Saint Teresa of Calcutta
August 26, 1910 – September 5, 1997
Feast day: September 5
The Catholic Church has a long history of saints who helped the poor, sick, and dying. Mother Teresa devoted herself to this work, but she not only served them, but saw in them the face of Christ.
She was born Agnes Gonxha August 26, 1910 in Skopje (former Yugoslavia) and grew up in a household where her mother invited poor people into their home for dinner. These early experiences formed her love and care for the poor; helping her to see that they had value not for what they could do or accomplish but because they radiate the image of God. Her entire ministry was based on the Gospel passage from Matthew 25, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
She left home to pursue missionary work in September 1928 at the age of 18 and joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland. She received the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux. In December of 1929, she departed for her first trip to India, arriving in Calcutta. After making her First Profession of Vows in May 1931, Sister Teresa was assigned to the Loreto Entally community in Calcutta and taught at St. Mary’s School for Girls. Sister Teresa made her Final Profession of Vows on May 24, 1937, becoming, as she said, the “spouse of Jesus” for “all eternity.” From that time on, she was called Mother Teresa.
In 1946, she began to hear Jesus’ voice calling her to serve the poor. On October 7, 1950 the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially established in the Archdiocese of Calcutta. Her ministry was grounded in prayer and service. Her order began every day with Mass because she believed the liturgy was key to her ability to live out the mission. Fortified by Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, she left the safety of the walls of her convent and went into the streets to serve the poor and to see Jesus’ face in those she served.
Her belief was we should focus on individuals. She once said, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility; I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time… So you begin.” We do not need to travel to India to honor the dignity of the poor. You can find your own Calcutta wherever you are – there are people suffering from loneliness and indignity in every corner of the world.
During the years of rapid growth of her order, the world began to turn its eyes towards Mother Teresa and the work she had started. Numerous awards, beginning with the Indian Padmashri Award in 1962 and notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, honored her work, while an increasingly interested media began to follow her activities. She received both prizes and attention ‘for the glory of God and in the name of the poor.’
On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa’s earthly life came to an end. She was given the honor of a state funeral by the Government of India and her body was buried in the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. Her tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage and prayer for people of all faiths, rich and poor alike. She was canonized by Pope Francis on September 4, 2016.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta often talked about the importance of small acts of charity. This philosophy came from Therese of Lisieux who taught that God does not always call us to great things, but small things with great love. It is most often through small things that we promote the dignity of others. The easiest way to honor a person’s dignity is through small acts: smiling, shaking a hand, touching an arm, or taking time to listen.
In what small ways do you honor the dignity of those you serve?
Saint Teresa of Calcutta,
Jesus called you to bring the light of His love to those who live in darkness.
By tender, loving care for the poorest and the neediest, you became the sign of God’s presence, His love and compassion in the midst of suffering and pain.
Following your example, help us to recognize the face of Jesus
in our suffering brothers and sisters and to serve Him with humility and joy.
Teach us to be carriers of God’s tender love and mercy and
so bear witness that God still loves the world through each one of us.