ON AUGUST 26, the world celebrated the birthday of humanitarian and legend, Mother Teresa. In honour of such festivities, we will look at a few facts surrounding her life and work.
1. She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Albania, to a financially comfortable family. They lived in one of the two houses they owned. Her father died when she was eight years old, which ended her family's financial security.
2. Agnes was fascinated with missionaries from an early age, and she knew by age 12 that she would commit herself to a religious vocation.
3. After a year learning English in Ireland, Agnes transferred to the Sisters of Loreto convent in Darjeeling, India.
4. She took her vows as a nun in 1931, and that's when she chose the name Teresa — to honour Saints Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila.
5. Teresa began teaching history and geography in Calcutta at St Mary's, a high school for the daughters of the wealthy. She remained there for 15 years and enjoyed the work, but was distressed by the poverty she saw all around her.
6. In 1946, Teresa travelled to Darjeeling for a retreat. It was on that journey that she realised what her true calling was: "I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor".
7. It took two years of preparation before she was able to begin doing the work she felt compelled to do. She needed to receive permission from the Sisters of Loreto to leave the order — while retaining her vows — as well as permission from the Archbishop of Calcutta to live and work among the poor. She also prepared by taking a nursing course.
8. In 1948, Teresa set aside her nun's habit — adopting instead the simple sari and sandals worn by the women among whom she would be living — and moved to a small rented hovel in the slums to begin her work.
9. One of her first projects was to teach the children of the poor — drawing on her experience with teaching the children of the rich. She didn't have any equipment or supplies this time, but she taught them to read and write by writing in the dirt with sticks.
10. Mother Teresa was honoured with many awards throughout her life, from the Indian Padma Shri in 1962 to the inaugural Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971 to Albania's Golden Honour of the Nation in 1994 and, most famously, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. However, she refused the ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the prize of US$192,000 be given to help the poor of India.