MOTHER TERESA TIMELINE
1910 (August 26): Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu was born to Nikollë/Kolë and Drana Bojaxhiu in the Ottoman Empire (today’s Skopje, North Macedonia), and baptized the next day.
1916 (November 26): Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu was confirmed in the Christian faith at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Skopje.
1919 (August 1): Nikollë/Kolë Bojaxhiu died at the age of forty-five under suspicious circumstances.
1922 (August 15): Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu felt the first calling to a religious vocation at the age of twelve, in front of the statue of Madonna and Child at the Black Madonna of Letnicë/a in Kosovë/a.
1922–1928: Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu discerned her religious vocation under the spiritual guidance of the Croatian Fr. Franjo Jambrenković, S.J.
1928 (October 12): Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu arrived at the Loreto Abbey of Rathfarnham, Dublin, Ireland, where she received the name of Sister Mary Teresa of the Child Jesus after St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
1929 (January 7): Sister Mary Teresa arrived at the Loreto Sisters Novitiate in Darjeeling, India.
1931 (May 25): Sister Mary Teresa made her Temporary Profession, or First Vows. She was assigned to teach at St. Mary’s High School for girls in Kolkata.
1937 (May 24): Sister Mary Teresa took her Final Vows, with Archbishop Ferdinand Périer, S.J., presiding. She changed her name to Mother Teresa after St. Thérèse of Lisieux of the Child Jesus, in her ongoing devotion to this saint.
1942: Mother Teresa made a vow not to deny God anything that was asked.
1943: The Great Famine occurred in Bengal, the result of administrative failures by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, rather than drought or climatic conditions.
1946 (September 10): During a retreat, Mother Teresa had an encounter with Christ, experiencing specific revelations or locutions from what she referred to as The Voice, which was the origin of the Missionaries of Charity.
1947 (end of the year): Mother Teresa’s unusually long mystical journey of interior darkness and suffering began, lasting for five decades.
1948 (December 21): Mother Teresa began her work as a Missionary of Charity.
1950 (October 7): Archbishop Ferdinand Périer officially established the Society of the Missionaries of Charity in the Archdiocese of Kolkata, upon permission from the Holy See.
1951 (December 14): Mother Teresa became an Indian citizen.
1961 (October): At the first general chapter, Mother Teresa was elected Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity.
1963 (March 25): The Missionaries of Charity Brothers began, the first male branch of the Missionaries of Charity congregation.
1965 (February 10): Pope Paul VI recognized the Order of the Missionaries of Charity as a congregation of pontifical right. The congregation was placed directly under the pope’s authority instead of the diocesan bishop’s authority.
1969: Malcolm Muggeridge’s BBC film Something Beautiful for God brought worldwide recognition and attention to the Missionaries of Charity and Mother Teresa.
1969 (March 29): Foundation of the (lay) International Association of Co-workers of Mother Teresa.
1972: Drana Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa’s mother) died in Tirana, Albania. A few months later, her sister, Age Bojaxhiu, died in Tirana, Albania.
1976 (June 25): The (female) contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters was founded.
1979 (March 19): The (male) contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers and Priests was founded.
1981 (July 2): Lazër Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa’s brother) died in Palermo, Italy.
1984 (October 30): Mother Teresa, with Fr. Joseph Langford, founded the Missionary Fathers of Charity.
1995: Christopher Hitchens published a critical account of Mother Teresa titled The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.
1996 (November 17): Mother Teresa became an honorary U.S. citizen.
1997 (September 5): Mother Teresa died in Kolkata and was given a state funeral on September 13.
1999: Pope John Paul II opened the cause for beatification of Mother Teresa, putting her on the fast track toward sainthood.
2003 (October 19): Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II, becoming Blessed Mother Teresa after a first miracle, curing an Indian woman’s tumor in 2002, was attributed to her.
2005: The Archdiocese of Kolkata opened the process of canonization.
2016 (September 4): Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis and became a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus” (“Mother Teresa of Calcutta” n.d.). This is how Mother Teresa defined herself. [Image at right] Gonxhe (“Rosebud” in Albanian) Agnes Bojaxhiu was born to Nikollë/Kolë and Drana Bojaxhiu in the Ottoman Empire (today’s Skopje, North Macedonia), their third child after Age (sister), born in 1905, and Lazër (brother), born in 1908. She was baptized Gonxhe-Agnes on August 27, 1910 (a day after she was born), received her first communion at the age of five and a half, and was confirmed on November 26, 1916, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Skopje. Her father’s sudden and suspicious death when Gonxhe was about nine years old left the Bojaxhiu family in financial turmoil. Nonetheless, Drana managed to raise her family virtuously and lovingly; she served as a role model for her children and encouraged the development of Gonxhe’s character and religious vocation. Drana was the “domestic church” (John Paul II 1981) for Gonxhe, and Sacred Heart Cathedral in Skopje provided the extended and vibrant Catholic community which formed the future Mother Teresa.
On the feast of the Assumption (August 15) in 1922, at the tender age of twelve, Gonxhe felt a strong calling to religious life to help the poor. Over the next decade, she discerned her religious vocation under the spiritual guidance of the Croatian Fr. Franjo Jambrenković, S. J. Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu attended the Congregation or Sodality of Mary, [Image at right] founded by Fr. Jambrenković in 1925, which fostered her lifelong devotion to the Virgin Mary.
At the age of eighteen, Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu left Skopje for Ireland to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, otherwise known as the Sisters of Loreto. This is what she wrote in a “Farewell” poem she later composed, which speaks about her pain of leaving everything behind to start a new life of mission in India:
I’m leaving my dear house
And my beloved land
To steamy Bengal go I
To a distant shore.
I’m leaving my old friends
Forsaking family and home
My heart draws me onward
To serve my Christ (Mother Teresa 2007:Kindle).
Accompanied by her mother, Drana, and sister, Age, she took the train for Zagreb, Croatia. She had to travel by train through Austria, Switzerland, and France, and then by sea toward London to reach Dublin, journeying more than 1,000 miles. The first stop was Paris, at the convent of Auteuil, for an interview with Mother Eugene McAvin, the mother superior in charge of the Loreto sisters in France. Mother McAvin gave a letter of recommendation to Gonxhe to bring to Mother Raphael Deasy in Ireland. On October 12, 1928, Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu reached the Loreto Abbey of Rathfarnham, Dublin, where she received the name of Sister Mary Teresa of the Child Jesus, after St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897). Known as the little flower and Co-Patron Saint of Missions, Thérèse of Lisieux left an enduring mark on the life and mission of the future Mother Teresa.
After her tenure and training as a novice at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, where she also learned English, she was granted permission to travel to India, her dream of becoming a missionary became a reality. Just three months after her arrival in Ireland, Sister Mary Teresa; her co-national from Skopje, Anastasia Mëhilli; and three Franciscan missionary sisters embarked on the long journey to India on the ship Marcha. On the feast of Epiphany, 1929, Sister Mary Teresa and other missionaries left the sea and took a new route via the Ganges River, arriving in Kolkata. The very next day, she reached the Loreto Sisters novitiate in Darjeeling, where she began her two-year novitiate under the spiritual guidance of the Mistress of Novices, Mother Baptista Murphy. After making her Temporary Profession, or First Vows, in 1931, Sister Mary Teresa became a teacher at St. Mary’s High School for girls in Kolkata, and in 1937 she became the school’s headmistress, that is, principal. That same year, she took her Final Vows, changing her name to Mother Teresa. In doing so, she followed the Loreto tradition, in which upon profession of Final Vows, a sister’s designation would change to “Mother,” and she could take a new name.
By 1942, World War II had literally entered the Loreto monastery, when the convent was transformed into a British hospital. Students and sisters were moved to another temporary location in the village of Morapai, where every evening Mother Teresa visited the houses of the poor. In 1944, Mother Teresa became the principal of St. Mary’s Bengali High School for girls and the superior of the Daughters of St. Anne, the Bengali branch of Loreto.
The Great Famine of 1943, which was related to WWII but also due to British administrative failures, was disastrous for residents of Kolkata; people were starving and dying on the streets. The poverty Mother Teresa found there made a deep impression, prompting her to discern innovative ways to start an Indian-tailored mission to the poorest of the poor. Cholera and malaria epidemics struck the population, causing more than two million people to perish. Mother Teresa lived the horror that was unfolding beyond the walls of the convent. Witnessing the Great Famine inspired her to take an additional personal vow, that she kept secret in her heart: “I made a vow to God, binding under [pain of] mortal sin, to give to God anything that He may ask, ‘Not to refuse Him anything’” (Mother Teresa 2007).
In 1946 Mother Teresa took the train for her annual spiritual retreat at Darjeeling. It was the journey of a lifetime, and of new beginnings. It was what she would call “the call within a call” (Murzaku 2021a:Kindle), the vocation within a vocation, which marked the beginning of the Missionaries of Charity. On this retreat, Mother Teresa had an intimate encounter with Christ. She experienced specific revelations or locutions from what she referred to as The Voice who instructed her to work in the slums of Kolkata among the poorest of the poor. It said to her:
I want Indian nuns, Victims of my love, who would be Mary and Martha. Who would be so very united to me as to radiate my love on souls. I want free nuns covered with my poverty of the cross—I want obedient nuns covered with my obedience of the Cross. I want full of love nuns covered with the Charity of the Cross. Wilt thou refuse to do this for me? (Mother Teresa 2007).
Mother Teresa informed Fr. Celeste Van Exem, S. J., her spiritual director, of her extraordinary experiences and asked for his permission to talk to Archbishop Ferdinand Périer, S. J., of Kolkata. She was transferred to the Loreto convent in Asansol. After four months of discernment, Fr. Van Exem was convinced that Mother Teresa’s inspiration came directly from God. Thus, he gave her permission to write to Archbishop Périer, describing in detail her encounter and what The Voice was asking of her. Mother Teresa wrote several letters to Archbishop Périer, including a detailed letter dated June 5, 1947, in which she addressed all questions and concerns related to the proposal for the foundation of a new religious community. The letter to the archbishop turned out to be the founding document and the rough draft of the constitutions for her new religious order, the Missionaries of Charity.
Archbishop Périer was planning to submit the case to Rome for examination during his upcoming visit. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 1948, the archbishop gave the go-ahead to Mother Teresa to write to the Superior General of the of Loreto Sisters, Mother Gertrude, who approved her special call. That summer, Pope Pius XII (p. 1939–1958), through the Sacred Congregation for Religious, granted her permission to leave the Loreto Order and begin her new mission in the slums. She had been granted an “indult of exclaustration,” which provided authorization for her to stay outside the Loreto convent but to keep her religious vows as a Loreto sister. A few days later, Mother Teresa left the Loreto Convent for the Holy Family Hospital of the Medical Mission Sisters in Patna, to learn nursing skills.
In 1947 as the new religious order was taking shape, Mother Teresa began an unusually long mystical journey of interior darkness and suffering known in mystical theology as the “dark night of the soul.” In comparison to other saints who went through similar periods of spiritual darkness, her darkness was extraordinarily long; it lasted for almost fifty years (Murzaku 2021a). Nevertheless, a year later, wearing a white sari with bright blue border, Mother Teresa left the Loreto convent to enter the heart of the city and touch the wounds of the poor, starting a new religious congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. Soon, disciples who shared Mother Teresa’s missionary theology joined the ranks to serve Jesus through the poor in “absolute poverty,” by which she meant:
real and complete poverty—not starving—but wanting—just only what the real poor have—to be really dead to all that the world claims for its own (Mother Teresa 2007).
When Mother Teresa wrote to Pope Pius XII in 1950 to request a new congregation, the community had twelve members. Shortly thereafter, Archbishop Périer officially established the Society of the Missionaries of Charity in the archdiocese of Kolkata, upon permission from the Holy See. Within a year, the first sisters began their novitiate as Missionaries of Charity. Within two years, Mother Teresa opened Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), a home for the dying. The community moved to 54A Lower Circular Road, Kolkata, West Bengal, which remains the location of the motherhouse for the Missionaries of Charity. In 1955, the community opened Shishu Bhavan in Kolkata, a children’s home for abandoned street babies and children; and in 1959, a leprosarium was established outside the city of Titagarh. The next year, Mother Teresa was elected Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity.
By the early 1960s, Missionaries of Charity were expanding their houses nationally. On February 1, 1965, Pope Paul VI granted the Decretum Laudis, which established the Missionary Sisters of Charity as a Congregation of Pontifical Right; the congregation was placed directly under the pope’s authority instead of the diocesan bishop’s (as cited in Pope John Paul II 2000). The new structure helped encourage the order to expand internationally. Missionaries of Charity houses were opened in Venezuela, Italy, Tanzania, and other countries, including countries which were behind the Iron Curtain (Albania, Cuba, Croatia, Poland, and the Soviet Union, although not China).
Mother Teresa’s charism was not for women’s congregations only. In March 1963, she founded the Missionaries of Charity Brothers, the first male branch of the Missionaries of Charity congregation, followed by the foundations of the contemplative branch of the Missionary of Charity Sisters (1976) and Brothers and Priests (1979). In 1984, with Fr. Joseph Langford, Mother Teresa cofounded the Missionary Fathers of Charity, whose purpose is to provide priestly service to the poorest of the poor, to provide spiritual assistance to the Missionaries of Charity, and to spread Mother Teresa’s spirituality and mission. The Fathers became a congregation of diocesan right in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1992. Her spirit and charism inspired lay followers known as co-workers of Mother Teresa (founded in 1969).
Malcolm Muggeridge’s BBC documentary Something Beautiful for God (1969) brought worldwide recognition to Mother Teresa and her expanding order (Gjergji 1990). The world was witnessing the rise of one of the most famous religious leaders of the twentieth century, as her list of awards and accolades clearly evidenced, from the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) to the Templeton Prize (1973) and Nobel Peace Prize (1979). [Image at right] She was recognized by numerous awards and honors in India, which included the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace (1962); the Jawaharlal Nehru Award (1972); and the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award for humanitarian work (1980). She also received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985), the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (1992), and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (1997) for her missionary work with the poor of Kolkata. She firmly believed, however, the awards and accolades were given without her meriting them, as she said, “I personally am most unworthy” in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech (Mother Teresa 1979).
Despite health problems, which included heart disease, Mother Teresa stubbornly continued her mission to serve the poorest of the poor until the end, while the Missionaries of Charity were growing in unprecedented numbers. On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa died in Kolkata surrounded by her sisters. She was granted the honor of a state funeral by the Indian government, and her body was laid to rest in the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity.
Less than two years after her death, Pope John Paul II (p. 1978–2005) in 1999 decided to open the cause for beatification of Mother Teresa, putting her on the fast track toward sainthood. In 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II, and in 2016 canonized by Pope Francis (p. 2013–present), after the miracle of healing of a Brazilian man suffering from multiple brain tumors was approved by Francis in 2015. She became St. Mother Teresa, which might have not pleased her. She wished to stay in the company of the poor, as she is recorded saying:
If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of “darkness.” I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth (Mother Teresa 2007).
Mother Teresa had many followers and devotees from different religious backgrounds and walks of life: rich and poor, businesspeople and heads of state, religious leaders and popes. One of her first followers explains why she followed Mother Teresa and what she witnessed in her: “Seeing her poorly dressed in a simple, humble sari, with a Rosary in her hand, making Jesus present among the poorest. One could say ‘a Light has dawned in the darkness of the slums’” (Mother Teresa 2007).
Mother Teresa’s religious message went to the heart of the people of India, inviting them closer to their God and relieving them of the fear of proselytism and conversion to Catholicism. “Yes, I convert,” Mother Teresa is recorded as saying. “I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do” (Murzaku 2022). Mother’s religious message went to the heart of the people of India, inviting them closer to God.
Mother was considered a living saint by popular piety, by her followers and devotees. Most probably because of her huge numbers of devotees and followers, the Vatican expedited her canonization. [Image at right] Pope John Paul II waived the customary canonization process in Mother Teresa’s case, allowing her cause to be opened before the five-year customary wait after her death. On December 20, 2002, he approved the decrees of her heroic virtues and miracles (“Mother Teresa of Calcutta” n.d.).
Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic nun, with a profound commitment to her Christian faith. She saw Christ hidden in the poor and the abandoned. Her unwavering faith followed the Gospel precept of “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
For Mother Teresa, Mary was a gift, given by Jesus at the foot of the Cross to be Mother to all (Mother Teresa 1988: Chapter Two). Christ trusted Mary, and so do the Missionaries of Charity, who trust her in imitation of Christ. Mother Teresa’s spiritual closeness with Mary was a combination of adoration, devoutness, and total trust in Our Lady’s charisma and succor that brought Mother Teresa to experience the love and power of God through the Mediatrix (Mary). Even the intimacy and unity of Mother Teresa with Jesus’ Crucifix can be credited to Mary and her intercession. “Be all for Jesus through Mary,” this was Mother Teresa’s theology of redemption, which is similar to St. Louis de Montfort’s devotion “to Christ through the hands of Mary,” with solid foundations in both Scripture and Tradition (Murzaku 2020).
Mother Teresa understood poverty, and all that comes with it, as the ultimate priority. [Image at right] Identifying with the poor, seeing Christ in the poor, suffering for the poor; all of this marked her ministry and vocation to those living in the gutters in India and continues to be the trademark of the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity serving throughout the world. Mother Teresa’s dedication to the poor was not motivated by an academic or intellectual understanding of her knowledge of their kinship with Christ; instead, she felt viscerally (from her senses to her soul) that those most in need of care presented her with opportunities to love Christ himself. A main shortcoming she saw in modern society was that
Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them (Mother Teresa 1989:Kindle).
The Missionaries’ response to Christ is the Vow of Poverty, which entails a life of antipathy to earthly riches. It is a religious vow taken in full freedom by the sisters, who freely dispose of all property which they possess and who may also renounce any patrimony or inheritance they expect to receive (Mother Teresa 1988: Chapter Eight). This is what the constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity call Consecrated Poverty.
The poverty of the Missionaries of Charity is a lived poverty. They, as the poor they serve, depend entirely on Divine Providence. That is how Mother Teresa understood identification with the poor, by being one of them.
Related to her commitment to walking with the poor was Mother Teresa’s belief that suffering is redemptive. Similar to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose name she took, Mother Teresa learned early in life that if one wants to follow the crucified Christ, he gives his followers two companions which lead to sanctification, or divinization: suffering and sorrow. She experienced both of these in the Balkans (Skopje, North Macedonia), where she was born and raised. Thus, personal loss, suffering, and sorrow became her lifelong companions, through which she believed she experienced the kingdom of God. Mother Teresa found love in suffering because it was through “suffering and death that God ransomed the world” (Thérèse of Lisieux 2008:95).
As she said:
Suffering will never be completely absent from our lives. If we accept it with faith, we are given the opportunity to share the passion of Jesus and show him our love. . . .
I like to repeat this time and time again: the poor are wonderful. The poor are very kind. They have great dignity. The poor give us more than what we give them (Mother Teresa 1989).
Mother Teresa’s modus operandi was to relieve Christ’s suffering as she saw it in the eyes of all who are poor and who suffer.
Mother Teresa took suffering to heart, and she herself suffered in imitation of the suffering Christ and the suffering poor. Christ not only loved those suffering in this world, but he showed his love through his real suffering on the Cross. Mother Teresa’s understanding of suffering is in line with the Gospel teaching. St. Paul told the Corinthians that “For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow,” adding “If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation” (2 Cor. 1:5,6). Like Paul, Mother Teresa believed that when Christians see Christ’s redemption, their suffering has a happy ending, redemption.
Mother Teresa suffered from a prolonged spiritual darkness. Spiritual suffering can be more painful than the visible, bleeding stigmata. Mother Teresa bore the suffering and the marks of Jesus on her spirit (Gal. 6:17). She was chosen to be a victim soul, taking upon herself the redemptive power of human suffering. Darkness united her to Christ, to the poor, and to suffering humans who were working their way to redemption and divinization. As darkness increased, so did her thirst for God and the redemption of souls. For Mother Teresa, suffering, a consequence of original sin, had acquired a new meaning; it has become a participation in the saving work of Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1992:1521).
Missionaries of Charity joined the order fully aware of the vows and the expectations, and ready to imitate Christ even in suffering. They were expected to totally surrender, giving themselves to God even in suffering. How can one alleviate human suffering? By being a co-sharer in Christ’s suffering and the suffering of the poor, Mother Teresa sought to alleviate suffering: “Our Community should take its share in the Passion of Jesus and welcome suffering, in any form, as a tremendous force to renew itself and to become more sensitive to the suffering of our poor whom we are called to serve” (Mother Teresa 1988:44). In itself, suffering is nothing; however, suffering divided or shared with the passion of Christ is a gift and proof of his love, because by giving up his Son, the Father has proved his love for the world (Gorrée and Barbier 2005).
Mother Teresa made prayer central to the life of the Missionaries of Charity. Consequently, she asked every Missionary of Charity to pray with an absolute trust in God’s loving care. She is recorded as saying:
My secret is a very simple one: I pray. To pray to Christ is to love him (Mother Teresa 1989).
Unlike other religious congregations, however, for the Missionaries of Charity prayer is less structured and appears to be freer and more flexible. It is also oriented toward contemplation, with a different approach to contemplation—that is, the Missionaries of Charity are active contemplatives. Classical monasticism followed fuga mundi—fleeing the world for the desert, the mountain, or deep woods and silence. These religious needed to get away as far as possible from other people and from attachments to be contemplative. This was not the case for the Missionaries of Charity or for Mother Teresa. She made certain that that they would engage in both contemplation and action. Their day is made up of twenty-four hours with Jesus in prayer and action, which means,
We are contemplatives in the world and so our lives are centered on prayer and action. Our work is an outflow of our contemplation, our union with God in whatever we do, and through our work (which we call our Apostolate) we feed our union with God so that prayer and action and action and prayer are in continual flow (Mother Teresa 1995b:Kindle).
Mother Teresa herself was an active contemplative, which garnered her recognition and many awards. She won a place of honor at the Human Rights Porch of the National (Episcopal) Cathedral in Washington, D.C. [Image at right] The Human Rights Porch of the Cathedral has been dedicated to those individuals “who have taken significant, profound, and life-changing actions in the fight for human rights, social justice, civil rights, and the welfare of other human beings” (Murzaku 2021b). Mother Teresa became a distinguished and distinctive voice of those who did not have a voice and whose problems the modern world has ignored. This included the poor, the persecuted, immigrants, AIDS victims, terminally ill patients, the destitute, and society’s discards whom she helped until her death.
RITUALS AND PRACTICES
Mother Teresa observed all the rituals of the Catholic faith, including the Eucharist, which is the center of the community life of the Missionaries of Charity. In the Eucharist,
we receive Jesus who forms us [, . . .] pray together as a community and for the community, including daily prayer to the Hoy Spirit to unite us all in love [, . . .] share the meals and recreate together [, . . .] we forgive one another with a mutual and forgiveness and publicly ask pardon for faults committed publicly as soon as possible [, . . . engage in] mutual sharing of spiritual reflection [, . . . and] celebrate the feast of the patron Saint of the sisters”(Mother Teresa, Constitutions 1988: Part 1, Chapter 1).
As Christ on the cross was stripped of his garments, of everything, he became one and identified with the poor and the outcast. This was the model of an “absolute” or “perfect” poverty Mother Teresa and her order identified with, by making the poverty of Jesus and the poverty of the poor their own (Murzaku 2021a).
Mother Teresa followed the type of absolute poverty Christ describes to the scribe who approached him: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matt. 8:20). Mother Teresa and her sisters lived and live the present moment intensely with complete trust in God (Mother Teresa 1988).
Mother Teresa’s leadership capabilities resulted in establishing a thriving religious order in the late twentieth century, at a time when other religious orders in the Catholic Church were shrinking in the number of vocations. This is a result of Mother Teresa’s extraordinary leadership as founder and leader of the Missionaries of Charity. She did not think in terms of big, systemic, yearlong plans to address poverty, suffering, drug abuse, or bringing about world peace. Instead, her leadership approach was helping one person at a time. Mother Teresa never set out to change the world, just to help the person in front of her (Bose and Faust 2011), staying focused and being active. Like the leader of a large corporation, Mother Teresa had a clear vision and purpose in which she strongly believed. Her vision was to serve the poorest of the poor, and this vision was well articulated and acted on. She was strong and stood up for her principles. She never betrayed her ethical principles. She faced criticism with humility. She had a clear understand of her strengths and weaknesses:
If we were humble, nothing
would change us—neither praise
nor discouragement. If someone
were to criticize us, we
would not feel discouraged. If
someone were to praise us, we
also would not feel proud (Mother Teresa 1989).
She was a top-down and hands-on leader, not an autocrat but rather a mother to her community. Community was a big family for Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. As the author of the Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity, she wrote that the “first great responsibility is to be a community” (Mother Teresa 1988:43). Further, she explained that “The Authority which Superiors receive from God through the ministry of the Church is to be exercised by them in a spirit of service. In fulfilling their office they are to be docile to the will of God, and are to govern those subject to them as children of God” (Mother Teresa 1988:82).
Despite Mother Teresa’s fame as one of the most significant women religious of the twentieth century, her work and contributions have not gone without criticism and controversy. Christopher Hitchens, Mother Teresa’s unbending critic, writing in Slate on October 20, 2003, on the occasion of her beatification, asserted, “MT [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God” (Hitchens 2003). In a 1995 New York Times article, Walter Goodman criticized her for paying tribute at the grave of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, stating that “Mother Teresa gives more unto Caesar than is strictly required by Scripture” (Goodman 1995).
Geneviève Chénard, writing for the New York Times, wrote that she was not “convinced we should be so quick to canonize Mother Teresa.” She further raised these issues: “Her Missionary [sic] of Charity was (and still is) one of the richest organizations in the world, and yet at the facility under her watch, used syringes were rinsed with cold water, tuberculosis patients were not put in quarantine and pain medicine was not prescribed. Mother Teresa believed that suffering made you closer to God” (Chénard 2016).
Within Catholic Christianity, a number have questioned Mother Teresa’s orthodoxy. Several consider her to be a Universalist, “believing essentially that all religion leads to the same God” (Challies 2003).
Others find her belief that Jesus is present in every person to be pantheistic (Challies 2003), attacking her statement that “When we touch the sick and needy, we touch the suffering body of Christ” (Mother Teresa 1989).
Mother Teresa has had her share of criticism and skeptics who have questioned the success of her order, her faith, her works of mercy, her theology of service, her suffering which includes the dark night of the soul, and her commitment to poverty. Mother Teresa and her mission to serve the poorest of the poor cannot be understood without a mystical-ascetical theological framework. Through her dark night of the soul, she was attempting to enlighten people’s ways, including the minds and the paths of her critics. After all, trials are human, but how she stood the trial, including the trial of faith, is the key to understanding Mother Teresa’s dark night of doubt and darkness. Although Mother Teresa was going through darkness, she was not clinically depressed or displaying symptoms of smiling depression, which covers depression with a false smile or what psychologists call social smiles. These false smiles are common among people with celebrity status as Mother Teresa had, who are constantly haunted by the media. A 2010 study proved that indeed “there is no real evidence of her [Mother Teresa] being clinically depressed” (Zagano and Gillespie 2010:71).
In Mother Teresa’s view, doubts never became unbelief. She did not feel ashamed discussing her doubts with her spiritual advisors. In fact, for those who have doubts about the very possibility of faith, her experience might be enlightening, leading them to a path she walked before them. Additionally, the dark night of the soul, which is a well-known state in Christian mystical-ascetic tradition, never overwhelmed Mother Teresa (Murzaku 2021a).
SIGNIFICANCE TO THE STUDY OF WOMEN IN RELIGIONS
Mother Teresa is a relatable saint, who can be emulated. She is a modern woman who had a religious calling to serve the poorest of the poor and accomplished it. She is a role model of charity, dedication, selflessness, and tenderness. She personalized poverty, giving it a name and a face, and was the biggest advocate for her poor.
She is an important figure in the study of women religious. She is a modern saint who believed that “every human being [is made] for greater things—to love and to be loved” (Maasburg 2016:Kindle). She was an advocate of women and the complementarity of women and men, and of the family and of children (Mother Teresa 1995a). She brought a traditional message of compassion for the poorest of the poor into the modern world. Through action, Mother Teresa shared the centrality of spirituality and prayer to authentically living in the world.
Image # 1: Mother Teresa. Courtesy Rev. Fr. Dr. Lush Gjergji.
Image # 2: School in Skopje attended by Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa). Courtesy Prof. Dr. Skender Asani.
Image # 3: Mother Teresa receiving the Nobel Prize in 1979. Credit: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/7-facts-mother-teresa-nobel-prize-1369697-2018-10-17.
Image # 4: Mother Teresa with Pope John Paul II. Credit: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/34441/the-happiest-day-of-mother-teresas-life.
Image # 5: Mother Teresa caring for a malnourished child. Credit: http://2breligionalexis.weebly.com/importance-of-issue-and-how-mother-teresa-helped-out.html.
Image # 6: Sculpture of Mother Teresa on the Human Rights Porch of the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. Credit: https://cathedral.org/what-to-see/interior/mother-teresa/.
Bose, Ruma, and Lou Faust. 2011. Mother Teresa, CEO: Unexpected Principles for Practical Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1992. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Accessed from https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4N.HTM on 15 October 2022.
Challies, Tim. 2003. “The Myth of Mother Teresa.” Challies, November 2. Accessed from https://www.challies.com/articles/the-myth-of-mother-teresa/ on 15 October 2022.
Chénard, Geneviève. 2016. “Mother Teresa Doesn’t Deserve Sainthood.” New York Times, March 25. Accessed from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/03/25/should-mother-teresa-be-canonized/mother-teresa-doesnt-deserve-sainthood on 15 October 2022.
Gjergji, Lush. 1990. Madre Teresa. La Madre della Carita. Bologna: Editrice Velar.
Goodman, Walter. 1995. “Critic’s Notebook; A Skeptical Look at Mother Teresa.” New York Times, February 8.
Gorrée, Georges, and Jean Barbier. 2005. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Tu mi Porti l’Amore Scritti Spirituali. Rome: Città Nuova Editrice.
Hitchens, Christopher. 2003. “Mommie Dearest: The Pope Beatifies Mother Teresa, a Fanatic, a Fundamentalist, and a Fraud.” Slate, October 20. Accessed from https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2003/10/the-fanatic-fraudulent-mother-teresa.html on 15 October 2022.
Maasburg, Leo. 2016. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A Personal Portrait. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
Mother Teresa. 2007. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk. New York: Image Doubleday.
Mother Teresa. 1995a. “Message to Fourth World Conference on Women.” Accessed from https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/mother-teresas-message-to-4th-womens-conference/ on 15 October 2022.
Mother Teresa. 1995b. A Simple Path, comp. Lucinda Vardey. New York: Ballantine Books. Kindle Edition.
Mother Teresa. 1989. Mother Teresa: In My Own Words. Compiled by José Luis González-Balado. Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications. Kindle edition.
Mother Teresa. 1988. Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa. 1979. Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. Accessed from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/acceptance-speech/ on 15 October 2022.
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” n.d. Vatican. Accessed from https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20031019_madre-teresa_en.html on 15 October 2022.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2022. “Mother Teresa’s Sisters Don’t Have to Proselytize—They Have the Love of God to Share.” National Catholic Register, January 15. Accessed from https://www.ncregister.com/blog/missionaries-of-charity-persecution-in-india on 15 October 2022.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2021a. Mother Teresa: Saint of the Peripheries. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2021b. “United Nations Honors Mother Teresa with a Postage Stamp.” National Catholic Register, August 26. Accessed from https://www.ncregister.com/blog/un-postage-stamp-honors-mother-teresa on 15 October 2022.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2020. “Be All for Jesus Through Mary.” National Catholic Register. August 15. https://www.ncregister.com/blog/be-all-for-jesus-through-mary.
Pope John Paul II. 2000. “Letter of the Holy Father John Paul II on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Missionaries of Charity.” Accessed from https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_20001017_missionaries-charity.html on 15 October 2022.
Pope John Paul II. 1981. Familiaris Consortio. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Accessed from https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html on 15 October 2022.
Thérèse of Lisieux. 2008. Simply Surrender. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria.
Zagano, Phyllis, and C. Kevin Gillespie. 2010. “Embracing Darkness: A Theological and Psychological Case Study of Mother Teresa.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 10:52-75.
Comastri, Angelo. 2016. Madre Teresa, Una Goccia d’Acqua Pulita. Milano: Paoline Editoriale Libri.
Donohue, Bill. 2016. Unmasking Mother Teresa’s Critics. Bedford, NH: Sophia Institute Press. Kindle edition.
Egan, Eileen. 1985. Such a Vision of the Streets: Mother Teresa—The Spirit and the Work. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company.
Garrity, Robert M. 2017. Mother Teresa’s Mysticism: A Christo-Ecclesio-Humano-centric Mysticism. Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing.
Gjergji, Lush. 2022. I Hold the Albanian People in My Heart. Conversations with Mother Teresa. New York, NY: Iliria Press.
Gjergji, Lush. 1991. Mother Teresa: Her Life, Her Words. Fifth Edition. New York: New City Press.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2022. “Mother Teresa’s Vocation at 100.” The Catholic Thing, August 15. Accessed from https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2022/08/15/mother-teresas-vocation-at-100/ on 15 October 2022.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2018. “Mother Teresa: Pro-Life Heroine of Pro-Life Millennials.” National Catholic Register, September 5. Accessed from https://www.ncregister.com/blog/mother-teresa-pro-life-heroine-of-pro-life-millennials on 15 October 2022.
Murzaku, Ines Angeli. 2017. “Papal Envoy to Consecrate New Cathedral Named for Mother Teresa.” National Catholic Register, July 20. Accessed from https://www.ncregister.com/blog/papal-envoy-to-consecrate-new-cathedral-named-for-mother-teresa on 15 October 2022.
Scott, David. 2016. The Love That Made Mother Teresa. Special Canonization Edition. Bedford, NH: Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
Spink, Kathryn. 1997. Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
18 October 2022