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Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Part 1)

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Teresa was born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 to a Kosovar Albanian family in Skopje (then the Ottoman Empire, now North Macedonia). Saint Terese considered the 27th of August her true birthday, as it was the day of her baptism. Her father passed away in 1919 when she was only 8. As she grew, she became fascinated by stories of missionaries in Begal. She would leave home at 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfamham, Ireland. She specifically focused on learning English as she knew English would be needed in India.

Saint Teresa arrived in Darjeeling in 1929 to being her novitiate and taught at St Teresa's school near the convent. On May 24, 1931 she took her first religious vows, and chose the Spanish spelling of Saint Therese de Lisieux (the patron saint of missionaries) as another sister had already chosen the name. She took her solemn vows in 1937 while serving as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Calcutta. She would then continue to server there for nearly 20 years, including serving as it's headmistress. While happy teaching, she became increasingly concerned and disturbed by the massive poverty around her.

On a visit to Darjeeling by train to the Loreto convent in 1946, she experienced what she described as the "Call within the call". She wrote:

"I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."

In 1948, she began her missionary work with the poor, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a white cotton sari with a blue border. With a group of women she founded a school in Kolkata and laid the foundation for helping the poorest among the poor. The first few years were spent begging for food and supplies, living the life of the extreme poor and all of the loneliness that came with it. She would write of this time:

Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me. "You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again", the Tempter kept on saying. ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.

She received permission from the Vatican on October 7, 1950 for her congregation named The Missionaries for the Poor. She wrote it would care for

"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".

Two years later, she opened her first hospice - a converted Hindu temple named Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart. Anyone brought here received medical help regardless of their backgrounds. Saint Teresa also believed that all should receive a dignified death, saying :

"A beautiful death", is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted."

She would then open a hospice for those affected by Leprosy (Shanti Nagar, City of Peace). This would be the first of multiple clinics opening for leprosy across Calcutta, providing medical care and food. In 1955, she opened Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (The Children's home of the Immaculate Heart) for orphans and homeless youth.

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