One of the greatest persons in history
Among the greatest men and women who have made a mark in the history of mankind, one of the greatest was Mother Teresa, the like of whom is not likely to be found for generations to come.
Einstein said of Gandhiji, “The future generation will wonder that such a man ever lived in flesh and blood.” This may be true of Mother Teresa also. Shakespeare said of Cleopatra,
“Neither age can wither,
Nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.”
The same may be better applicable to Mother Teresa, who was rightly called “the living saint Mother Teresa.”
Name, birth, early life
The real name of Mother Teresa was Agnes Gonxha Bejaxhiu. She was born in August 1910 in Skopje in Yugoslavia in Europe. In 1928 at the age of 18, she left for Ireland, where she joined the Loreto congregation, an organisation engaged in missionary work.
It was there in Ireland that young Agnes learnt that the sisters of Loreto were engaged in missionary work in Bengal in India. She made up her mind to do missionary work to mitigate the sufferings of the needy people and those others in distress and a year later in 1929 she sailed to India for the noble cause.
Agnes taught for some years in the schools of the Loreto congregation and finally, she became the Principal of St. Agnes High School for girls in Kolkata.
There was a large slum area near the school where she taught. She saw the pitiful condition of the dwellers from very close quarters. She was deeply moved and her heart cried within herself to do something for the suffering humanity.
In 1948, she got Indian citizenship. Now, her main vocation of hers was to collect the forlorn and forsaken, homeless human wrecks rotting on the streets, the destitute, the handicapped and others. She brought them with her and for the sake of their survival, she begged from door to door for food, caring not a bit for her personal comfort or social dignity that even any average human being would think of. She considered the welfare of others above her own and was ready to make any sacrifice for others.
The Sisters of Charity and the “Nirmal Hriday”
In 1950 she collected a few sisters and formed Sisters of Charity. Then it was in 1956 that the famous “Nirmal Hriday” which has become a byword not among the Indians but also among the common people all over the world. The ‘Nirmal Hriday’ was a place donated to her by the Corporation of Kolkata and it became a home for the helpless destitute, mostly on the verge of starvation and death, and there she made all-out efforts to save their lives and provide them succour to whatever extent she could within her meagre means and limited capacity. It is a pity that help from people for such a noble cause instead of being overwhelming was only in trickles.
Determined as she was, she continued her efforts. Surprisingly, the local people were even hostile to her. However, they changed their attitude when once she welcomed a cholera-stricken priest who was in a miserable state and whom nobody was even ready to touch, much less treat with love and compassion.
The Brothers of Charity
She formed the Brothers of Charity in 1963, when Nirnial Hriday, was serving excellently the destitute. Earlier, some leper colonies and dispensaries for the poorest, the loneliest and the loss had also been set up by her. At present many hundred, such missionary homes for the needy are being run in all corners of the world, not only in Asia, Europe and America but also in Australia.
Agnes borrowed the word “Teresa” from a little know saint and it was by this name that she came to be known all over the world. Now, she in lovingly called “Mother Teresa”.
The Nobel Prize, The Bharat Ratna and other awards
She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In 1980, Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian Civilian Award was bestowed on her. For promoting the cause of friendship among the people and for doing great service to the poor and the needy she got the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1990.
Mother Teresa and her sisters led a very austere life. Living on frugal meals and sometimes even going without meals, they went on working for the poor. They took work not only as worship but as a means of joy and they found real life in being loving and affectionate and compassionate to others.
In 1991, this “Angel of Peace” as she was being hailed, fell ill with pneumonia. This led to her prolonged illness and later cardiac arrest in September 1997.
Her Death and successor
There was a vast sea of mourning people as she was given a State funeral by the government. The world was stunned, though, surprisingly, the event of her death was partially and temporarily overshadowed by the sudden death of Princess Diana in a car accident.
She was laid to rest at Mother House in Kolkata. She is destined to go down as one of the greatest personalities in history. She will, indeed, be remembered for all times to come. She had already appointed Sister Nirmala as her successor. The latter is carrying on Mother Teresa’s work with equal devotion and diligence.