A Brief History
On October 17, 1979, an Albanian (Kosovan) Roman Catholic nun was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, certainly one of the highest honors any living person can be awarded. Does she deserve that Prize and all the other accolades afforded to her? Many think not!
Made a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church in an expedited process in September of 2016, Mother Teresa is one of the most revered women of the past few decades. Born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire, little Agnes (anglicized) dreamed of a life of religious servitude, and made good on that dream at the age of 18 when she joined The Sisters of Loreto in Ireland.
Agnes learned English and went to India as a missionary, learning Bengali there and teaching in a school. She took her vows in 1931 and took the name Teresa. Teresa then took her “solemn vows” in 1937 and went to Calcutta where she spent the next 20 years. The 1946 Hindu-Muslim strife beset Calcutta with violence and despair, causing Teresa to change her focus from teaching to helping the poor desperate people. Teresa dropped her official nun uniform for a plain white sari with a blue border, signifying her transformation from Sister Teresa to Mother Teresa. By 1950 she had received permission from the Vatican to found the Missionaries of Charity and in 1952 opened her first Home for the Dying. Her congregation grew from 13 members to over 4000 members of the order (nuns) by 1997, and various orphanages, hospices and the like were opened by her order.
As her fame and congregation grew, Teresa aged and her health declined, suffering a heart attack in 1983 and another in 1989, after which she got a pacemaker installed in 1991. She died in 1997 leaving 600 missions in 123 countries as a legacy, with 4000 nuns and 300 male members of the order. The Nobel Prize awarded in 1979 had made her quite the celebrity and greatly facilitated her ability to raise money for her cause.
And yet, all was not praise and adulation for the little old nun in India. Critics pointed out that despite receiving millions and millions of dollars in donations, the dying people in her hospices lived basically in squalor, with little comfort and no visits from their families. Far from being helped with proper medical care, Teresa saw these patients as “needing to suffer” such as Christ on the Cross. She called suffering “A gift from God” and apparently thought people with terminal disease were given the disease through God’s will and it was right that they should suffer, thus somehow finding redemption. Pain medication was not common in her hospices! Teresa is accused by critics of doing nothing to lessen poverty, but merely to attract and convert poor people to Catholicism. Teresa was by her own admission helping the Church, not the poor and dying.
Question for students (and subscribers): So, is Mother Teresa the deserving Saint most people believe she is, the worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, or is she instead just another crack pot that used poor and dying people as her own foils to further her own agenda and expand her own order? Feel free to research the subject and comment here, sharing your thoughts with our other readers in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Hitchens, Christopher and Thomas Mallon. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Twelve, 2012.