“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”
– Mother Teresa
Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, popularly known as ‘Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta,’ was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje
which is now the capital of North Macedonia. After eighteen years, she moved to Ireland and then to India. She was the founder of the Missionaries of Charity—a Roman Catholic religious congregation that had over 4,500 nuns in 1950 and is still active across the globe. Right from her childhood, she was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal. By the age of 12, she was convinced that she should commit herself to a religious life.
She left home in 1928 at the age of 18 to learn English with a view to becoming a missionary. She arrived in India in 1929 and learnt Bengali. She taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent. She served there for nearly twenty years and was appointed its headmistress in 1944. Although Teresa enjoyed teaching at the school, she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Kolkata. The Bengal famine of 1943 brought misery and death to the city and the August 1946 ‘Direct Action Day’ started a period of Muslim-Hindu violence. She began missionary work with the poor in 1948 wearing a simple white cotton sari with a blue border. She adopted Indian citizenship, spent several months in Patna to receive basic medical training and ventured into the slums.
She founded a school in Kolkata before she began tending to the poor and hungry. At the beginning of 1949, Teresa was joined in her effort by a group of young women and she laid the foundation of a new community helping the ‘poorest among the poor’. Her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months. In 1952, she opened her first hospice with the help from Calcutta officials. Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials including the then Prime Minister. She converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying. It was free for the poor and was later renamed as Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart, commonly known as ‘Nirmal Hriday’.
It cared for the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who felt unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, the people who had become a burden to the society and were shunned by everyone. She opened a hospice for those with leprosy, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace). The Missionaries of Charity established leprosy outreach clinics throughout Kolkata, providing medication, clothes and food. The Missionaries of Charity took in an increasing number of homeless children. In 1955, she opened Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart as a haven for orphans and homeless youth. Her congregation began to attract recruits and donations and by the 1960s, it had opened hospices, orphanages and leper homes throughout India. She expanded the congregation abroad in every continent. In 1962, she was honoured with the Padma Shri for her distinguished service.
She was forthcoming and proactive to help the needy even during international crises. She rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital in 1982 in Israel. She worked for the International Red Cross, radiation victims at Chernobyl and earthquake victims in Armenia. She operated 517 missions in over 100 countries. Her Missionaries of Charity grew from twelve to thousands, serving ‘the poorest of the poor’ in centres worldwide. She was the subject of the 1969 documentary film and 1972 book, ‘Something Beautiful for God’. The film had been credited with drawing the Western world’s attention to Mother Teresa. In 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Bharat Ratna in 1980 for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress. She didn’t attend the Nobel Prize ceremony but asked that the cash prize be given to the poor. This shows her level of generosity.
She died in 1997. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, the Government of India issued a special 5 rupee coin in 2010 which was the amount of money that Mother Teresa had when she arrived in India. Undoubtedly, everyone can draw tremendous inspiration from her selfless humanitarian acts in the service of poor and needy.