Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born august 26, 1910; baptized august 27 in Skopje, in
Macedonia. Her family belongs to the Albanian community. They are catholic,
though the majority of the Albanians are muslim there. The Turkish Empire is
ruling the country. Her father is a businessman. He owns a building company and
is connected to a food shop. He travelled a lot, was multi-lingual and very
interested in politics. He was member of the community council. He, Kolė,
thought Agnes her first lessons in charity, together with Drana, his wife and
Totally unexpected, when Agnes was 9, her father died. It was 1919 and Drana had
to raise her three children, Aga (1904), Lazar (1907) and Gonxha (1910) alone.
To foresee in their needs she sew wedding dresses, made embroidery and worked
hard. In spite of all this, she made time for the education of her children.
They prayed every evening, went to church every day, prayed the rosary every day
in may and assisted the service for the Holy Virgin. A great and warm attention
went also to the poor and needy who came to knock at the door. During the
holidays a stay in the pilgrimage place of Letnice, where Our Lady was
venerated, was a custom for the family.
Agnes liked to be in church, she liked to read and to pray and to sing. Here
mother also took care of an alcoholistic women in the neighbourhood. She went to
wash and feed her twice a day and she also took care of a widow with 6 children.
When Drana could not go, Agnes went to do this charitable work. And when the
widow died, the children were raised in the house as if they were family. Lazar
won a scholarship in Austria, Aga followed commercial school and Agnes went to
the Lyceum. She studied well. Together with Aga she was in the Choir, she was a
soprano, Aga second voice. She also played the mandolin.
A great part of their time also went to the Legion of Mary. She helped a father,
who had difficulties with the language, to teach catechism and read a lot about
Slovenian and Croatian missionaries in India. At twelve she felt for the first
time the desire to spend her life for Gods' work, to give it to Him and to let
Him decide. But how could she be sure?
She prayed a lot over it and talked about it with her sister and her mother. And
also the father to whom she confessed she asked: "How can I be sure?"
He answered: "through your JOY. If you feel really happy by the idea that
God might call you to serve Him, Him and your neighbour, then this is the
evidence that you have a call." And he added: "the deep inner joy that
you feel is the compass that indicates your direction in life".
At 18 it is the day! The decision was made. The last two years she assisted
several religious retreats in Letnice and it was clear to her that she would be
a missionary for India. On Assumption day in 1928 she went to Letnice to pray
for Our Lady's blessing before leaving. She was going to join the Sisters of Our
Lady of Loreto, who were very active in India.
September 25 she leaves, accompanied to the station by the whole community:
friends, schoolmates, neighbours, young and old and of course her mother and her
sister Aga (who will be later a translator and a radio speakerin). And everybody
weeps. (Mainly from the book: "A life: Mother Teresa, Lush Gjergi,
She travels over Zagreb, to Austria, Switzerland, France to London and then to
the abbey close to Dublin where the mother house of the Loreto Sisters is.
Gonxha learns to speak English and is trained in religious life. She receives
the clothes of a sister and chooses the name of Sister Teresa, in memory of the
Little Teresa of Lisieux, where they stopped on the way to London. In the mean
time her papers get ready and 1928 on december the 1st the crossing to India
starts: the country of her dreams. It is a long and tiring journey. Some more
sisters are on board but the main group is anglican. For weeks they cannot
attend mass or receive communion. Not on Christmas either. But they make a crib,
pray the rosary and sing Christmas songs.
In the beginning of 1929 they reach Colombo, then Madras and finally Calcutta.
The journey continues to Darjeeling, at the feet of the Himalayas, where the
young sister will accomplish her training. On may 23, 1929 she is accepted as a
novice and two years later she makes her first vows. Immediately after that she
is send to Bengali to help the sisters in the little hospital with the care for
sick, starving and helpless mothers. She is touched by the endless misery which
is send to Calcutta to study to become a teacher. Whenever she can she helps in
the care for the sick. When her study is finished, she is named to be teacher
and has to cross the city every day. The first work was to clean the classroom.
Quickly the children learned to love her for her enthusiasm and her tenderness
and their number raised to three hundred. In another part of the city there were
one hundred little students. She saw where they lived and what they ate. For her
care and her love, they soon called her "ma". Sundays, whenever there
was time, she went to visit this family's.
On may 24 in 1937 she makes her final vows in Darjeeling. She is named
headmaster of a secondary school for middle class Bengali girls in the centre of
Calcutta. She was there teacher for history and geography for some time. Close
to the institute is one of the great slums of Calcutta. Sister Teresa cannot
close her eyes: who cares for this poor living in the streets? The great charity
that speaks through her mothers letters, reminds her of the basic call: to care
for the poor.
The Legion of Mary is also active in this school. With the girls, Sister Teresa
goes regularly to the hospitals, the slums, the poor. They do not only pray.
They talk seriously about what they see and what they do. The Belgian Walloon
jesuit, Father Henry, who was the spiritual director, was a great inspiration in
this work. He will direct Sister Teresa for years. Under his inspiration the
desire grows to do more for the poor, but how?
With all this in her head she leaves for retreat to
Darjeeling on the 10th of september. "The most important journey of my
life" she said afterwards. It was then that she really heard Gods' voice.
His message was clear: she had to leave the convent to help the poorest of the
poor and to live with them. "It was an order, a duty, an absolute
certainty. I knew what to do, but I did not know how". The 10th of
september is so important in the Society that this day is called
Sister Teresa prayed, talked with some other sisters, asked her superior, who
sent her to see the archbishop of Calcutta, Mgr. Perrier. She explained to him
her vocation, but he refused her the permission. He talked it over with father
Henry, who knew Sister Teresa well. They considered thoroughly the problems:
India was about to be independent and Sister Teresa was a European! What were
the political and other dangers? Would Rome approve this decision? The bishop
told Sister Teresa to pray over this decision for at least a year or to join the
Daughters of Saint Anna, sisters wearing a dark blue sari and working among the
the poor. Sister Teresa did not consider this the right response for her. She
wanted to live among the poor.
When after a year Sister Teresa renewed her intention, the archbishop wanted
grant her the permission but decided it would be better to ask the permission
from Rome and from the mother general in Dublin. This decision took a long time.
In august 1948 she received the permission to leave
the Loreto community under the condition to keep the vows of poverty, purity and
obedience. She is 38 when she says goodbye to her sisters and religious Loreto
robe, to change it for a cheap white and blue sari. First she goes to Patna to
follow a nursing training with the sisters there. It is obvious to her that she
can only help the poor in their dirty, sickening habitation if she herself knows
how to prevent and cure. This medical training is indispensable for the
fulfilment of her new call.
The superior in Patna, a doctor, gives her good advice when Sister Teresa talks
about how she wants to live among the poor and how she wishes to care for them.
When Sister Teresa says that she wants to live on rice and salt, like the poor,
the superior answers that this would be the best way to hinder herself in
following her call: this kind of life demands a strong and good health.
Back in Calcutta, Sister Teresa goes in the slums and the streets, to talk with
the poor, to help them. All she has is a piece of soap and five roepies. She
helps to wash the babies, to clean the wounds. The poor people are astonished:
Who is this european lady in that poor sari? She speaks fluently Bengali! And
she helps them wash, clean and care! Soon she starts to teach the poor children
how to read and write, how to wash and to have some hygiene. Later it will be
possible to hire a small place to make a school.
She herself sleeps with the Sisters of the Poor. God is her great refuge for
strength and material support. And He is: always she finds the right medicine,
clothes, food and a place to receive the poor to be able to help them. At noon
children receive a cup of milk and a piece of soap, when they come regularly,
but they also hear about God, who is love and who - contrarily to their obvious
reality - loves them, really loves them.
One day a Bengali girl, from a well-off family and
former student of Sister Teresa, wants to stay with Sister Teresa and help her.
This is a touching moment. But Sister Teresa is realistic: she speaks about the
full poverty, about all the disagreeable aspects of the work which is hers. She
proposes the girl to wait some time.
The 19th of march 1949 the girl comes back with no jewels and in a poor dress.
The decision was made. She was the first to join Sister Teresa and took her
girls' name: Agnes. Other girls follow: in may they were three, in november
five, next year seven. And Sister Teresa prayed fervently for more vocations to
the Lord and to Our Lady. There was a lot of work. The sisters raised early in
the morning, prayed a long time, had adoration and attended mass to find in
their spiritual life the strength to do the material work in the service of the
poor. Thank God, a certain Mister Gomes offered the top floor of his house to
Sister Teresa for her first community. In this year also Sister Teresa takes the
Sister Teresa sees the community grow and knows she can think seriously about
starting a congregation. For the first constitutions she asks the advice of
from her first helpers: Father Julien Henry s.j. and Father Celest Van Exem s.j.
The last reading was done by father P. De Gheldere. The "Constitutions of
the Society of the Missionaries of Charity" could be presented to the
archbishop, who would send them for approval to Rome.
Early in autumn the papal approval arrived and 7th of October 1950, feast of the
Holy Rosary, the foundation was celebrated in the chapel of the sisters. The
archbishop celebrated mass and father Van Exem read the foundation papers. That
moment there were 12 sisters. Every year hundreds of sisters over the world
celebrate on the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary the foundation of the
Congregation. Not even five years after this day the congregation became papal,
this means that they depend straight from the pope.
It is basic in the Rule of the Society that the sisters, out of love for Jesus,
devote themselves out of their free will, to the service of the poorest of the
poor and this is as a fact, their fourth vow. This is their way to live and
spread the gospel and work for the salvation and the sanctification of the poor.
While the number of poor and sick that asked for
help was increasing, the admiration for the free devotion of the sisters was
growing as well. Find a suitable house to accept the increasing number of
sisters was a real necessity. After a novena to Saint Cecilia the solution came:
a muslim leaving town to Pakistan sold his big house for a cheap price and this
became the famous Mother house, Lower Circular Road 54A.
The postulants first came from Bengaly, then from all over India and finally
from all over the world. The foundress herself was novice mistress. For the
spiritual training she asked one of the fathers, but for the matters of the
house and the Community, it was clear, this was not his responsibility. She did
not want an interference from outside in the inside matters.
The first confession father was father Edward Le Joly s.j. Like the other
jesuits he was from Belgian origin. He had a good contact and a good co-working
and wrote some of the first and most respected books about Mother Teresa and her
Missionaries of Charity.
While the society grew in work and number Mother
kept praying for vocations and the work kept growing. Houses were opening and
some closing down from one day to another for one or another political, social
or security reason. The society is very much alive and moving. Mother Teresa
went all over the world to help people, rescue children, advise her sisters; to
organize and to talk. More and more she was asked to address words to a group of
sometimes 'ordinary' sometimes very exquisite crowds. In spite of the fact that
her message is often the same, can be captured in few sentences and that she
certainly has many times a quite "traditional" point of view, she is
listened to carefully. In spite of her age she continues to search means to help
the poor people all over the world and she helps with the means she has. In
every continent, even in Russia her sisters are present in their service to the
lost, for the love of Jesus. In 1992 by the election of the New Superior
general, she is prepared to hand over the responsibility. But she is re-elected.
When in 1996 her health starts to fail seriously, due to her heart getting worn
out by love and action she expresses the wish not to continue. On march 13th
1997 the assembly of sisters elect Sister Nirmala to continue the beautiful
work, for the love of Jesus.
On september 5th 1997, late in the evening around 9.30 h, Mother Teresa
goes to Heaven in the Mother house in Calcutta. Totally finished and worn out,
as she had given herself totally, wholeheartedly, freely and unconditionally to
the service of the poorest of the poor, for the love of Jesus.
One of the first foundations of Mother Teresa is
the Home for the Dying in Calcutta. In an interview with Malcolm Muggeridge
(Something beautiful for God - Ed. Van Spijk) sister Teresa tells how, for the
first time she picked up a woman from the street.
The woman was half eaten up by rats and aunts. I
took her to the hospital, but they could do nothing for her. They only took
her because I refused to go home unless something was done for her. After they
cared for her, I went straight to the town hall and asked for a place where I
could take this people, because that day I found more people dying in the
Ever since thousands of men, women and children
(more that 40 000) were taken from the street in Calcutta and transported to the
home. Half of them died in a kind surrounding. In their last hours they met the
human and divine love, they could feel that they also were children of God. For
those who didn't die the sisters tried to find a job or they were sent to homes
where they could live happily some more years in homely surrounding.
The employee of health services brought me to the temple of Kali and showed me
the "dormashalah" where the pilgrims used to rest after they
worshipped the goddess Kali. The building was empty and he asked me if I
wanted it. I was very glad with the offer for many reasons, but especially
because it was the centre of prayer for Hindus. Within 24 hours we brought our
sick and suffering and started the Home for the Dying Destitutes.
The Home for the Dying Destitutes became more and more known and finally it was
an evidence to pick up dying from the street and bring them to this house when
there was nowhere else place for them. They were washed, freshly dressed and put
into bed with the proper medical care. With tender and patient attention.
All over India and the world the Missionaries of Charity have homes for the
dying and the very sick people, who have nobody else who care, or who can't pay
any medical help. The sisters have ambulances, doctors, nurses, etc. Many
friends and volunteers give a helping hand.
early foundation was "Shishu Bavan", the Home for the babies.
"Many of those children have parents who cannot care for them and thus do
not want them. Some we pick up from the street, others are brought to us from
hospitals, where they were left behind through their parents. Some come from the
prisons and others are brought by policemen. No matter how they come here, we
never refused a child till now."
In India now there are over forty houses for children. But not only there: all
over the world the sisters have childrens' homes. That this are only handicapped
children is untrue. Some have studied and got married, have an important social
role and became themselves messagers of love, doing good works all over.
In the life story of Mother Teresa lepers are a
chapter apart. India has a quite great number of lepers. In the traditional
mentality this disease is a punishment sent to someone by God and thus one has
to accept and suffer the disease without complaint. The position of a leper is
far from enviable in India. They are banned out from society, even when they are
very rich or highly educated. They loose their work and their family, fly in the
mountains by necessity and beg for their food. They live and die like animals.
When Mother Teresa explained that this was a disease, that in many cases could
be cured and not a punishment, she met a wall of cold neglection. But she
started to make small villages where the lepers could live and work in peace and
be cared for, but she needed to find a proper place.
In his book about Mother Teresa Desmond Doig (Ed. Lannoo) tells how a useless
piece of land near the railroad was simply occupied with the intention, along
the railroad, but with some distance of it, to start a colony where lepers could
build their own bambuhouses and work their own fields. It was not without a
risk, because the lepers could not leave the railroad fast enough.
In such a settlement, founded in great difficulty, the sick make their own
cloths and medical cloth for their wounds and bags for the medicine.
Most of our sisters are trained especially for
the work among the lepers, says Mother to M. Muggeridge, and with the newest
medicine from the west we can stop the disease if the sick come in time for
Years ago the Albanese sister had the idea to
collect money for the lepers among the millions of inhabitants of the city of
Calcutta. "Touch the leper with your kindness". It was a great success
and with the money, added to other donations, Shanti Nagar was created:
"The city of peace", where sick and healed lepers are cared for, learn
a job, find work. All in a spirit of Christian charity.
When I touch the smelling body I know I touch the
body of Christ as I receive Him in the Holy Communion under the sign of bread,
says Mother Teresa.
The leader of the City of Joy is an Albanian doctor
who became also a sister. She was leper herself as well as some other sisters,
but they took the medicine that was given in the centre.
Together with all this work Mother Teresa is all
over the world known as a big enemy of abortion. When she received the Noble
Price for peace in 1979 she said:
This is the worst evil in the world.
With all the moral authority she has earned through
her life, she defends the right to a valuable life for every human being and
especially for the unborn.
The life of a child that still has to be born or
the life of the poor whom we meet in the streets of Calcutta, Rome or anywhere
else in the world, the life of children or adults is the same life. It is our
life, it is a gift of God.
Countries that allow abortion are poor, says Mother
Teresa, because they do not have the courage to accept one more life.
The work spread fast. The sisters are now active
all over India and outside in many countries in the world: from Venezuela to
Jordany, from Italy to Tanzania, from the United States to Russia. More and more
bishops were asking for sisters and the number of vocations was increasing,
especially in India. After deep consideration, prayer and discussion, Mother
accepted the expansion.
She opened a house for alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless and destitutes in
Rome. The pope asked to open a house also for mothers with unwanted pregnancies.
For the vocations from Europe and America, she opened a second noviciate in
Rome. In the spirit of the second vatican council she accepted in India non-christian
novices, under the condition that they would accept totally the life and
engagement of the Missionaries of Charity.
As said, with the changing in the communist countries, she opened houses there,
among which Russia, Poland, Croatia, etc. The apostolate there is not mostly a
material, but essentially a moral need.
In many big cities, where the homeless and the lost
have no place to go or stay and certainly nobody who cares, the sisters have
soup kitchen every day. So this men and women can have a warm meal and a warm
place and good food. Many times they become like a small family where care for
each other grows. The sisters also cook for them on feast days like Christmas,
Easter, etc. helped by volunteers.
When in the early 80s the world got shocked by the
disease of aids, killing hundreds of young people and very few information about
the disease was available, many of this sick were left aside in the hospitals or
became unwanted. It is there again that Mother Teresa brought and showed the
great Love of the One she devoted her life to: Jesus. She opens homes for aids
patients all over the world.
Rehabilitation of the prisoners in India.
Mother Teresa has given her support to this project. "It is a beautiful
gift of God as to take care of men and women in prison" she said at the
opening of the second convention of the Ministers in Prisons, a catholic
50 religious, priests and more than 20 lay volunteers who work on the
rehabilitation of the prisoners were present. There are in India 926 prisons and
over 200 000 prisoners. Mother Teresa recalled her first encounter with this
world, when the government of West-Bengal asked her help for the imprisoned