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Remembering the 'Saint of the Gutter'

Last updated on: August 26, 2010 16:07 IST

Remembering the 'Saint of the Gutter'

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When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed... If words could reveal sentiments, it could not have been expressed any better than by Mother Teresa.

Simplicity, piety and charity headlined the life of the 'Saint of the Gutter'. On her birth centenary, we trace the story of her extraordinary love and dedication for poor, homeless and the needy

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia, she was the youngest of three children. In her teens, Agnes became a member of a youth group in her local parish called Sodality.

Through her involvement with their activities guided by a Jesuit priest, Agnes became interested in missionaries. At age 17, she responded to her first call of a vocation as a Catholic missionary nun.

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Image: Mother Teresa

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She joined an Irish order, the Sisters of Loretto, a community known for their missionary work in India. When she took her vows as a Sister of Loretto, she chose the name Teresa after Saint Therese of Lisieux. 

In Kolkata (then Calcutta), Sister Teresa taught geography and cathechism at St Mary's High School.

In 1944, she became the principal of St Mary's. Soon Sister Teresa contracted tuberculosis, was unable to continue teaching and was sent to Darjeeling for rest and recuperation.

It was on the train to Darjeeling that she received her second call -- 'the call within the call'.

Mother Teresa recalled later, 'I was to leave the convent and work with the poor, living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged but I did not know how to get there.' 


Image: Memorial plaque dedicated to Mother Teresa in the Czech Republic
Photographs: Michal Manas/Wikimedia Commons
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In 1948, the Vatican granted Sister Teresa permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and pursue her calling under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta.

Mother Teresa started with a school in the slums to teach the children of the poor.

She also learned basic medicine and went into the homes of the sick to treat them. In 1949, some of her former pupils joined her.

They found men, women, and children dying on the streets who were rejected by local hospitals.

The group rented a room so they could care for helpless people otherwise condemned to die in the gutter. In 1950, the group was established by the church as a Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta Diocese.

It was known as the Missionaries of Charity.   



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In 1952 the first Home for the Dying was opened in space made available by Calcutta. Over the years, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity grew from 12 to thousands serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centres around the world.

Mother Teresa created many homes for the dying and the unwanted from Calcutta to New York to Albania.

She was one of the pioneers of establishing homes for AIDS victims. For more than 45 years, Mother Teresa comforted the poor, the dying, and the unwanted around the world. 

In 1966, the Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded. Homes began to open in Rome, Tanzania, and Australia. In 1971, the first home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York.  


Image: Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity order sing hymns
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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Mother Teresa gained worldwide acclaim with her tireless efforts on behalf of world peace.

Her work brought her numerous humanitarian awards, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

In receiving this award, Mother Teresa revolutionised the award ceremony.

She insisted on a departure from the ceremonial banquet and asked that the funds, $6,000 be donated to the poor in Calcutta.

This money would permit her to feed hundreds for a year.


Image: Mother Teresa with John Paul II

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Mother Teresa travelled to help the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.

Her zeal and works of mercy knew no boundaries. In November of 1996, Mother Teresa received the honorary US citizenship. 

In October 2003, the Pope beatified her, paving the way for her canonization (being declared a saint). She qualified for beatification after Vatican officials acknowledged that she was responsible for a miracle in which an Indian woman was cured of stomach cancer through her intervention.

Mother Teresa died at the age of 87 on September 5, 1997. Her life and work are still alive as a prayer...

"Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and joy."



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