charity, he offered his services. Mother Teresa gratefully accepted. Assisting Dr. Sen were three sisters who had received nurse’s training. In September 1957, the first mobile leprosy clinic was launched. The ambulance could hold six persons along with a generous supply of medicine, food, and medical records.
Traveling from slum to slum, and also making a stop outside the walls of the Loreto convent, the Missionaries of Charity sought out the city’s lepers. In time, eight treatment stations were established throughout Calcutta offering hope to the city’s 30,000 persons afflicted by leprosy. The bright blue vehicle soon became a recognized symbol of help and comfort. At each stop, the sisters handed out vitamins and medicine, along with packets of food. By January 1958, over 600 lepers regularly sought treatment from the mobile clinic.
TITLAGARHFor those stricken with leprosy, there was one place outside of Calcutta to go—Titlagarh, an industrial suburb located about an hour’s drive from Calcutta. When she made her first visit to Titlagarh, Mother Teresa realized that something needed to be done. Within a few months, she had established a small clinic in a shed near the railway lines. In addition to the clinic, which opened in March 1959; the facility housed a rehabilitation center, a hospital, and a cafeteria. But no sooner had the clinic opened than the municipal leaders feared an influx of lepers would come to Titlagarh. They begged Mother Teresa to consider opening yet another facility for lepers. With that in mind, Mother Teresa turned to her next project: Shantinagar.
SHANTINAGARIn 1961, Mother Teresa received a gift from the Indian government: 34 acres of land located about 200 miles from Calcutta. Mother Teresa began construction of Shantinagar— The Place of Peace for Lepers. Medical treatment is not far away, and with the advent of better drugs since the 1970s, many lepers had a chance to recover from their illness. There is also a Shishu Bhavan on the premises, where children can live and be protected from the more infectious patients. With each new success and each new undertaking, it was becoming clear that Mother Teresa possessed extraordinary vision. She was making a name for herself, not only throughout Calcutta, but in India and beyond. Her great determination to help those who could not help themselves had earned her a host of supporters and a growing number of critics. As the size and scale of the Missionaries of Charity grew, so did the seeds of controversy. By the end of the 1950s, it was clear that Mother Teresa and her order would no longer toil in anonymity.
Mother Teresa never seemed hurried and that she always had time for everyone who came to see her. But that soon changed as Mother Teresa began capturing the attention of a much wider audience. She slowly recognized that there were other places in the world that might benefit from her vision.
For nearly 10 years, the work done by the Missionaries of Charity had been confined to Calcutta. This was in agreement with church law, which prohibited new orders to open houses outside of the diocese. But, in 1959, things changed, the probationary period of the Missionaries of Charity formally ended, and the sisters were eager to take their mission outside Calcutta and begin work in other parts of India.
New houses of the Missionaries of Charity were established— and warmly welcomed by church and city officials in Delhi and Jhansi. The news of their work reached the highest echelons of Indian government; at the dedication of a children’s home in Delhi, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was in attendance. When introduced to him, Mother Teresa proceeded to tell the prime minister of her order. Gently stopping her, Nehru replied that he did not need to hear of her work; he knew all about it and that was why he had come to the ceremony. The Missionaries of Charity also sent a group of nuns to Ranchi, a city located in the extremely poor state of Bihar. Here, many girls from the local tribes were recruited to become nuns of Missionaries of Charity. In Bombay, a city with numerous Catholic churches and schools, the Missionaries of Charity was welcomed by none other than the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Bombay. Mother Teresa soon opened a home for the dying, similar to Nirmal Hriday.
By this time, Mother Teresa was 50 years old and in charge of 119 nuns and she wished to carry her message abroad. As it turned out, her reputation was already becoming established on the world stage.
A WHIRLWIND TOURIn the autumn of 1960, Mother Teresa looked beyond the borders of her adopted country and accepted an invitation to speak at a women’s conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Completing the programme held at Las Vegas, Mother Teresa went to Peoria, Illinois, where she spoke to yet another group of women. Then it was on to Chicago and New York City. In each city, she was welcomed warmly. From New York, Mother Teresa’s next stop was London, where she spent one evening at the home of the sister of Indian Prime Minister Nehru, who encouraged her to expand her work abroad. Mother Teresa also met with a representative of the Oxfam aid agency and had her First television interview with a British journalist on the BBC.
Her next stop was Germany, where Mother Teresa enjoyed a greater reputation, having been featured in a news magazine Weltelend (World Misery), published by the German Catholic relief agency Miseror. The article had also shown photos of the terrible poverty in Calcutta as well as shots of Nirmal Hriday. Another news magazine Erdkreis (Earth Circle) had featured photos of Kalighat. As she stepped off the plane, wrapped in a rough wool blanket to protect her from the cold weather, Mother Teresa was greeted by a horde of German photographers and journalists. In meeting with Miseror representatives, Mother Teresa outlined her plans for the construction of a new home for the dying in Delhi. Before leaving Germany, Mother Teresa also stopped to visit Dachau, one of the most infamous concentration camps in Nazi Germany, where more than 28,000 Jews died between 1933 and 1945. In Mother Teresa’s eyes, modern humans were behaving no better, and if anything, far worse.
After a brief visit to Switzerland, Mother Teresa stopped in Rome where she hoped to make a formal and personal plea to Pope for the Missionaries of Charity to become a Society of Pontifical Right. If the Pope agreed to get the Society of Pontifical Right, it would mean that the Missionaries of Charity could begin working in other countries. However, when it came time to meet the pope, Mother Teresa, frightened at making the request directly to the pope, instead only asked for his blessing.
A BRIEF REUNIONWhile in Rome, Mother Teresa arranged a reunion with her brother Lazar, whom she had not seen in more than 30 years.
Lazar now lived in Palermo, Sicily, where he worked for a pharmaceutical Firm. He was also married to an Italian woman and was the father of a 10-year-old daughter. When the two met, they discussed the terrible predicament of Aga and their mother, who were still in Albania. The country, now a communist satellite of the Soviet Union, had made it virtually impossible for its residents to leave Albania. Mother Teresa had applied for a visa to visit the country, but more likely because of her own activities, she had been refused.
Upon her arrival in Calcutta, Mother Teresa continued to work with her sisters, opening up new homes throughout India. For the next five years, new chapters appeared in cities and states throughout the country. With each new house, each new school, each new mobile clinic, Mother Teresa’s name and works gained greater and greater recognition.
THE BIGGEST MIRACLE OF ALLIn February 1965, Mother Teresa finally received her answer: the Missionaries of Charity had received the pope’s permission to become a Society of pontifical Right. Mother Teresa could carry her good works outside of India for the first time. In time, these works included clinics for those suffering from tuberculosis; antenatal clinics;
clinics for general medical needs; mobile leprosy clinics; night shelters for the homeless; homes for children, the poor, and the dying; nursery schools, primary, and secondary schools; feeding programs; villages for lepers; commercial schools; vocational training in carpentry, metal work, embroidery and other skills; child-care and home-management classes; and aid in the event of emergencies and disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, epidemics, rioting and war.
Mother Teresa’s first invitation came in 1965 when she was asked to open a house in Venezuela. Mother Teresa and her order were going to Venezuela. In July 1965, the Missionaries of Charity opened their first home outside India in Cocorote, Venezuela. Mother Teresa, accompanied by five sisters, came to the small town. Working in Cocorote also presented the Missionaries of Charity with a very different situation. Not only were they dealing with a different language, but also with a different culture.
AN APPEAL FROM ROMEIn 1968, Mother Teresa received another invitation, this time to work among the poor in Rome. The invitation came as a bit of a surprise. Paul VI, the pope was asking her directly for her help in working with Rome’s poor.
A GROWING MISSIONOver the next several years, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity continued to open new homes around the world. In 1967, the order opened its first home in Sri Lanka. In September 1968, a month after traveling to Rome, Mother Teresa journeyed to Tabora, Tanzania, where the sisters opened their first mission in Africa. A year later, the Missionaries of Charity were in Australia, where they opened up a center for the Aborigines. From this point on and well into the next decade, a new mission center opened somewhere in the world approximately every six months.
Mother Teresa and her order were very much in the public eye both by blessings and blame. Mother Teresa’s funding approach left her vulnerable to growing dissent, criticism, and accusations. Despite predictions that Mother Teresa would one day be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her application for the coveted award was rejected three times.
NEW ADVENTURESIn the 1970s Mother Teresa continued her travels, both speaking and opening new homes for the Missionaries of Charity. The decade opened with a home established in Amman, Jordan. Mother Teresa and her Missionaries did not shy away from the world’s troubled spots: in 1972, a new foundation opened in Belfast, Northern Ireland; in 1973, Mother Teresa opened another foundation working with the 3,80,000 Arab refugees who lived and worked in the Israeli-occupied Gaza strip. And so it continued throughout the decade with the high point coming in 1979 when the Missionaries of Charity opened 14 new foundations.
As her missions spread across the world, Mother Teresa enjoyed the support of many world leaders. In the United States alone, she counted among her champions the wealthy Democratic Kennedy family and former Republican president Richard M. Nixon.
HONOURSShe also began receiving a number of honors. Her first came in 1962 when she was awarded the Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. That same year she received the Padma Shri, known as the Magnificent Lotus, India’s second highest award. After due permission, she traveled to New Delhi to accept the award from the president of India at that time, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. The awards received as cash prizes was used to purchase homes for children and build a leper colony on the land donated by the Indian government. In 1971, she again traveled to New Delhi to accept from the Indian government the Nehru Award for International Understanding. In 1973, Mother Teresa became the first recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In every case, Mother Teresa graciously accepted each award in the name of the world’s poor.
LEADING BY EXAMPLEAs the number of foundations grew, Mother Teresa’s schedule became more hectic. Because she kept close watch on the order, leading by example, it was important that she visit every motherhouse she could to check on the day-today goings on. For instance, she believed that the sisters must not waste any donations because others had sacrificed in order that they have them. Medicine and food were to be distributed as soon as possible to prevent spoilage.
She wrote to each house as often as possible offering advice, wisdom, and comfort to her growing number of sisters. She wrote to parents thanking them for their daughters who had given their lives in service to God. She reminded her nuns to be cheerful and smile, as God needed and loved those who gave of themselves cheerfully. A cheerful disposition also attracted those who might be seeking a vocation with the Missionaries of Charity. She shared news of her travels, her visits with dignitaries, and humorous incidents that had occurred.
Even as she was becoming better known, Mother Teresa remained as unobtrusive as possible. She commonly slept in the luggage racks of third-class train compartments or shared a seat on a train or a bus between the wife of a farmer and some livestock. On those occasions when she had a seat to herself, she made the most of it, using the time for reflection, often writing small notes or letters to her sisters and benefactors. She emphasized repeatedly that fund-raising was not her work, fearing that the Missionaries of Charity would become a business rather than a labor of love. She squarely placed her life and that of her congregations in God’s hands, fully trusting that Providence would provide for her needs in helping the poor.
LOSS AND FAILINGSThe 1970s were an extraordinary period of growth for the Missionaries of Charity and of growing recognition for Mother Teresa. Still, the decade was not without its low points as Mother Teresa suffered both personal losses and public failures. She may also have come to realize that not all things were possible through faith and love alone. The year 1970 began with a troubling letter from her sister Aga, who was living with their mother in Tirana, Albania. Drana was in ill health and her condition was worsening. On top of that, life under communist rule was extremely difficult and the two were having a hard time making ends meet. For Mother Teresa, this was a bitter blow; her divine Providence, which had made possible the impossible, seemed strangely absent now.
But she took the news with a strong heart, yet sad that there was nothing she could do to help her mother and sister when she had found ways to help so many others around the world. Yet, June 1970, Mother Teresa had a bittersweet homecoming. Later that year, Drana wrote to her son Lazar stating that her only wish was to see him, his family, and her daughter Gonxha before she died. Both Lazar and Mother Teresa worked hard to bring Aga and Drana to Italy for a reunion. These attempts proved futile: the Albanian government refused to permit either Aga or Drana to leave the country. Mother Teresa then thought about traveling to Albania. But, to her dismay, she learned that while she might be allowed to enter the country, communist authorities could very well prevent her from leaving. Finally, on July 12, 1972, Mother Teresa received word that her mother had died.
Not more than a year later, on August 25, 1973, more sad news came, when she learned that her sister Aga had also died. Mother Teresa’s pain and grief were not so much for herself, but for the mother and sister who suffered.
The Missionaries of Charity also suffered severe setbacks during the 1970s. In 1971, after much fanfare, the order opened a house in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast was, at the time, a city under siege, as Catholic and Protestant factions engaged in almost daily violence. Mother Teresa sent four sisters who came with a violin and two blankets each. The house where they lived was completely emptied and had been the target of vandals. After only 18 months in Belfast, the sisters left, stating that they were unwanted and saw no need to risk further danger to themselves. Mother Teresa preferred to see their leaving, however, not as a failure, but as a call, for the sisters were obviously needed somewhere else.
During the 1980s, the Missionaries of Charity experienced more bad luck, when in March 1980 someone set a fire at a home for destitute women run by the order in Kilburn, London. Ten residents of the shelter and one volunteer died in the blaze. The arsonist was never found. In 1986, two sisters were drowned in Dehra Dun, India, when a wooden bridge collapsed during a heavy rain, sending their ambulance into the river below. Although Mother Teresa offered prayers for the dead, no doubt both incidents weighed heavily upon her.
Even more painful for Mother Teresa was the number of professed sisters choosing to leave the Missionaries of Charity. Of the original 12 women who became the order’s first nuns, two eventually left, as well as a small number of others over the years. Their reasons for leaving were many: some chose to serve God in another way, others wished to leave because of ill health. Some even fell in love and wished to marry and raise families. Mother Teresa did not resent the women’s choices; in fact she often thanked them for their time and effort in their service to the order. Still, it clearly saddened her to lose members.
Despite these setbacks, the Missionaries of Charity continued to grow. By 1979, there were 158 foundations established throughout the world. There were 1,187 professed sisters, 411 novices, and 120 postulants. What was perhaps most amazing about the continued growth of the order was that it came at a time when religious vocations for the Church were generally on the decline. It appeared that the total commitment to a life of poverty and the complete surrender of the self in the service held tremendous appeal for women everywhere.
For Mother Teresa, the continued arrival of newcomers ready to work for the poor was heartwarming. Each week it seemed a new group left Motherhouse bound for some destination where they were needed. As Mother Teresa once remarked, “If there are poor on the moon, we shall go there too.”
Despite these setbacks, the Missionaries of Charity continued to grow. By 1979, there were 158 foundations established throughout the world. There were 1,187 professed sisters, 411 novices, and 120 postulants. What was perhaps most amazing about the continued growth of the order was that it came at a time when religious vocations for the Church were generally on the decline. It appeared that the total commitment to a life of poverty and the complete surrender of the self in the service held tremendous appeal for women everywhere. For Mother Teresa, the continued arrival of newcomers ready to work for the poor was heartwarming. Each week it seemed a new group left Motherhouse bound for some destination where they were needed. As Mother Teresa once remarked, “If there are poor on the moon, we shall go there too.”
Although increasingly frail, Mother Teresa did not slow down. Then, in 1993, while in Rome, she fell and broke her ribs. That July, she was hospitalized for two days in Bombay for exhaustion; not more than a month later, she was back in the hospital in New Delhi, this time for a malarial infection, which was further complicated by heart and lung problems. She was transferred to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she recuperated in the intensive-care coronary unit. She was at home in Calcutta for less than a month, when she was treated by doctors yet again, this time for a blocked heart vessel.
Clearly, age and the years of deprivation, travel, and work were taking their toll on Mother Teresa’s health. Her supporters, however, maintained that Mother Teresa was simply reminding her volunteers not to lose track of their priorities: to live a simple life and maintain a deep spirituality and faith in God.
In September 1993, Mother Teresa received sad news; Father Van Exam, the priest who had reluctantly agreed to serve as her spiritual advisor over 50 years ago, had died. His death was a terrible blow to Mother Teresa for the two had become close friends. Because she was still recovering from her own illness, she could not attend his funeral, but watched sadly from her bedroom window as the funeral procession made its way to St. John’s Cemetery for burial.
Shortly before his death, Father Van Exam wrote to Mother Teresa, telling her that he would be offering his prayers for the following intercessions: that she would recover from her latest illness of a blocked heart vessel without surgery; that she would travel to China by October of that year; and that God would take him, instead of her. And so it was at the end of October that Mother Teresa arrived in China to arrange for the opening of a home for children. Her visit was a quick one; she stopped in Shanghai and Beijing before going to Rome and then to Poland. She returned to China once more in March 1994 with the hope of opening a house for handicapped children. Her wish to establish the Missionaries of Charity failed; China, by 1994, was becoming less open and Mother Teresa turned her energies elsewhere.
STEPPING ASIDEOn March 13, 1997, the Missionaries of Charity took a long-awaited step: choosing a successor to head their order. The announcement ended months of speculation not only about Mother Teresa’s future, but about who would succeed her. The discussions over the new leader had been deadlocked for weeks as the order struggled to find an acceptable replacement. Eventually the members were forced to turn to Pope John Paul II who offered a compromise: Mother Teresa would stay on as spiritual and titular head of the Missionaries of Charity, while Sister Nirmala, a 63- year-old member of the order would take over the day-today duties of the group. It was also decided that she would hold the post for six years when the group would meet again to choose either a new head or reelect Sister Nirmala.Despite the effort at compromise; the transition did not go smoothly.
Within hours of Sister Nirmala’s appointment, Mother Teresa announced plans to create a number of new homes. Sister Nirmala did not object. She was by temperament timid, and decided to maintain a low profile, even bypassing the title of “Mother” for the time being. Mother Teresa acted as if she were still in charge, while giving her blessing to her successor.
Though her health was failing, Mother Teresa continued to travel, to raise funds, and visit many of the new homes that the Missionaries of Charity established. But in March 1996, she fell out of bed and broke her Collar bone. Yet, by June, she was traveling again, though she fell once more, this time severely spraining her ankle. In the meantime, her memory grew worse and lapses became more frequent.
In August 1996, Mother Teresa was once more admitted to the Woodland’s Nursing Home in Calcutta. She was having trouble breathing and many believed that she was going to die. She rallied, through, and left the facility on September 6, against her doctors’ wishes. She then attended special services marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Missionaries of Charity. But two weeks later, she was back in the hospital after having fallen down the stairs at the Mother house.
More of her days were spent in bed suffering from severe back pain. Finally, in January 1997, Mother Teresa announced her decision to resign as mother superior of the order; her health was too precarious, and even she seemed to realize that she could no longer battle her ailments as she once had. However, in May, she did travel to Rome where she met with the pope and then to the United States where she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom in recognition for her work. She also made time to tour New York City’s the Bronx with Princess Diana.
The untimely death of Princess Diana three months later was one more loss to bear. Mother Teresa had become good friends with the young princess, often offering her advice. The two also talked of Mother Teresa’s work, and Princess Diana had made a point of visiting Nirmal Hriday when she came to India, years before. Mother Teresa’s remarks on the princess’ death were in fact her last public statements. On September 5, 1997, the eve of Diana’s funeral, Mother Teresa’s heart finally stopped.
After a private service at the chapel of the Motherhouse, her body was transferred to a Missionary of Charity ambulance with the word “Mother” written across it, and taken to St. Thomas Church, which was used by the Loreto Sisters. Here, thousands of mourners crowded among the pews to pay their respects to the tiny nun. A week later, the Indian government held a state funeral for Mother Teresa. On September 13, her body was carried through the streets of Calcutta on the same gun carriage used to transport two of India’s greatest leaders and heroes: Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets as the carriage traveled to the Calcutta sports stadium where a state funeral mass was held; numerous dignitaries world over were in attendance to pay their respects. Afterwards, in a private ceremony, with soldier’s firing their guns in a last tribute, Mother Teresa was laid to rest beneath a plain stone slab on the grounds of the Motherhouse located at A.J.C. Bose Road. Here, she is not far from the people she served and helped.
THE MAKING OF A SAINTSix years after her death, Mother Teresa was back in the news. In 2003, it was announced that John Paul II, would beatify Mother Teresa on October 19. The event marks the final step before canonization or official sainthood. As with all candidates for sainthood, the church required a divine sign in the form of a posthumous miracle. Many claims were submitted; the one chosen concerned a Hindu mother, Monika Besra, who came to the sisters suffering from a life-threatening stomach tumor. The sisters prayed to Mother Teresa for a cure and pressed a religious medal that she had touched to Besra’s abdomen.
Five hours later, the tumor had completely disappeared. The beatification ceremonies were held in Rome. In Calcutta, Mother Teresa’s legacy was to be honored with an international festival of films. For Mother Teresa, her works came not from the strength of her intellect, but of the great power and love she had in her heart. Today the direction of the Missionaries of Charity is carried out as Mother Teresa had originally envisioned it.
Mother Teresa’s CallGonxha Bojaxhiu, the future Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was born in Skopje on 26 August 1910. At the age of 18, she traveled to Ireland to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly known as the Loreto Sisters). After a few weeks in Ireland, Gonxha – now known as Sister Teresa – was sent to India where she made her first profession of vows in 1931 and final profession in 1937. She spent 18 years at the Loreto School in Calcutta, first as a teacher and later also as headmistress. On 10 September 1946, during a train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa received an “inspiration,” which she later described as a “call within a call”. Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls became so distinctively clear that from then on an ardent longing to satiate His thirst took complete possession of her heart. By means of interior locutions and visions, God revealed to her the desire of His Heart for “victims of love” who would “radiate His love on souls.”
He revealed His pain at the way the poor were neglected, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him, and His longing – His thirst – for their love. He pleaded with her: “My little one, come, come, and carry me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light. I cannot go alone. They don’t know me, so they don’t want me. You come, go amongst them. Carry me with you into them. How I long to enter their holes, their dark.
God asked Mother Teresa to start the “Missionaries of Charity,” a religious community dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor. The Society of the Missionaries of Charity was officially established in the Archdiocese of Calcutta on 7 October 1950.Mother Teresa’s whole life and labor reflected the joy of loving God and neighbor, especially those most in need, the poorest of the poor. Her response to God plea, “Come, be my light”, made her a symbol of compassion in the world and a living witness to the love of God. Her life showed the world the greatness and the dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with great love, and the inestimable worth of intimate union with God. On 5 September 1997, Mother Teresa’s earthly life came to an end.
Two days later, Pope John Paul II described her in this way: “I have a vivid memory of her diminutive figure, bent over by a life spent in the service to the poorest of the poor, but always filled with inexhaustible interior energy: the energy of God’s love. Missionary of Charity: this is what Mother Teresa was in name and in fact. ‘Indeed, her mission of charity and great reputation of holiness drew vast crowds to her funeral, immediately making her tomb a pilgrim site and a place of prayer for people of all backgrounds, creeds and social classes.
Just six years after her death, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa in St. Peter’s Square on 19 October 2003. In his address to the pilgrims, the Holy Father referred to her as “one of the greatest missionaries of the 20th century.” The Pope emphasized that it was her relationship with God, nourished by prayer that inspired all her undertakings and made her mission so fruitful in the world. At the very heart of this intimate relationship with God were the words of Jesus on the Cross: “I thirst” (John 19:28). “Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,” said the Pope, “had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her ‘run in haste’ across the globe to labor for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.”
Her choice to humbly serve the poorest of the poor made the Gospel of love come to life. With her words and actions, Mother Teresa touched the hearts of believers and nonbelievers alike, crossing the barriers of class, religion, culture and nationality. Her life became a sign that “God still loves the world today.” Her secret was simple: She allowed God to take full possession of her life, so that He could act in her and through her.
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