Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now "Blessed Teresa" since her beatification) was a Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.
Its mission is to care for, in her own words, "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."
An ambitious undertaking, to say the least.
She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in the Ottoman Empire, or what is now the Republic of Macedonia, to Albanian parents. Her father died when she was 8 years old. After her father's death, her mother raised her and her siblings as Roman Catholics.
According to biographies written about her, as a child she was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries in Bengal. By the age of 12, she was convinced that she should commit herself to the religious life.
She left home at 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary. She never saw her mother or sister again.
She took her solemn vows in 1937 while serving as a teacher in a Loreto school in eastern Calcutta. She served there for almost twenty years, eventually becoming headmistress. Although she loved teaching, she became increasingly concerned by the poverty she observed in Calcutta.
From my ever-faithful Wikipedia:
"On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as "the call within the call" while traveling by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. "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." As one author later noted, "Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa".
"She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent a few months in Patna to receive a basic medical training in the Holy Family Hospital and then ventured out into the slums. Initially she started a school in Motijhil (Calcutta); soon she started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In the beginning of 1949 she was joined in her effort by a group of young women and laid the foundations to create a new religious community helping the "poorest among the poor"."For over 45 years, she ministered to the sick, poor, orphaned and dying. The Missionaries of Charity began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta; by 1997 it had grown to more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.
At the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counselling programs, orphanages and schools.
In 1982, at the height of the siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Accompanied by Red Cross workers, she traveled through the war zone to the devastated hospital to evacuate the young patients.
Mother Teresa traveled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia. In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her homeland and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania.
She received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India, stating that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy.
In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in "Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century".
After Mother Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See (the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic church in Rome) began the process of beatification, the third step toward possible canonization (sainthood). The beatification of Mother Teresa took place on 19 October 2003, thereby bestowing on her the title "Blessed".
Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, Calcutta, 1986
For a woman of such physically diminutive stature, she was a humble yet powerful giant in a world that often turns its back on its smallest and weakest.
"Each one of them is Jesus in disguise." ~ Mother Teresa