Society - People
By: - at October 25, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's humantarian efforts still go on today through her legacy
By Robert Pérez Palou, via Wikimedia Commons

Mother Teresa has moved far beyond her human existence to become a legend and a symbol. The deceased humanitarian still stands today for compassion and infinite goodness, she is particularly invoked by those pleading for charity to the poor. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 2003, which was considered a very swift decision because it was only six years after her death. He was heavily influenced by her popularity not just among Roman Catholics but among many religious and nonreligious people who all admired her for the work she did. She’s had her share of criticism and her legacy continues to face controversy as any public figure but it’s important to remember that many people base their opinions only on a small percent of who she was as well as what she did. Knowing the facts of Mother Teresa's life and understanding their context is the only way to truly appreciate her, these 15 interesting facts should help shed some light.


15)  Her Name Comes From Her Patron Saint
Mother Teresa was born with the name Agnes Gonxha Bajaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in  a region in Albania called Skopje, Macedonia. The name ‘Teresa’ was one she took for herself upon taking her orders to become a nun in 1931; she chose it to honor her patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese is the patron saint of missionaries, florists, Australia, AID's sufferers, those who have lost parents and people with tuberculosis.

St. Therese was a strong influence on Mother Teresa through her entire life and was a wise choice of patron saint; St. Therese was the main reason that Mother Teresa chose to begin as a nun in a convent in Ireland. Mother Teresa suffered the loss of her parents over her life, devoted herself to mission work and supported the care of poor AIDs patients at a time when the Catholic Church’s well known stance was that AID's was not simply a disease but a result of sin.

Skopje, Macedonia
Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia, which belonged to Albania
By Svilen Enev, via Wikimedia Commons

St. Therese
St. Therese was Mother Teresa's patron saint


14)  She Realized Her Vocation as a Child

Nikola Bojaxhiu
Nikola Bojaxhiu was Mother Teresa's father

Mother Teresa was born to a wealthy Albanian family with a father, Nikola Bojaxhiu, who was a successful merchant and a political activist. Catholics were a minority in their area, so she and her siblings began their education in Catholic schools but were placed into state schools later. When Agnes' father died the family had few connections to rely on; that is why her mother kept the children close to the church to strengthen their faith. They church helped them to promote hospitality and charity to the poor, despite the fact that the family became poor themselves due to a loss of status.

Agnes had a strong interest in missionaries as a child and a childhood friend described her in the New York Times as always being serious as well as contemplative with a lot of scruples. When she was 12 she decided to do mission work and at the age of 18 she left for the Sisters of Loreto convent in Rathfamham, Ireland. Though she did insist she felt called to the work becoming a nun was also a conscious choice for her. She knew she wanted a life of service and to help others, especially through education. It was her belief that the church would provide that opportunity for her, though she may not have known how far it would go.

Young Agnes
Mother Teresa was born to a wealthy family


13)  She Never Saw Her Family After Leaving for India
Her mother and sister are buried in Albania, she visited their graves often in her declining years before her own death when she was buried there too. She devoted care to their graves and oversaw the repositioning of one so that mother as well as daughter could be closer in their resting place.

Mother Teresa took her orders in Ireland but not long after was transferred to the Sisters of Loreto in India. Her mother always supported her work, despite being shocked by the idea of her youngest daughter doing long term mission work so far away. It took her mother only one day to give approval when Teresa initially advised her mother of her plan. Her brother didn’t support the decision, being young at the time, and angrily argued with her in letters about her choice; he couldn't understanding why someone would choose a life of chastity as well as poverty. Her brother has a military career at the time and she used his career to explain that he was serving a king of a couple million subjects; she was serving the king of “the whole world”.

Sisters of Loreto, Darjeeling, India
Mother Teresa took her orders in Ireland but not long after was transferred to the Sisters of Loreto in India
By Shahnoor Habib Munmun, via Wikimedia Commons

Mother Teresa's Grave
Mother Teresa's tomb is in Calcutta, India
By Steve Browne & John Verkleir, via Wikimedia Commons


12)  She Built Homes
One of the aspects of poverty Mother Teresa tackled was homelessness; she began her work in places like the Calcutta slums where illness often meant being forced into the streets because the inability to work with high medical bills keep individuals and families from paying for housing. There were orphaned children as well that ended up as street urchins because no guardians were in place.

Mother Teresa and her many assistants built houses along with nursing homes; this provided hospice services for the terminal, shelter for the sick as well as a roof over the heads of many orphans all over the world. The New York Times article on her life mentions that she built places for those with leprosy and other socially shunned conditions; the care in many places was still meager but patients were jubilant to simply not be on the streets anymore. Mother Teresa recognized that having a place to call home is a basic comfort and attempted to give that to as many as she could.

Mother Teresa's Home, Nirmal Hriday,(Home for the Dying), Calcutta, India
Men's ward at Mother Teresa's Home - Nirmal Hriday,(Home for the Dying), Kalighat/ Calcutta, INDIA


11)  She taught children
When Mother Teresa began her time in India, her convent’s assignment had been teaching wealthy children in private schools and this experience as a teacher was something she took with her to the streets. Along with providing housing for orphans, she began to teach many children in the slums with very little equipment available. Mother Teresa taught them to read and write by drawing in the dirt with sticks, which was an ancient teaching method.

Mother Teresa taught children important basics in addition to formal educational, such as:  hygiene, something that was lacking in many poor areas from ignorance and inaccessibility of supplies. She would work with many of the families of her students to provide for the needs they mentioned to her in whatever ways she could, understanding that cleanliness could help them prevent diseases and help them lead longer as well as healthier lives.

Mother Teresa taught children
Mother Teresa taught children of all social classes
By Rajeshtailor, Wikimedia Commons


10)  She Won the Nobel Peace Prize
 According to many sources, Mother Teresa won over 100 separate prizes for her work but her most famous honor was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She refused the traditional Nobel banquet that is hosted for most recipients as a celebration and insisted that the $192,000 usually budgeted to fund the dinner be donated to charities that help the poor she was living as well as working among.

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five categories of honor instituted by Nobel himself when he created the prizes and the Peace prize is awarded to someone based on their ability to promote brotherhood as well as influence demilitarization.. There is varying speculation on why he made the idea of peace equal to physics, chemistry, medicine and literature but he considered it is just as important as a human’s fundamental right to academic pursuits. Some have argued that Mother Teresa’s work did not qualify her in the way the award is intended but the overseeing board in Norway stands by its decision, citing that the definition left by Nobel is open ended and the way Mother Teresa’s work still inspires others today supports the choice.

Mother Teresa receiving Nobel Peace Prize
Mother Teresa receiving Nobel Peace Prize





9)  She Gave Up Her Convent for Service
As mentioned before, Mother Teresa began her work in India at a wealthy girls’ school called St. Mary’s. Her time in the city of Calcutta quickly drew her eyes from her work; she was upset by the poverty she saw throughout the city over her 15 years there. Meditating on these difficulties brought her to a moment in 1946 where she claims to have heard a calling about what she should do for the poor; she traveled to Darjeeling for a retreat and crystallized her desire to give up what she had to serve Christ in the slums.

Fully realizing her vision took determination and over the course of two years, she took a nursing course to educate herself on the areas she would be going into then applied to the archdiocese as well as her own convent for permission to begin her mission. The Sisters of Loreto granted her request to leave the order while retaining her vows and the Archbishop of Calcutta allowed her to live as well as work among the poverty stricken as a representative of the church. Mother Teresa chose a plain white sari and sandals over a traditional habit to better integrate herself with the people she would be working with then she moved to a small rental. Her life became much harder because she lost the comforts of the convent and the financial support she had received there, she had to rely on donations along with her own faith to see her work through.

Mother Teresa's house Calcutta, India
Mother Teresa lived in Calcutta Inda with the people she helped


8)  She Kept a Pope Waiting
Her work paid off and she gained attention from church leaders who started calling on her, support finally came in. She still remained true to her professed values and put her mission work above all. The Hindustan Times speaks of an incident in 1965 when Pope Paul VI came to visit her in India; she informed him she was too busy with her work among the poor to meet with him. The pope was impressed with her dedication and declared his commitment to helping her with her cause, which included giving her the Lincoln he had been riding around in for his trip. She accepted the gift then auctioned it off to raise monetary funds for the people she was helping.

She later meet with him and his successors up until her death in 1997 but no matter who she was around, her attitude remained the same. She believed that the poor deserved everyone’s focus and blessing, that honoring their needs was more important than honoring authority as well as power.

Mother Teresa kept Pope Paul IV waiting
By Ambrosius007, via  Wikimedia Commons


7)  She Was Staunchly Pro-Life
You might think it unusual for someone so liberally involved with social work to speak out against abortion and contraceptives but Mother Teresa did both. In a speech later reported by the Catholic News Agency, Mother Teresa stated she believed abortion to be a “destroyer of peace” that keeps future parents from taking responsibility and learning to love. She felt that the availability of abortion along with birth control cheapened the value of human creation and eroded family values in the West. She went so far as to express her concern that these issues were what affected behaviors of the young, particularly leading to drug use and poor relationship interactions.

You may be wondering how this coincided with her working among poor people unable to afford their own care, yet alone more children. She considered unborn babies “the weakest of the weak” and called on others to care for expectant mothers as well as infants,  her suggested remedy for not being able to take care of a child was adoption. Many have been criticized for taking this stance then doing nothing to actually support their cause but she spent her life actively working with orphans and attempting to care for them herself with housing, food as well as education when she could not place them with families.

Mother Teresa helping children
Mother Teresa helped children


6)  She faced personal doubt in her beliefs
Such a megalith of faith, like Mother Teresa, can bring feelings of shame on believers who feel themselves inadequate in comparison, both in actions and faith. If Mother Teresa makes you feel like that, whatever your convictions are, take to heart that she expressed many doubts and agonized over her religious life. The UK Daily Mail reports from correspondence collected over Mother Teresa's lifetime that she faced many doubts about God and couldn’t always feel his presence in her life as strongly as she felt she should; she blamed herself for the misery this caused her.

This could be one more impetus that drove her to work with the needy because it fulfilled her own need to be closer to God through good works. It appears that her faith may not have always gone the way she wanted it to because it would be difficult to believe in a merciful and loving God  the way that she did when situated in an area where there was so much suffering. Instead of giving up, she let that struggle be a fact of her life and never let it be a stumbling block in her mission work.

Mother Teresa questioned her faith at times
There were times when Mother Teresa questioned her faith
By Evert Odekerken, via Wikimedia Commons


5)  She lived a strict life of discipline
One of the nuns who worked with Mother Teresa, Susan Shields, has gained notoriety in publicizing what she considers the truth of the beatified humanitarian. Susan claims that many donations that Mother Teresa oversaw didn't seem to go to those in need, that the nun was very stubborn and insistent about how to care for the poor as well as distribute supplies, she is not convinced Mother Teresa was as altruistic as she claims. She especially points out the strictness of the humanitarians in how she treated fellow nuns by denying them many creature comforts, including:  heating, mattresses and proper seating.

It’s important to remember Mother Teresa’s background; she gave up a comfortable life twice over to do what she did, first with her father’s death when she was young and then again when she took on her public mission in the slums. She was highly influenced by her early experiences, which included watching her mother sell off much of the family’s property to pay bills and living a life of relative poverty herself when being taught to help others. She returned to this state and then some when she left the sisterhood order in the early years of her work. Shields also said that Mother Teresa claimed this kind of life would make them more “holy” and she decries this as a cover in Teresa’s mind but it very well could have been her convicted belief, for good or bad. She lived very close to those she worked for and made decisions that were frugal to the extreme of being disconcerting, selling off nearly everything she was gifted for money that went to her work, despite receiving comfortable modern medical care at the end of her life.

Mother Teresa lived a strict life of morals
Mother Teresa lived a strict life with morals


4)  Founded the Mission of Charity
Mother Teresa did not remain alone in her work; word began to spread about what she was doing and many other volunteers showed up to help over time. She officially founded the Mission of Charity in 1950, which is a ministry dedicated to those deemed a “burden” on society. She sought to care for the homeless, disabled people, the sick and anyone else she felt society shunned as “unwanted, unloved or uncared for”. This sentiment is one that is commonly professed among many religious groups but what sets Mother Teresa and those who followed her apart is that they actually took action.

There are now five active branches of the Mission of Charity, which include:  the original Sisters, the Brothers, contemplative branches of the Sisters along with the Brothers and the Fathers. The first two are out of Calcutta, the others hail from Rome and New York City; they offer support to the work that continues around the world. Mother Teresa involved laypeople with the order too, establishing the Lay Missionaries of Charity. Today, the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity alone number around 4,000 members in 131 countries.

Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India
Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India


3)  She Attempted to Resign from Her own Mission

Last days of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa tried to resign

Mother Teresa was considered integral to the functions of the order she founded but she knew years before her death that she could not always be a part of it and as her health began to decline, she attempted to step back to let others take leadership. In 1983, during a visit to the current pope, she suffered a heart attack. Six years later another heart attack struck and she eventually received a pacemaker. When she realized the seriousness of her condition, she resigned as head of the mission but was still voted to stay on by the well meaning board who loved her dearly.

Mother Teresa stayed on the board until March of 1997 but by this time her heart was so worn out from working that she passed away in September, with her order in the faithful hands of those she trusted.

 

 


2)  She received a State Funeral
When Mother Teresa died in 1997, the Indian government gave her a state funeral that honored her work with the poor and needy. State Funerals in India are traditionally reserved for ministers but the President of India gets to decide if a state funeral should be given to the family of an honorable individual; the criteria is based on their service to the country and it’s not an honor lightly bestowed on anyone. The entire country is asked to mourn, the national flag may be set to half mast and the day of the funeral is considered a national holiday along with other attributes of the state funeral.

Mother Teresa was honored this way because of her diligent work with the poor and her encouragement of compassion as well as humanity among the citizens of Calcutta.

Mother Teresa's State Funeral
Mother Teresa received a state funeral in India for her work
By Beth Jenn, via www.oocities.org


1)  She’s Short on Miracles
Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 and beatification is the first step towards sainthood in the Catholic Church. Beatification allows you to openly pray to and venerate someone you believe to be a saint in Heaven. It gives this person a feast day, puts them on the Liturgical calendar in certain areas that hold them in high esteem and allows for the veneration of relics belonging to the beatified. It’s not the same as canonization and does not carry the title of “Saint”, so Mother Teresa is currently referred to formally as “The Blessed Mother Teresa”.

The process of canonization takes time, despite Mother Teresa's short beatification period, and becoming a full saint is a difficult process. For this to happen, the church requires evidence of a supernatural intercession by her on someone who venerates her and this is known as a miracle. Unlike beatification, which takes the presence of such intercession from her living works, this must take place after her beatification. With the availability of science to explain so much more phenomenon than it used to, proving a true miracle in the eyes of the church is much more difficult than it once was.

Mother Teresa was Beatified at St. Peter's Basilica
Mother Teresa was Beatified at St. Peter's Basilica


Final Words
Even if she isn’t a saint in the official sense, it was Mother Teresa’s natural works that won her the acclaim she holds even in death. It might very well be she wasn’t always what she seemed but she did a lot of good in this world and left a positive legacy for many. Even other Christians and avowed atheists have written supportive words concerning her life’s work on places as prominent as the Huffington Post. Whether she represents true goodness to you or just another hypocritical figurehead, you have to admit her biography is a fascinating study into the mind of a unique individual with a focused perspective on life.



 

 

 

 

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