Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, in Skopje, Yugoslavia (now the capital of Macedonia) on August 27, 1910. Her parents were Albanians who settled in Skopje shortly after the beginning of the century. Her father co-owned a construction company and the family lived quite comfortably.
At the age of twelve, while attending a Roman Catholic elementary school, she records that she knew she had a vocation to help the poor. She decided to train for missionary work, and at the age of eighteen she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with a mission in Calcutta. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where in 1928 she took her initial vows as a nun. On May 24, 1931, she took the name of "Teresa" in honor of St. Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish nun.
From 1929 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary's High School for Girls in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1946 she received permission from her archbishop to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poor in the slums of Calcutta. In 1948 Pope Pius XII granted Mother Teresa permission to live as an independent nun. That same year, she became an Indian citizen. After studying nursing for three months with the American Medical Missionaries in the Indian city of Patna, she returned to Calcutta.
Mother Teresa began an open-air school for homeless children. She was later joined by voluntary helpers, and financial support was also forthcoming from various church organisations, as well as from the municipal authorities. This made it possible for her to extend the scope of her work, and on October 7, 1950, she received permission to start her own order "The Missionaries of Charity", whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. Today the order comprises some one thousand sisters and brothers in India, of whom a small number are non-Indian. Many have been trained as doctors, nurses and social workers, and are in a position to provide effective help for the slum population as well as undertaking relief work in connection with such natural catastrophes as floods, epidemics, famine and swarms of refugees. The order provides food for the needy and operates hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth centers, and shelters for lepers and the dying poor. It now has branches in 50 Indian cities and 30 other countries.
In 1952 Mother Teresa began work for which the Missionaries of Charity has been noted ever since. She opened the "Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart) Home for Dying Destitutes" in Calcutta. She and her fellow nuns gathered dying Indians off the streets of Calcutta and brought them to this home to care for them during the days before they died.
In the mid-1950s, Mother Teresa began to help victims of leprosy. Under Mother Teresa's guidance, a leper colony was established on a plot of land near the city of Asansol, which was donated by the Indian government. It was named Shanti Nagar (Town of Peace). In 1965 Pope Paul VI placed the Missionaries of Charity directly under the control of the papacy (the office of the pope). He also authorized Mother Teresa to expand the order outside of India. Centers to treat lepers, the blind, the disabled, the aged, and the dying were soon opened worldwide, including one in Rome in 1968.
Mother Teresa also organized schools and orphanages for the poor. The Brothers of Charity, the male companion to the Sisters of Charity, was formed in the mid-1960s to run the homes for the dying.
In 1985, she opened the first church-sponsored hospice for patients with AIDS in New York City.
Mother Teresa has fifty relief projects operating in India: these comprise work among slum-dwellers, children's homes, homes for the dying, clinics and a leper colony. The order has also spread to other countries, and undertakes relief work for the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The order has also established itself in Italy, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States.
Mother Teresa's work has aroused considerable attention throughout the world, and she has received a number of awards and distinctions:-
for her work among the people of India, the Indian government gave her the
.....Padmashree ("Magnificent Lotus") Award in September of 1962;
in 1971 she received the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize;
in 1972 the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding;
in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peace and
.....brotherhood among the nations.
in 1985 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President
Mother Teresa accepted all of these awards on behalf of the poor, using any money that accompanied them to fund her centers.
Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997 in her Missionaries of Charity home in central Calcutta.