Mother Teresa, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was resident of Macedonia. At the age of 18 she joined a group of nuns in Ireland. After a few months of training, she was given permission to travel to India. On her arrival in India, she began by working as a teacher. She took her formal religious vows in 1931 at Darjeeling, and chose to be named after St Therese of Lisieux – the patron saint of missionaries. The widespread poverty of Calcutta made a deep impression on her; and this led to her starting a new order called “The Missionaries of Charity”. The primary objective of this mission was to look after people, who nobody else was prepared to look after.
She experienced two particularly traumatic periods in Calcutta. The first was the Bengal famine of 1943 and the second was the Hindu/Muslim violence in 1946 – before the partition of India. In 1948, she left the convent to live full time amongst the poorest of Calcutta. She chose to wear a white Indian Sari, with blue trimmings – out of respect for the traditional Indian dress. For many years, Mother Teresa and a small band of fellow nuns survived on minimal income and food, often having to beg for funds. Slowly her efforts with the poorest were noted and appreciated by the local community and Indian politicians.
In 1952, she opened her first home for the dying, which allowed people to die with dignity. Mother Teresa often spent time with those who were dying. It afforded many neglected people the opportunity to die knowing someone cared. Those in her dying homes were given the religious rites appropriate to their faith. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. The Missionaries of Charity now has branches throughout the world including branches in the developed world where they work with the homeless and people affected with AIDS.
In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace”. Following her death, Mother Teresa was formally beatified in October 2003 by Pope John Paul II and is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.