Essay, Research Paper: Mother Theresa

Biographies

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              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 undertaking. 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 endless. 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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