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Mother Teresa of Calcutta (August 26 1910 - September 5 1997), was a world famous Catholic nun and founder of the Missionaries of Charity whose work among the poor of Calcutta was widely reported. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, receiving a Catholic beatification name of Blessed Teresa.

Table of contents
1 Early life and work
2 Teresa's accomplishments and deteriorating health
3 Miracle and beatification
4 Baptisms of the dying
5 Criticism
6 External links
7 Additional reading

Early life and work

Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Uskub, a town in the Ottoman province of Kosovo (now Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia), where her father was a successful contractor. Her parents had three children, and Teresa was the youngest. It is usually stated that her parents, Nikolla and Dranafila Bojaxhiu, were Albanian, but it has been suggested that her father may have been of Vlach descent. Her parents were Catholic, though the majority of their native Albania is Muslim, with a large Orthodox Christian minority.

Taking orders

Little is known of Teresa's early life except from her own reminiscences. She recounted that she felt a vocation to help the poor from the age of 12, and decided to train for missionary work in India. She was a member of the youth group in her local parish called Sodality. At 18, the Vatican granted Teresa permission to leave Skopje and join the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with a mission in Calcutta. She chose the Sisters of Loreto because of their vocation to provide education for girls. After a few months training at the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dublin she was sent to Darjeeling in India as a novice sister. In 1931, she made her first vows there, choosing the name Sister Mary Teresa in honour of Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux. She took her final vows in May 1937, acquiring the religious title Mother Teresa.

From 1929 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught geography and catechism at St Mary's High School in Calcutta, becoming its principal in 1944. She later said that the poverty all around left a deep impression on her. In September 1946, by her own account, she received a calling from God "to serve him among the poorest of the poor." In 1948 she received permission from Pope Pius XII, via the Archbishop of Calcutta, to leave her community and live as an independent nun. She quit the high school and, after a short course with the Medical Mission Sisters in Patna, she returned to Calcutta and found temporary lodging with the Little Sisters of the Poor. She then started an open-air school for homeless children. Soon she was joined by voluntary helpers, and she received financial support from church organisations and the municipal authorities.

The foundation of Missionaries of Charity

Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta.
In October
1950 Teresa received Vatican permission to start her own order, which the Vatican originally labeled as the Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta Diocese, but which later became known as the Missionaries of Charity, whose mission was to care for (in her own words) "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone."

With the help of Indian officials she converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, a free hospice for the very poor. Soon after she opened another hospice, Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), a home for lepers called Shanti Nagar (Town of Peace), and an orphanage. The order soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanges and leper houses all over India.

In 1965, by granting a Decree of Praise, Pope Paul VI granted Mother Teresa's request to expand her order to other countries. Teresa's order started to rapidly grow, with new homes opening all over the globe. The order's first house outside India was in Venezuela, and others followed in Rome and Tanzania, and eventually in many countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, including Albania. In addition, the first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York.

Worldwide recognition

1971 Mother Teresa first became well known in the West following the publication of the book by Malcolm Muggeridge Something Beautiful for God. She became a media figure and travelled widely, and this gave her the prestige to intervene in international trouble spots. In 1982 during fighting in Beirut, Lebanon, she convinced the parties to stop fighting so she could rescue 37 sick children.

Mother Teresa's work inspired other Catholics to affiliate themselves with her order. The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests.

Teresa's accomplishments and deteriorating health

In 1971 Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. Other awards bestowed upon her included a Kennedy Prize (1971), the Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975), the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985) and Congressional Medal of Honor (1994), honorary citizenship of the United States (1996), and honorary degrees from a number of universities. In 1972 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding.

In 1979 Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $6,000 funds would be diverted to the poor in Calcutta. Mother Teresa's acceptance speech. In the same year, she was also awarded the Balzan Prize for promoting peace and brotherhood among the nations.

In 1982, Mother Teresa persuaded Israelis and Palestinians, who were in the midst of a skirmish, to cease fire long enough to rescue 37 mentally handicapped patients from a besieged hospital in Beirut.

In 1983 Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome, while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989 she received a pacemaker. In 1991, after a bout of pneumonia while in Mexico, she had further heart problems. In 1991, returning to her home country, she opened a home in Tirana, Albania.

She offered to resign her position as head of the order. A secret ballot vote was carried out, and all the nuns, except herself, voted for Mother Teresa to stay. Mother Teresa agreed to continue her work as head of the Missionaries of Charity.

Mother Teresa became an honorary citizen of the United States on November 16, 1996.

In April, 1997, Mother Teresa fell and broke her collarbone. Later that year, in August, she suffered from malaria, and failure of the left heart ventricle. She underwent heart surgery, but it was clear that her health was declining. On March 13, 1997, she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity and died in September 1997 at the age of 87.

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools.

Miracle and beatification

Mother Teresa with
Pope John Paul II
He said "Mother Teresa marked the history of our century with courage." ''
Following Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the first step towards possible canonization, or sainthood. This process requires the documentation of a miracle. In 2002, the Vatican recognized as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, following the application of a locket containing Teresa's picture. Monica Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor.

Some observers doubted the reality of this miracle. Besra's husband initially said that the tumor was cured by later hospital treatment. According to Monica Besra in TIME Asia [1], records of her treatment were removed by a member of the order from the hospital and are now with a nun. The doctors who treated Monica Besra denied the claims of a miracle healing and said that they had come under pressure from the Missionaries of Charity to acknowledge that the healing process was the result of a miracle.

Besra's husband later withdrew his objections and attributed the healing to a miracle. A Telegraph story quoted him as saying: "It was her miracle healing that cured my wife. Our situation was terrible and we didn't know what to do. Now my children are being educated with the help of the nuns and I have been able to buy a small piece of land. Everything has changed for the better." [1]

The issue of the alleged miracle proved controversial in India around the time of Mother Teresa's beatification. [1] Teresa was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003, with the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. A second authenticated miracle is required for her to proceed to canonization.

Baptisms of the dying

Mother Teresa encouraged members of her order to baptise people who were dying, without regard to the individual's religion. In a speech at the Scripps Clinic in California in January 1992, she said: "Something very beautiful... not one has died without receiving the special ticket for St. Peter, as we call it. We call baptism ticket for St. Peter. We ask the person, do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused. So 29,000 have died in that one house [in Kalighat] from the time we began in 1952."

Some critics alleged that Teresa had pre-Vatican II belief that salvation is only possible through the Roman Catholic Church, and have taken decision to baptise Hindus and Muslims into Christianity in this manner. As long as the person agreed, secular and religious defenders didn't see any problem here.


From the early 1970s, Mother Teresa began to attract some criticism.

Many advocates of the family planning and pro-choice movements were critical of her views and influence because she was opposed to artificial contraception and abortion. They claim she frequently spoke against both in meetings with high level government officials and regret that, in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, she called abortion the "greatest destroyer of peace".

Mother Teresa has also been criticized because she supported Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's suspension of civil liberties in 1975, and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, in his unpopular population control campaign.

An Indian-born writer living in Britain, Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, who had briefly worked in one of Mother Teresa's homes, began investigations into the finances and other practices of Teresa's order. In 1994, two British journalists, Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali (a prominent Trotskyist), produced a critical British Channel 4 documentary, Hell's Angel, based on Chatterjee's work. The next year, Hitchens published The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, a pamphlet which repeated many of the accusations in the documentary. Chatterjee himself published The Final Verdict in 2003, a less polemic work than those of Hitchens and Ali, but equally critical of Teresa's operations. Hitchens, Ali and Chatterjee are all self-declared atheists.

As many other criticised religious people, Mother Teresa had a short response to her critics: "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work".

Mother Teresa with Michèle Duvalier, wife of Jean-Claude Duvalier
published in Duvalier's propaganda newspaper L'Assaut'', January 1981.

Questionable relationships

Critics regreted Mother Teresa's relationship with the right-wing dictator of
Haiti Jean-Claude Duvalier, as when she received the Haitian Légion d'Honneur in 1981, and with Communist dictator of Albania Enver Hoxha, as when she visited his grave in 1987.

They complain that she has accepted donations from Charles Keating, who stole in excess of US$252 million in the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s, and from the British publisher Robert Maxwell, who embezzled UK£450 million from his employees' pension funds. Critics alleged she interceded on Maxwell's behalf, wrote a letter to the court urging leniency and refused to give back donation when privately asked by the district attorney.

Defender claim the received those donation before thefts were uncovered and that she had to lobby for her cause, therefore had to deal with dictators in poor countries and with thieves in rich ones.

Exaggeration of charitable activities

Christopher Hitchens described Mother Teresa's organisation as a cult which promoted suffering and did not help those in need. Quoting Mother Teresa's words at a 1981 press conference in which, when asked if she teached the poor to endure their lot, she replied: "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.", Hitchens said that Teresa's own words proved that her intention was not to help people. Chatterjee and other critics added that the public image of Mother Teresa as a "helper of the poor" was misleading, and that only a few hundred people are served by even the largest of the homes.

Mother Teresa and her possible defenders apparently didn't feel a need to directly answer those allegations. There is no dearth of expressed opinion about the motives of such criticism, however. Even though no need was felt to rebut the accusations even to point out factual mistakes, some proponents of the order argue that missionary activity was the central part of Teresa's calling, and that she perceived evangelisation as her central goal.

Mother Teresa
with Charles Keating

Keating donated $1.25 million to her order, and was later convicted of financial fraud.

Substandard medical care

Dr. Robin Fox, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet visited the Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta and described the medical care the patients received as "haphazard". He observed that sisters and volunteers, some of whom had no medical knowledge, had to take decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors in the hospice. Dr. Fox specifically held Teresa responsible for conditions in this home, and observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, so that people who could otherwise survive would be at risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment.

Fox conceded that the regimen he observed included cleanliness, the tending of wounds and sores, and kindness, but he noted that the sisters' approach to managing pain was "disturbingly lacking". The formulary at the facility Fox visited lacked strong analgesics which he felt clearly separated Mother Teresa's approach from the hospice movement. There have been a series of other reports documenting inattention to medical care in the order's facilities. Similar points of view have also been expressed by some former volunteers who worked for Teresa's order.

Diversion of donations

It has been alleged by former employees of Mother Teresa's order that Teresa refused to authorize the purchase of medical equipment, and that donated money was instead transferred to the Vatican Bank for general use, even if it was specifically earmarked for charitable purposes. See Missionaries of Charity for a detailed discussion of these allegations. Mother Teresa did not disclose her order's financial situation except where she was required to do so by law.

External links

Additional reading