Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today Is the Hundredth Birthday of Mother Teresa of Calcutta


Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Graphics (Toronto: June 9, 1998) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa. We specially remember, how coming from such a humble background, she could win the world's heart for service to the poorest of the poor. She was tiny in stature, but a giant in her love and commitment.

I have an website, called Jerome's Pages on the Catholic Church and Faith, that has a page on Mother Teresa dealing with her short biography and her teachings (sayings). On the occasion of Mother's Teresa's 100th birthday on August 26, 2010, I reproduce below her biography for the benefit of readers of my present blog. (I have rewritten the "Honours, Awards and Prizes" section below and added a few more items there).

A Short Biography of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Her Birth

Mother Teresa, with her baptismal name of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was born on August 26, 1910 at Skopie, at the time part of Albania and presently the capital of Macedonia. Attending a public school, she regularly participated in the catechism [religion] classes and the choir in her Jesuit-run parish besides being active in a Catholic youth organization, Daughters of Mary.

Her Vocation

Once she mentioned: "At the age of 12, I first knew I had a vocation to help the poor. I wanted to be a missionary." At 15, she was inspired to work in India by reports sent home to Skopje by Jesuit missionaries in Bengal, India. In 1928, she applied for admission to Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Loreto Sisters, already at work in India. On September 26 of the same year, she arrives at the Mother House of the Sisters in Dublin, Ireland. After two months of intensive English language training, she leaves Ireland by ship and arrives at Calcutta, India, on January 6, 1929.

A Novice and Then a Teacher

After two years of novitiate at Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas, she takes her temporary vows as a nun of the Sister of Our Lady of Loreto on May 24, 1931. Then she takes up her first assignment as a teacher of geography and history at St. Mary's High School at Entally, Calcutta. On May 24, 1937, she professes her final vows and continues her teaching and then becomes the Director of Studies at the same school that gave education to girls, mostly from well-to-do families.

A Call to Serve the Poor

On September 10, 1946, Sister Teresa was on a train journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling for participating in her community's spiritual exercises. While praying quietly in the train, she got divine inspiration to work for the poor. She says: "...I clearly felt a call within my calling. The message was very clear. I had to leave the convent and consecrate myself to helping the poor by living among them. It was a command. I knew where I had to go, but I did now know how to get there."

Founding of the Missionaries of Charity

After exploring the possibilities, Sister Teresa applies for the permission of Pope Pius XII to live outside the convent and start a new congregation of nuns to work exclusively for "the poorest of the poor." Ultimately on August 16, 1948, she leaves the Loreto Convent wearing a white sari with blue borders. At the time, she had only five rupees (Indian currency valuing a little more than a U.S. dollar) in her pocket? After taking a three-month intensive course on nursing under the American Medical Missionary Sisters at Patna, she starts her work among the poor of Calcutta slums. In 1948, she also applies and receives the citizenship of India. On March 19, 1949, an old student of Sister Teresa becomes the first candidate and later the first nun of her new congregation. Other girls from Calcutta began to follow her. On October 7, 1950, Pope Pius XII officially gives recognition to the Order of the Missionaries of Charity.

Homes for Dying Destitutes and Orphanages

On August 22, 1952, she opens the Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), a home for the dying destitutes at Calcutta. The following year, she starts her first orphanage. She then starts other types of institutions including leper colonies in India. Before her death, the work of the Missionaries of Charity was spread in more than 120 countries.

She Co-founds the Missionary Brothers of Charity

In 1963, Mother Teresa co-founded the Missionary Brothers of Charity, with Father Andrew Travers-Ball, S.J., of Australia. Now there are more than 500 members in this Order.

Illness and Death

Since 1983, Mother Teresa suffered several bouts of illnesses and accidents. On March 13, 1997, she hands over the leadership of the Missionaries of Charity to Sister Nirmala, an Indian nun. Ultimately, on September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa dies after suffering lung, kidney and heart problems in Calcutta. The Government of India accorded her a state funeral on September 13, 1997. The Missionaries of Charity, at the time, had more than 4,000 nuns working in about 600 homes in more than 120 countries in five continents.

Honours, Awards and Prizes

Since 1962 until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa received dozens of honours, awards and prizes for her work -- most notable ones being:

  • Padma Sri (beautiful lotus flower) Award, for social service, given by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of India (1962),
  • Ramon Magsaysay Award, for international understanding from the Philippines (1962),
  • Pope John XXII International Peace Prize, from Pope Paul VI, Vatican City (1970),
  • Good Samaritan Award, given by Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. (September, 1971),
  • John F. Kennedy International Award, U.S.A. (1971),
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Award for international understanding, Government of India (1972),
  • Koruna Doot (angel of charity) Award, from the President of India (1972),
  • Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, given by Sir John Templeton Foundation, Britain (1973),
  • Mater et Magistra (The Mother and Teacher) Award, from the Third Order of St. Francis of Assissi (1974),
  • The Sword of Honour from the Prime Minister of the Yemen Arab Republic (1974),
  • The Voice of America's International Women's Year Pin, Washington, D.C., USA (June, 1975),
  • Albert Schweitzer International Prize, U.S.A. (Oct. 23, 1975),
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, given by St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada (November 2, 1975),
  • The Deshikottama (the best citizen) Award, Vishwa Bharati University's highest honour, given by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the university's chancellor (March 3, 1976),
  • Ceres Medal from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (1976),
  • Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) Award, given in commemoration of the 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, of Pope John XXIII, Vatican City (1976),
  • Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, , from the University of Cambridge, England (June, 1977),
  • Balzan Prize, for "outstanding achievements in the field of humanities," Italy (1978).
  • The Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway (December 9, 1979),
  • Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) Award -- the highest civilian award of India, given by Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, President of India (1980),
  • Order of Australia, "for service to the community of Australia and humanity at large", from the Australian government (1982),
  • Honorary Doctorate of Divinity (Theology), from the Catholic University of Brussels, Belgium (1982),
  • Order of Merit, awarded by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1983),
  • The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, given by President Ronald Reagan (1985),
  • Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee (August, 1987),
  • Leo Tolstoy International Award from the Soviet Union (1991),
  • Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Award, given by the Knights of Columbus through Cardinal John O'Conner, New York (August, 1992), because of her work in the spirit of this Vatican II document -- Gaudium et Spes --promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 7, 1965.
  • Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland (August, 1992),
  • UNESCO Education for Peace Prize, from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (1993),
  • Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for the Church and the Pope) Award, from Pope John Paul II, Vatican City (January, 1993),
  • Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana (goodwill) Award, India (1993),
  • The Golden Honour of the Nation Award, given by the Government of Albania (1994),
  • U Thant Peace Award, "for her heart's sleepless service to humanity," from Indian Hindu religious guru Sri Chinmoy who visits her convent in Rome, Italy, and gives the award (October, 1994),
  • Honorary U.S. Citizenship, from the U.S. government -- she is the fourth person to receive it (1996), and
  • The Congressional Medal of Freedom, "for outstanding and enduring contributions to humanitarian and charitable activities," from the U.S. Congress (May 16, 1997).
Mother Teresa was not only a worker of love but also a speaker and teacher of love. Wherever she went, she spoke on her work as well as on issues related to her work. This preaching of the Good News in a simple language touched the hearts of millions of people. She was one of the greatest modern Christian missionary in the world.

P.S. Mother Teresa has been beatified on October 19, 2003 in Rome and she has been given the title "Blessed." Finally, to be a saint, another miracle is required to prove her heroic (extraordinary) virtues.

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