Saints for Today: Teresa of Calcutta, Nun & Missionary (1910-1997)


Feast Day: September 5

Agnes Gonzha Bojaxhiu was born in what is now Macedonia. During her years in public school, she participated in Catholic sodality. Inspired by her mother’s stories of missionaries, Agnes showed a strong interest in foreign missions. At the age of twelve, she decided to devote her life to God and at age eighteen joined the Sisters of Loreto, a missionary order, and adopted the name ‘Teresa’ after St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Her superiors sent her to Calcutta, India, in 1931 to teach high school to mostly middle-class girls. However, over time the festering poverty Sister Teresa saw surrounding her work in Calcutta began to gnaw at her.

In 1946 while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” All of this was animated by her love for Jesus; she called the poor and sick “Christ in a distressing disguise.”

As knowledge of the diminutive Mother Teresa, invariably dressed in a white sari with blue bands, spread from the early 1970’s onward, she was increasingly feted and showered with honors, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize ‘for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress.’ By 2007, Mother Teresa’s order was in 120 countries; had 5000 nuns, 450 religious brothers, and over a million coworkers; and operated 600 missions, schools, and orphanages. Perhaps her greatest legacy, however, is the impact she made on the millions she inspired to follow her example and the souls that were saved in the process. As was pointed out even during her lifetime, she was less interested in saving lives than in saving souls. The Missionaries of Charity, established by Mother Teresa in 1950 in the slums of Calcutta, is today one of the world’s foremost charitable foundations.

No woman in modern times has left a mark quite like that of Blessed Mother Teresa. She became one of the best-known humanitarians of the 20th century. She left this mark in the most unassuming ways tending a dying man, caressing and cooing to sleep an orphaned baby, and praying before the Blessed Sacrament. She did simple things that had an extraordinary impact. Mother Teresa’s inspiration was simple: “I was to… help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

(Reportedly inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta)


Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.”New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons


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