Was Blessed Mother Teresa?
Mother Teresa biography, including information on her early years,
her call to religious life and her work with the poorest of the
poor in Calcutta.
The following is an excerpt from A
Retreat With Mother Teresa and Damien of Molokai: Caring for Those
Who Suffer, by Joan Guntzelman.
Mother Teresa was always her own person, startlingly
independent, obedient, yet challenging some preconceived
notions and expectations. Her own life story includes
many illustrations of her willingness to listen to and
follow her own conscience, even when it seemed to contradict
what was expected.
This strong and independent woman was born Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu
in Skopje, Yugoslavia, on August 27, 1910. Five children were
born to Nikola and Dronda Bojaxhiu, yet only three survived. Gonxha
was the youngest, with an older sister, Aga, and brother, Lazar.
This brother describes the family's early years as "well-off,"
not the life of peasants reported inaccurately by some. "We lacked
for nothing." In fact, the family lived in one of the two houses
Nikola was a contractor, working with a partner in a
successful construction business. He was also heavily
involved in the politics of the day. Lazar tells of his
father's rather sudden and shocking death, which may have
been due to poisoning because of his political involvement.
With this event, life changed overnight as their mother
assumed total responsibility for the family, Aga, only
14, Lazar, 9, and Gonxha, 7.
Though so much of her young life was centered in the
Church, Mother Teresa later revealed that until she reached
18, she had never thought of being a nun. During her early
years, however, she was fascinated with stories of missionary
life and service. She could locate any number of missions
on the map, and tell others of the service being given
in each place.
Called to Religious Life
At 18, Gonxha decided to follow the path that seems to
have been unconsciously unfolding throughout her life.
She chose the Loreto Sisters of Dublin, missionaries and
educators founded in the 17th century to educate young
In 1928, the future Mother Teresa began her religious
life in Ireland, far from her family and the life she'd
known, never seeing her mother again in this life, speaking
a language few understood. During this period a sister
novice remembered her as "very small, quiet and shy,"
and another member of the congregation described her as
"ordinary." Mother Teresa herself, even with the later
decision to begin her own community of religious, continued
to value her beginnings with the Loreto sisters and to
maintain close ties. Unwavering commitment and self-discipline,
always a part of her life and reinforced in her association
with the Loreto sisters, seemed to stay with her throughout
One year later, in 1929, Gonxha was sent to Darjeeling
to the novitiate of the Sisters of Loreto. In 1931, she
made her first vows there, choosing the name of Teresa,
honoring both saints of the same name, Teresa of Avila
and Therese of Lisieux. In keeping with the usual procedures
of the congregation and her deepest desires, it was time
for the new Sister Teresa to begin her years of service
to God's people. She was sent to St. Mary's, a high school
for girls in a district of Calcutta.
Here she began a career teaching history and geography,
which she reportedly did with dedication and enjoyment
for the next 15 years. It was in the protected environment
of this school for the daughters of the wealthy that Teresa's
new "vocation" developed and grew. This was the clear
message, the invitation to her "second calling," that
Teresa heard on that fateful day in 1946 when she traveled
to Darjeeling for retreat.
The Streets of Calcutta
During the next two years, Teresa pursued every avenue
to follow what she "never doubted" was the direction God
was pointing her. She was "to give up even Loreto where
I was very happy and to go out in the streets. I heard
the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums
to serve him among the poorest of the poor."
Technicalities and practicalities abounded. She had to
be released formally, not from her perpetual vows, but
from living within the convents of the Sisters of Loreto.
She had to confront the Church's resistance to forming
new religious communities, and receive permission from
the Archbishop of Calcutta to serve the poor openly on
the streets. She had to figure out how to live and work
on the streets, without the safety and comfort of the
convent. As for clothing, Teresa decided she would set
aside the habit she had worn during her years as a Loreto
sister and wear the ordinary dress of an Indian woman:
a plain white sari and sandals.
Teresa first went to Patna for a few months to prepare
for her future work by taking a nursing course. In 1948
she received permission from Pius XII to leave her community
and live as an independent nun. So back to Calcutta she
went and found a small hovel to rent to begin her new
Wisely, she thought to start by teaching the children
of the slums, an endeavor she knew well. Though she had
no proper equipment, she made use of what was availablewriting
in the dirt. She strove to make the children of the poor
literate, to teach them basic hygiene. As they grew to
know her, she gradually began visiting the poor and ill
in their families and others all crowded together in the
surrounding squalid shacks, inquiring about their needs.
Teresa found a never-ending stream of human needs in
the poor she met, and frequently was exhausted. Despite
the weariness of her days she never omitted her prayer,
finding it the source of support, strength and blessing
for all her ministry.
A Movement Begins
Teresa was not alone for long. Within a year, she found
more help than she anticipated. Many seemed to have been
waiting for her example to open their own floodgates of
charity and compassion. Young women came to volunteer
their services and later became the core of her Missionaries
of Charity. Others offered food, clothing, the use of
buildings, medical supplies and money. As support and
assistance mushroomed, more and more services became possible
to huge numbers of suffering people.
From their birth in Calcutta, nourished by the faith,
compassion and commitment of Mother Teresa, the Missionaries
of Charity have grown like the mustard seed of the Scriptures.
New vocations continue to come from all parts of the world,
serving those in great need wherever they are found. Homes
for the dying, refuges for the care and teaching of orphans
and abandoned children, treatment centers and hospitals
for those suffering from leprosy, centers and refuges
for alcoholics, the aged and street peoplethe list is
Until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa continued her
work among the poorest of the poor, depending on God for
all of her needs. Honors too numerous to mention had come
her way throughout the years, as the world stood astounded
by her care for those usually deemed of little value.
In her own eyes she was "God's pencila tiny bit of pencil
with which he writes what he likes."
Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual
work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and
bent, with numerous ailments, she always returned to her
work, to those who received her compassionate care for
more than 50 years. Only months before her death, when
she became too weak to manage the administrative work,
she relinquished the position of head of her Missionaries
of Charity. She knew the work would go on.
Finally, on September 5, 1997, after finishing her dinner
and prayers, her weakened heart gave her back to the God
who was the very center of her life.
book excerpt from A
Retreat With Mother Teresa and Damien of Molokai: Caring
for Those Who Suffer, by Joan Guntzelman
Return to Paying Tribute to Mother
Teresa of Calcutta