The Patron Saint of Calcutta | Sunday Observer

The Patron Saint of Calcutta

“It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts”

Christians world over are getting the ready for the season of lent commencing February 26. To commemorate this solemn period and to appreciating life we will take a short walk into the life of Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Albania. The following day, she was baptised as Agnes Gonxha. Her parents were Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. Her father was an entrepreneur who worked as a construction contractor and a trader of medicines and other goods.

The Bojaxhius were a devoutly Catholic family, and Nikola was deeply involved in the local church as well as in city politics as a vocal proponent of Albanian independence. In 1919, when Agnes was eight-years-old, her father fell ill and died.

After her father’s death she grew close to her mother. Her mother was a pious and compassionate woman who instilled in her daughter a deep commitment to charity. Although by no means wealthy, Nikola Bojaxhiu extended an open invitation to the city's destitute to dine with her family.


Like most devote Catholic girls, Agnes attended a convent, for her primary education and then a state-run secondary school. In school she sang in the local Sacred Heart choir and was often asked to sing solo. The congregation made an annual pilgrimage to the Church of the Black Madonna in Letnice, and it was on one such trip at the age of 12 that she first felt a calling to a religious life.

Six years later, in 1928, an 18-year-old Agnes Bojaxhiu decided to become a nun and set off for Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin. It was there that she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

A year later, Agnes began her missionary work in Darjeeling, India. She learned the local language, Bengali, and taught at the local school. She taught for many years in India becoming the headmistress at a school in eastern Calcutta.

What did Mother Teresa do?

When she was 36-years-old, Mother Teresa felt the call from God to help the poor of India. She received some basic medical training and then set out to help the sick and needy. This wasn't an easy task in 1948 India. She had very little support and, while trying to feed and help the poorest of the poor, she herself was constantly hungry and even had to beg for food.

In 1950, Mother Teresa formed a group within the Catholic Church called the Missionaries of Charity. She described the purpose of the Missionaries of Charity as an organisation that would take care of “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”.


During her life Mother Teresa received some 120 prestigious awards and honours. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the Jewel of India, the highest honour bestowed on Indian civilians, as well as the now-defunct Soviet Union's Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote: “In making the award the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed its recognition of Mother Teresa's work in bringing help to suffering humanity. This year the world has turned its attention to the plight of children and refugees, and these are precisely the categories for whom Mother Teresa has for many years worked so selflessly.” She also received the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1985.


Mother Teresa had some lofty goals. If you consider that she was starving only a few years earlier, she accomplished some amazing things. When she first started the Missionaries of Charity there were only 13 members. Today, the group has over 4,000 members who care for people all over the world.

It wasn’t an easy task for her to build such and organisation. After several years of deteriorating health, including heart, lung and kidney problems, Mother Teresa passed away on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87.

There is so much more to this beautiful soul, Mother Theresa. You as children too, in a small way can contribute by caring for the needy. So, lets try this lent season do our little part in caring and sharing. There’s a saying "a tiny ripple can make waves". - MH