Saint Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

Navin Chawla, author of Mother Teresa did a remarkable job in capturing the love and sensitivity of one of Christianity’s modern icons. She was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Yugoslavia, and in 1979, as a Catholic religious sister was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa received the Call of God at the young age of 18, and decided to leave her home to become a nun in India. Her vocation was serving the poor. On January 16, 1929, she went to the mountain resort of Darjeeling, 400 miles north of Calcutta, to begin a life as a novice. Two years later, she took her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At Loretto – Entally she was a teacher and Principal.

Early Life

By the early 1940s Chawla showed how Mother Teresa met poverty in the Great Bengal Famine which stalked India. Indians were starving, sorrowful, and lying lifelessly on the streets. And shortly after, she got another “Call within a Call,” to begin a second vocation, to serve “the poorest of the poor.” She therefore had to get permission to leave her cloistered life in the convent to work in the streets of Calcutta. The author documented struggles with her spiritual confessor Father Celeste Van Exem, her bishop, and the Vatican. Fortunately for the world, Mother Teresa prevailed, and permission was granted to do work among poor souls.

In this new vocation as advocate, healer, and provider for “the poorest of the poor,” she was joined by some young women, some of whom were formerly students, to do such work. By the 1950s with some medical training under her belt she headed the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The author described the travels of her sisters to be with the poor all over the world. They walked or took public transportation to their assignments in India. There was however a Motherhouse – a headquarter to coordinate their operations.

Mother Teresa pledged to take the unwanted babies of the world. Her Missionaries of Charity continued to give out hundreds for adoption. Her views on abortion had many detractors, for she advocated natural family planning which involved abstention of couples, and the exercise of self-control. She had implicit faith in the Roman Catholic doctrine and wanted to bring prayer back into people’s lives. Later, Chawla vividly explained Pope Paul V1, 1965 visit to India as a guest of the government. The Lincoln Continental limousine he used for his state visit was later donated to Mother Teresa’s charities. It was raffled off for a tidy sum with which she built a main hospital block in Shantinagar.

Humanitarian Activities Abroad

Mother Teresa’s humanitarian facilities presently included dispensaries, leprosy clinics, rehabilitation centers, homes for the abandoned – crippled, mentally retarded, unwed mothers, sick, dying destitute, and AIDS patients. At various schools educational activities were ongoing. There were classes in sewing, commerce, and handicraft. Sisters made prison visits, helped families, taught catechism classes, and Sunday School with activities are centered around Catholic action groups.

Missionaries of Charity encompassed Missionary Brothers of Charity and had additional houses established all over India.  There are international houses which presently exist in many areas of the world. These could be found in Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, the Gaza Strip, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sicily, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Panama, Japan, Portugal, Brazil, Burundi, England, USA, USSR, South Africa, and in Eastern Europe.

Chawla did much traveling to keep up with Mother Teresa’s activities, carefully described her many ventures and difficulties in establishing such homes. It started with her desire to live with the poor to understand them as equals. With an experience of the first woman who she picked up years ago lying on a street of Calcutta, her face eaten by ants and rats, she observed such a person was the abandoned Christ.

After years of dedicated service to “the poorest of the poor,” she laid ailing and millions prayed for her recovery and she came back from the precipice of death. But on September 5, 1997, a few days after her 87th birthday, she went home to be with her God. Before she died, on March 13, 1997, the Missionaries of Charity elected Sister Nirmala to be the new Superior General. The Indian government honored her with a state funeral, and her coffin was on a gun carriage which once bore the bodies of Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Chawla’s book has truly captured the spirit and life of this extraordinary woman who was declared Saint Teresa of Calcutta on September 4, 2016.



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