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Who Was Mother Theresa Essay, Research Paper

Who Was Mother Teresa?

Mother Teresa was always her own person,

startlingly independent, obedient, yet

challenging some preconceived notions and

expectations. Her own life story includes

many illustrations of her willingness to listen to

and follow her own conscience, even when it

seemed to contradict what was expected.

This strong and independent Slavic woman

was born Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu in

Skopje, Yugoslavia, on August 27, 1910.

Five children were born to Nikola and

Dronda Bojaxhiu, yet only three survived.

Gonxha was the youngest, with an older

sister, Aga, and brother, Lazar. This brother

describes the family’s early years as

“well-off,” not the life of peasants reported

inaccurately by some. “We lacked for

nothing.” In fact, the family lived in one of the

two houses they owned.

Nikola was a contractor, working with a

partner in a successful construction business.

He was also heavily involved in the politics of

the day. Lazar tells of his father’s rather

sudden and shocking death, which may have

been due to poisoning because of his political

involvement. With this event, life changed

overnight as their mother assumed total

responsibility for the family, Aga, only 14,

Lazar, 9, and Gonxha, 7.

Though so much of her young life was

centered in the Church, Mother Teresa later

revealed that until she reached 18, she had

never thought of being a nun. During her early

years, however, she was fascinated with

stories of missionary life and service. She

could locate any number of missions on the

map, and tell others of the service being given

in each place.

Called to Religious Life

At 18, Gonxha decided to follow the path

that seems to have been unconsciously

unfolding throughout her life. She chose the

Loreto Sisters of Dublin, missionaries and

educators founded in the 17th century to

educate young girls.

In 1928, the future Mother Teresa began her

religious life in Ireland, far from her family and

the life she’d known, never seeing her mother

again in this life, speaking a language few

understood. During this period a sister novice

remembered her as “very small, quiet and

shy,” and another member of the congregation

described her as “ordinary.” Mother Teresa

herself, even with the later decision to begin

her own community of religious, continued to

value her beginnings with the Loreto sisters

and to maintain close ties. Unwavering

commitment and self-discipline, always a part

of her life and reinforced in her association

with the Loreto sisters, seemed to stay with

her throughout her life.

One year later, in 1929, Gonxha was sent to

Darjeeling to the novitiate of the Sisters of

Loreto. In 1931, she made her first vows

there, choosing the name of Teresa, honoring

both saints of the same name, Teresa of Avila

and Therese of Lisieux. In keeping with the

usual procedures of the congregation and her

deepest desires, it was time for the new Sister

Teresa to begin her years of service to God’s

people. She was sent to St. Mary’s, a high

school for girls in a district of Calcutta.

Here she began a career teaching history and

geography, which she reportedly did with

dedication and enjoyment for the next 15

years. It was in the protected environment of

this school for the daughters of the wealthy

that Teresa’s new “vocation” developed and

grew. This was the clear message, the

invitation to her “second calling,” that Teresa

heard on that fateful day in 1946 when she

traveled to Darjeeling for retreat.

The Streets of Calcutta

During the next two years, Teresa pursued

every avenue to follow what she “never

doubted” was the direction God was pointing

her. She was “to give up even Loreto where I

was very happy and to go out in the streets. I

heard the call to give up all and follow Christ

into the slums to serve him among the poorest

of the poor.”

Technicalities and practicalities abounded.

She had to be released formally, not from her

perpetual vows, but from living within the

convents of the Sisters of Loreto. She had to

confront the Church’s resistance to forming

new religious communities, and receive

permission from the Archbishop of Calcutta

to serve the poor openly on the streets. She

had to figure out how to live and work on the

streets, without the safety and comfort of the

convent. As for clothing, Teresa decided she

would set aside the habit she had worn during

her years as a Loreto sister and wear the

ordinary dress of an Indian woman: a plain

white sari and sandals.

Teresa first went to Patna for a few months to

prepare for her future work by taking a

nursing course. In 1948 she received

permission from Pius XII to leave her

community and live as an independent nun.

So back to Calcutta she went and found a

small hovel to rent to begin her new


Wisely, she thought to start by teaching the

children of the slums, an endeavor she knew

well. Though she had no proper equipment,

she made use of what was available?writing

in the dirt. She strove to make the children of

the poor literate, to teach them basic hygiene.

As they grew to know her, she gradually

began visiting the poor and ill in their families

and others all crowded together in the

surrounding squalid shacks, inquiring about

their needs.

Teresa found a never-ending stream of human

needs in the poor she met, and frequently was

exhausted. Despite the weariness of her days

she never omitted her prayer, finding it the

source of support, strength and blessing for all

her ministry.

A Movement Begins

Teresa was not alone for long. Within a year,

she found more help than she anticipated.

Many seemed to have been waiting for her

example to open their own floodgates of

charity and compassion. Young women came

to volunteer their services and later became

the core of her Missionaries of Charity.

Others offered food, clothing, the use of

buildings, medical supplies and money. As

support and assistance mushroomed, more

and more services became possible to huge

numbers of suffering people.

From their birth in Calcutta, nourished by the

faith, compassion and commitment of Mother

Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity have

grown like the mustard seed of the Scriptures.

New vocations continue to come from all

parts of the world, serving those in great need

wherever they are found. Homes for the

dying, refuges for the care and teaching of

orphans and abandoned children, treatment

centers and hospitals for those suffering from

leprosy, centers and refuges for alcoholics,

the aged and street people?the list is


Until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa

continued her work among the poorest of the

poor, depending on God for all of her needs.

Honors too numerous to mention had come

her way throughout the years, as the world

stood astounded by her care for those usually

deemed of little value. In her own eyes she

was “God’s pencil?a tiny bit of pencil with

which he writes what he likes.”

Despite years of strenuous physical,

emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa

seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent,

with numerous ailments, she always returned

to her work, to those who received her

compassionate care for more than 50 years.

Only months before her death, when she

became too weak to manage the

administrative work, she relinquished the

position of head of her Missionaries of

Charity. She knew the work would go on.

Finally, on September 5, 1997, after finishing

her dinner and prayers, her weakened heart

gave her back to the God who was the very

center of her life.

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