Published Sept. 21, 2023
To most people, she is a role model of charity, compassion, and selflessness. To the homeless and destitute, she is the beacon that gives hope to their desperate existence.
Dubbed as “The Living Saint,” Mother Teresa has, without a doubt, made a massive impact on many people’s lives. She changed the world and inspired a lot of people in her own way.
Her journey wasn’t easy, though. She was criticized and humiliated, but that didn’t deter her. She continued to devote her life to caring for the sick, poor, and disadvantaged. In the process, she challenged stereotypes, broke boundaries, and taught us the true essence of charity.
Who was Mother Teresa?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a missionary nun who was one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. She founded the Missionaries of Charity – a religious organization dedicated to helping the poor. Through this, she was able to create programs and initiatives that made her an icon of charity around the world. In the Catholic Church, she is also known as Saint Teresa after she was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.
The world came to know her as the hunched old lady wearing a white sari with blue borders. And if you didn’t know anything about her, you probably wouldn’t believe that this unassuming woman is a saint and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But her stature belied her strength and her passion for serving the poorest of the poor.
Even decades after her death, Mother Teresa’s life and works continued to inspire people and will most likely continue to inspire generations more.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia on August 26, 1910, to parents of Albanian descent. Her family wasn’t wealthy but they lived comfortably. Her father was a businessman who traded medicines and other goods and also worked as a construction contractor. He was also involved in politics and died when Mother Teresa was just 8 years old.
During her childhood years, her mother, who was a very pious woman, would often invite the city’s destitute to dine with them. When she asked her mother about the people dining with them, her mother would only say that “some of them are our relations but all of them are our people.” This created a profound impression on Young Agnes and introduced her to the concept of charity. At a young age, she became fascinated with the lives of missionaries in Bengal and their charitable efforts. Then at 12, she decided to commit herself to religious life.
Four years later, she left her home to join the Sisters of Loreto in Rathfarnham, Ireland with the intent of becoming a missionary. After a year in the Loreto Convent, she was sent to Darjeeling in India to begin her novitiate. There she learned Bengali and later became a principal at a charity school near their convent. Though far from luxurious, her life as a school principal was comfortable. But God had a different plan for her.
Heeding the Call
In 1943, the Bengal province experienced one of its worst famines. Close to 3 million people died of starvation, malaria, and other illnesses. Many families became homeless, and a great number of women became widows. And since widows were regarded as second-class citizens in the Bengali culture, many of them ended up begging on the streets of cities like Calcutta.
Inside the walls of the school, Sister Teresa, as she was known at that time, had a pretty comfortable life. But she had always been acutely aware of the poverty surrounding her. She could see the women begging on the streets and the emaciated orphans who often become victims of violence. Then a train ride going to a retreat changed her life forever.
While on the train, Mother Teresa received her second calling or what she referred to as “the call within a call.” She said that on that fateful journey, Christ talked to her and told her to leave everything and help the poorest of the poor. That’s what she did.
Armed with basic medical training, strong faith, and a great desire to make a difference, Mother Teresa hit the streets of Calcutta. She had only one goal: to help “the unwanted, the unloved and the uncared for.” Out in the streets, she experienced poverty firsthand. She saw the horrors that street dwellers have to face every single day.
With this, she wasted no time turning her passion into action. She established an open-air school and set up a home for the dying. A few years later, people started recognizing her efforts and many joined in her cause. This led her to found a new religious congregation called the Missionaries of Charity.
Her new congregation started with only a handful of members. Most of them were former teachers or students of the charity school where she taught. When word of her efforts started to spread, donations started to pour in from all over India. And before she knew it, news of her charity work slowly started to spread all over the world. It also brought people’s attention to the pitiful plight of the street dwellers in Calcutta and in all of India.
As her congregation grew, so did Mother Teresa’s fame. By the 1960’s they had opened orphanages, hospices, and lepers houses throughout India. Then in 1965, they opened their first charitable house in Venezuela. This was followed by the establishment of more charity houses in other parts of the world. In 1971, Mother Teresa opened a house of charity in New York – the first one in the US.
But her brand of charity knows no religion. In 1987, she secretly traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, where at that time, Christian and Muslim populations were deeply segregated. She crossed the borders separating them and helped children from both faiths.
She also opened her charity houses to unwed mothers and even established a special home to care for those infected with HIV/AIDS.
Her efforts in fighting poverty around the world have won her numerous awards and peace prizes. She received the Jewel of India award and the Soviet Union’s Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. Pope Paul VI also bestowed the Decree of Praise for the Missionaries of Charity. And in 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in bringing help to suffering humanity.
Death and Canonization
Mother Teresa passed away on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87 after years of deteriorating health. At the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity already had about 4,000 members.
In 2003, she was beatified and declared “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta” by Pope John Paul II. Then in a canonization ceremony in Vatican City last 2016, Pope Francis declared her a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
How Mother Teresa Changed the World
She Showed Us The True Meaning of Charity
Many of us dreamed of changing the world, but only very few chose to act on it. And fewer still did it as bravely as this humble woman from Calcutta.
Her genuine desire to serve the poor is what propelled her to pursue this path. If you look at all her humanitarian efforts, her motivations are clear as day. She set up soup kitchens, a leper colony, orphanages, and a home for the dying destitute.
She treated the lepers, educated the poorest of the poor, and fed the homeless. She treated them like her family. All the criticisms and sly comments against her did nothing to extinguish the passion in her heart.
This selfless dedication flamed the fans of charitable awareness around the world. Many were inspired and joined Mother Teresa in her mission.
She could have chosen to ignore her calling, but she didn’t. Her decision to exchange a life of comfort with that of poverty earned her the world’s admiration. This act of hers showed the world that material things won’t bring happiness as much as helping others.
Aside from her passion for serving the poor, Mother Teresa changed the world and also inspired us by showing what universal love means.
She didn’t care if someone was white, black, brown, yellow, young, old, male, or female. In the summer of 1982, she even went to Beirut to help both Christian and Muslim children.
At a time when people with HIV/AIDS were looked down on, her universal love lifted them up. She set up Gift of Love, a home that cares for those infected with the disease.
She was even quoted saying:
“When you judge someone, you have no time to love them.”
Universal love became one of the core principles of The Missionaries of Charity which has now more than 5,000 members in various countries across the globe.
Promoting Peace and Forgiveness
Another way in which Mother Teresa changed the world was by promoting peace and forgiveness. She believed peace began with a smile and lived by this philosophy daily. She worked tirelessly to bridge gaps in a world filled with conflicts and divisions. She promoted harmony among different communities.
Mother Teresa’s efforts were particularly evident during times of crisis and conflict. For instance, during the 1992-1993 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she visited the country and contacted both sides. She offered support and compassion to everyone affected by the violence. Her presence and words brought hope and healing to many.
Through her actions, Mother Teresa taught us the power of forgiveness. She believed forgiving others brings inner peace and helps build a compassionate, united society. By forgiving those who wronged her or the Missionaries of Charity, she showed us that forgiveness can transform lives. That it can mend broken relationships.
Advocating for the Dignity of Every Human Being
Mother Teresa changed the world by advocating for the dignity of every human being. She recognized every person’s worth and value, regardless of their social status or circumstances.
She spoke out against societal injustices and fought for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. Mother Teresa believed that no one should be treated as less than human. She dedicated her life to ensuring everyone received love, care, and respect.
Her work with the poor, the sick, and the dying was a testament to her commitment to upholding human dignity. She taught us that everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and valued, regardless of background or condition.
Mother Teresa’s Charitable Actions
Mother Teresa’s charitable actions were remarkable. She dedicated her life to serving the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in India in 1950. It is an organization that has profoundly changed countless lives.
Mother Teresa established many charitable programs and institutions through the Missionaries of Charity. She founded orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the ill. She provided care and support to those in need.
These institutions were run by volunteers from the charity. They selflessly devoted their time and efforts to serve the marginalized.
One of Mother Teresa’s notable contributions was her work with lepers. She set up leper colonies and provided care and compassion to those afflicted by the disease. Her efforts helped to destigmatize leprosy. She brought comfort to those who had been ostracized by society.
Mother Teresa’s charitable work extended beyond India. The Missionaries of Charity expanded globally. It has foundations in 123 countries across all seven continents. This widespread presence allowed the organization to reach and help people worldwide.
Her dedication to the poor and marginalized earned her worldwide recognition and admiration. Mother Teresa received numerous awards and honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize 1979. Her selflessness and commitment to serving others continue to inspire people today.
Help Us Help The Homeless
Like Mother Teresa, we believe that true fulfillment comes not from material things but in helping others.
Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen has been serving the homeless in South Florida for over 34 years. We provide them a hot meal in an environment free of prejudice and discrimination.
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Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen has fed the poor and homeless in South Florida over 900,000 hot meals since 1993. Our tax deductible non profit organization also accepts and distributes donations such as clothing, toiletries, shoes, bicycles, and more. You can donate to help the poor and homeless through our website.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer and devoted Christian. She has a passion for writing about topics related to morality and helping the poor and homeless. She is the lead author for the Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen blog.
Correct Digital, Inc is paid by private donors to provide website digital marketing services to this non-profit organization.