What Did Mother Teresa Do?

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Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity to help the poor. She worked primarily in India to provide comfort and care for the poor, sick and dying.

Becoming a Nun Born Agnes Gonhxa Bojaxhiu in the Republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa was an active member of her local parish as a child and teenager. As a teenager, she first felt the draw of mission work. She left home in 1928 to learn English and join the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin, Ireland. That’s where she took the name of the patron saint of missionaries but opted for the Spanish spelling of the name.

Initial Work in India Mother Teresa first arrived in India in 1928 and soon joined the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling. Her order from the Sisters of Loreto was to live among the poor as she helped them. While in Darjeeling, she taught geography and history at St. Mary’s High School, a local school established to educate the poorest Bengali girls. During this period, she took her final vows and officially received the title Mother Teresa.

Work in the Slums In 1946, Mother Teresa felt prompted to shift her ministry from Darjeeling to Calcutta when during a train ride she felt the prompting to work in the slums of Calcutta. For the next two years, she asked permission to leave her order and move to Calcutta where she wanted to start a ministry for the poor, disabled and sick. She eventually received the permission she needed and established Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Through this congregation, Mother Teresa started an open-air school in the Calcutta slums, a hospice, medical centers and a leper colony.

Although India remained her primary focus, Mother Teresa started expanding the work of the Missionaries of Charity after the pope bestowed upon the organization a Decree of Praise. She opened a facility in New York in 1971 and worked with both Muslin and Christians in Lebanon. In 1985, she opened a home in New York called Gift of Love for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. She also opened houses in Australia, the Middle East and even in the Soviet country Croatia.

Nobel Peace Prize As a result of her charity work, Mother Teresa received several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, and she eventually won the award in 1979. The Nobel Prize committee noted her “work in bringing help to suffering humanity” as its motivation for giving her the award. In addition to the Nobel prize, Mother Teresa won the John F. Kennedy International Award in 1971, the Bharat Ratna in 1980 and the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1997.

Becoming a Saint Two years after her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II opened the Cause for Canonization, the Catholic Church’s process for giving a deceased person sainthood. In 2003, he certified the first miracle attributed to Mother Teresa. Twelve years later, Pope Francis certified a second miracle when a Brazilian man’s brain tumors disappeared after his family prayed to Teresa. The Church officially declared her Saint Teresa of Calcutta in September 2016.