Saint Teresa of Calcutta

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Saint Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, known worldwide simply as Mother Teresa, is the patron saint of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order she founded. She is also the patroness of World Youth Day; and, with St. Francis Xavier, the patroness of the Archdiocese of Calcutta. She is appealed to for healing and for the safety of unborn children. Her feast day is September 5.

She was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje (now the capital of North Macedonia) on August 26, 1910. She was fascinated by stories of missionaries in India from childhood. At the age of 12, she settled on a religious life. By 1929 she was in Darjeeling, India, a novitiate of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a religious women's order dedicated to education. After twenty years teaching and then running a girls' school in Calcutta, she became distressed by the poverty surrounding her there. In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity to serve the poor and join in their poverty. Her most famous projects, Nirmal Hriday ("Home of the Pure Heart") and Shanti Nagar ("City of Peace"), were hospices for the dying and for lepers, respectively; this was before the modern hospice movement had really taken root. At Nirmal Hriday, the dying were comforted according to their religious traditions: Muslims heard readings from the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received extreme unction. She cared for the sick and dying who had been dismissed from ordinary hospitals because nothing more could be done for them. In this work she had to cope with a persistent lack of effective painkillers, which were oppressively regulated and in short supply. As her fame grew, she performed acts of charity outside of India. She brokered a cease-fire during the Siege of Beirut in 1982 to rescue children trapped in a hospital under fire. She also assisted the hungry in Ethiopia and earthquake victims in Armenia. Her health began to decline in the early 1980s, when she suffered broken bones and two heart attacks. After her death, it was discovered that there had been times in her life when she had felt a loss of faith, enduring an extended "dark night of the soul," a condition the Church has long recognized and respected. By the time of her death in 1997, she had established 610 missions in 123 countries, including the United States and her native Albania.

Saint Theresa's iconography shows her dressed in the habit she wore daily, a white Indian sari with woven blue stripes at the edges. Caretakers at her tomb in Calcutta regularly write uplifting sentiments in flower petals on its smooth, white stone surface.


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