Mother Teresa, a woman of uncommon charisma and a legend of our time is now no more. Frail, tiny, soft spoken, always draped in white sari with blue border, she was the world’s most recognizable symbol of compassion and caring. She was a devout servant of Christ and always believed that God had sent her to serve the destitute and dying, and for these destitute and disabled, whom she served, she was their only source of comfort.
Born on 26th August, 1910, Mother Teresa was named Agnes. Agnes Gonxha Bajaxhin was born at Skopje, Yugoslavia, in the kingdom of Albania. She was the daughter of an Albanian builder and the youngest of three children. Her father died when she was seven. Her mother struggled to bring up the three children and Agnes imbibed her deep faith, her charitableness, and a fierce determination from her mother. From the very beginning there was never any doubt where her life would go. At 12 she decided to become a nun. At 18 she decided to join the Loreto order of nuns in Ireland, who were then serving in the field of education in India. Mother sailed for India in November 1928 arrived in Calcutta after seven weeks.
After spending a few days in Calcutta, she was sent to Loreto Novitiate in Darjeeling to begin the life of a novice. There she learnt English from the very beginning and as an Indian language, she picked up Bengali. She learnt Bengali so well that she was called Bengali Teresa. After returning to Calcutta she joined St. Mary’s school, under Loreto Convent as a teacher of Geography. Outside the high school walls were the Motijheel slums, and she began to their frequently-
On the September 10, 1946, on a train journey to Darjeeling, she heard a ‘Call within a call’. She later explained ‘the message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order’. But leaving the Loreto convent was even more difficult than leaving home. a European women, wearing a cheap sari, with neither money nor helper, must have presented a strange sight. However, it did not deter her from entering the slums. She gathered a few children around her and picking up a stick drew the letters of Bengali alphabet on the ground. Soon she was provided with a blackboard, a chair and few teachers volunteered their services. The schools become a reality. Within two years she had established a dispensary, a home for the dying where the poor could die in peace. Mother Teresa, become a well-known name among her chosen people, the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa took her name Teresa from a 16th Century nun called St. Teresa, the patron of missionaries. In 1950, she set up the Missionaries of charity and set for herself and her order a punishing life. The sisters in the early days kept only Rs. 1.50 with them as they roamed the city searching for the needy, the dying. She first lived in Creek Lane and eventually moved to a building on Lower Circular Road, which came to be known world over as Mother House. In 1952, she opened her first home. ‘Nirmal Hriday’. Today her Order works in 120 countries where it runs 469 educational establishments, 1,369 clinics, and 755 homes. However, Mother, made Calcutta her home and for the first 30 years she did not step out of Bengal and also breathed her last on 5th Sept. 1997 in this city.
Gradually, Mother Teresa’s work gained recognition. In 1979 she was honored by Nobel Peace prize. However, she asked the Noble prize Organization to cancel the traditional banquet and use the money to feed the children. In 1980 she was awarded Bharat Ratna and in 1962 she was awarded padamshree. In the same year she was also given the Megasaysay award. She was also honored by Leo Tolstoy International award and pope John peace prize. When the pope awarded her a limousine, she auctioned if for charity. Her list of awards is endless. She received over 50 national and international awards but the greatest tribute to her services was the fact that she was referred to as ‘Mother’ by one and all. Her remarkable power of simple humility and her unconquerable faith in God touched the heart of million all round the world.
Though barely 5ft in height, the rich, the powerful, and the famous were dwarfed by her. She traveled tirelessly the streets of the world, serving caring, loving the poor, the unwanted. She said that the poor do not want human dignity. She lived among the poor as poor. In fact, she spent her years in a room without a fan. For her, caring for the poor was a way of reaching out to Christ. India, and Calcutta cannot be grateful that this saintly figure from a simple family in distant country Albania made India and Calcutta her home and the center of her worldwide work of charity. We only hope that the Order’s 4,000 members world over will carry on her mission cheerfully and whole/heartedly.