Our woman hero of August is Mother Teresa! Mother Teresa, who was born on 26 August 1910, was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. In 1950 Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation that had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s- and family-counselling programs, orphanages and schools. She was admired and praised by many for her charitable work, but was also criticized for her opposition to abortion and for poor conditions in her houses for the dying.
Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, which at that time was part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, and now the capital of Macedonia. Her born name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. Since she was little, Mother Teresa was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal, South Asia. By age 12, she was convinced that she should commit herself to religious life. Her resolve strengthened on 15 August 1928 as she prayed at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimages. And by age 18, Mother Teresa left home to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland. Since then, she never saw her mother or her sister again.
Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1929. She began her novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas, and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent. During her time there, Mother Teresa was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta, especially after the Bengal famine of 1943 and the August 1946 Direct Action Day that began a period of Muslim-Hindu violence. On 10 September 1946, Mother Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she traveled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. She decided to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.
She began missionary work with the poor in 1948 and founded a school in Motijhil, Kolkata, before she began tending to the poor and hungry. On 7 October 1950, Mother Teresa received Vatican permission for the diocesan congregation which would become the Missionaries of Charity. In her words, it would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”.
Mother Teresa continued to do charity missionaries, both locally and internationally. In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, she rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Mother Teresa traveled to assist the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl and earthquake victims in Armenia. By 1996, she had operated 517 missions in over 100 countries.
Mother Teresa had a heart attack in Rome in 1983 while she was visiting Pope John Paul II, and since then her health continued to decline. On 13 March 1997 Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity, and she died on 5 September.
Mother Teresa received a number of honors, including the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She was canonized (recognized by the church as a saint) on 4 September 2016, and the anniversary of her death (5 September) is her feast day. On September 6, 2017, Mother Teresa was named co-patron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta, alongside St. Francis Xavier.
Mother Teresa inspired us to commit ourselves to help others, even the poor, the rejected, the ones who are shunned by everyone else. Her strength and perseverance to help others are astounding. Mother Teresa also taught us to put trust on our religious calls, no matter how hard it is. By doing so, Mother Teresa was able to draw others’ to their religious calls.
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