September 5 – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, faithful servant

Born Agnes Bojaxhiu in 1910 of Albanian parents at Skopje, Yugoslavia, she was one of three children.  She attended the government school but also had good priests who helped the boys and girls to follow their vocation according to the call of God.  At twelve she first knew she had a vocation to the poor. While at school she became a member of the Sodality.  At that time the Yugoslav Jesuits had accepted to work in the Calcutta Archdiocese.  One of them sent enthusiastic letters about the mission field.  These letters were read regularly to the Sodalists.  Young Agnes was one who wanted to become a missionary and volunteered.  Toward the end of 1928 she was sent to Loreto Abbey in Dublin, Ireland and from there to India to begin her noviciate.

For twenty years she taught geography at St Mary’s High School in Calcutta.  For a few years she was principal of the school.  She was also in charge of the Daughters of St Anne, the Indian religious order attached to the Loreto Sisters.  She loved teaching but then came a change of direction.  In 1946 she was going to Darjeeling to make her retreat.  In the train she heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.  First she had to get permission from the ecclesiastical authorities to live outside the cloister and work in the Calcutta slums.  In 1948 Mother Teresa laid aside the Loreto habit and clothed herself in a white sari with blue border and cross on the shoulder.  She went to Patna for three months to the American Medical Missionary Sisters for intensive nursing training.  By Christmas she was back in Calcutta living with the Little Sisters of the Poor.

She began by going into homes to see the children and the sick.  Then she started a little school.  She also gave practical lessons on hygiene.  Gradually the work grew and other women came to help and provide support.  The first ten girls who came to help were all students Mother Teresa had taught.  One by one they surrendered themselves to serve the poorest of the poor.  In 1950 the new congregation of The Missionaries of Charity was instituted in Calcutta.  Other helpers came.  Doctors and nurses came on a voluntary basis to help.  In 1952 the Home for the Dying was opened.  This began when she literally picked up a dying woman from the street.  The hospital only took her in because Mother Teresa refused to move until they accepted her.  From there she went to the municipality and asked for a place to bring dying people.

She was given the use of an empty Hindu temple.  She wanted to make the destitute feel they are wanted and so are shown human and divine love.  A Children’s Home was established in 1955.  Work among lepers began in 1957 when five lepers came because they had lost their jobs.

In 1963 the Archbishop of Calcutta blessed the beginnings of a new branch, The Missionary Brothers of Charity.  In 1965 The Missionaries of Charity became a society of pontifical right, which showed the appreciation of the Pope for the work.  The work spread to other parts of India, then to other poor areas in the cities of the world.  They seek to express the love of God holding that Christ is found in the sacrament and in the slums; in the “little” people they seek to help.  In later years she travelled, such as to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, the radiation victims at Chernobyl and earthquake victims in Armenia.

Mother Teresa is remembered as a person who served the poorest of the poor and inspired others to do so also.  She saw the poor ones in the world’s slums as like the suffering Christ.  In them God’s Son lives and dies and through them she saw God’s face.  For her prayer and service were bound together.

Her voice and example are heard today in her emphasis on the needs of the poorest of the poor, in seeing Christ in them, and in holding that prayer and compassionate action are both required.

Contributed by Chris Walker