Mother Teresa was given many names throughout her life. Her family called her Gonxha, her professed name was Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, and the poor she served called her the ‘slum sister’ and the ‘sister of the gutters.’ But she was first known as Agnes, which was the name her parents gave her when she was born in Yugoslavia in 1910. Her parents both loved to serve the poor, and Agnes loved to help them. Her father died (possibly poisoned) when Agnes was seven, and providing for the family fell to Agnes’ mother. Despite their hardships, the family continued their work helping the poor of their town.
Agnes first began to feel the call to the religious life when she was about twelve. She had dreams of becoming a teacher one day, but when a visiting missionary from India came to speak of his experiences, the account set her glowing. When she was eighteen, she told her mother of the calling she felt. Her mother retreated to her room and remained there for a whole day. When she finally came out, she gave Agnes her consent, saying, “Put your hand in the Lords and walk all the way with him.”
Agnes left her home to join the sisters of Loreto in Ireland. Little did she know that her departure from her sister and mother at the train station would be the last time she would ever see their faces. She spent a few months in Ireland learning English, and then sailed down to India to live with the sisters there. She lived with the sisters of Loreto for fifteen years, taking the religious name of Teresa, after St. Therese of the Little flower, who is the patroness of missionaries. She later became Mother Teresa.
What had shocked Teresa most upon her arrival in India was the poverty infecting the country. Sick and dying people lay on the sidewalks on reed mats or even upon the bare ground. She had been teaching the children of the upper class people of Calcutta for a long time, but she wasn’t quite sure she had been called to India to do that, when the poor were still suffering around her. Mother Teresa was on her way to her yearly retreat when she felt a sudden call: she wasn’t supposed to just serve the poor, she had to serve them while living among them. She gained permission from the archbishop of Calcutta to leave the Loreto sisters, while still living under her vows, and live among the poor.
Her little mission quickly grew. Little two room shacks grew into whole cities for the poor. The simple white and blue clad nun was joined first by one woman, then another, then even more. In the fall of 1950, Pope Pius the twelfth approved of the constitution for the order which Mother Teresa had written. The sisters, besides the usual vows of Chastity, obedience, and poverty, took another vow to live their lives serving the poorest of the poor.
Over the course of her life, Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity spread all over the world, opening hospitals for the sick and dying, as well as homes for unwanted children and infants, lepers, drug addicts, and alcoholics. Where the poorest of the poor were, the army of sari-clad sisters were there also. No matter how repulsive the patient, Mother Teresa would take them in. “The greatest disease,” she said, “is to be unwanted, unloved, a throwaway of society.”
Towards the end of her life, her health began to fail greatly. Mother Teresa sought to resign from the head of the order, but when a vote was taken, every sister but herself had voted for her to retain her post. However, her health soon grew so bad that another sister had to take over. Still, her predecessor refused to use the title of mother. “We have only one mother,” she explained, meaning Mother Teresa. Several months later, Mother Teresa collapsed and passed into eternity. The “slum sister” had a wake that lasted a week, during which nearly three million people came to see her. After a grand funeral, she was buried at the mother house in Calcutta. Inscribed on her marker is the following phrase: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!