Teresa, Mother

▪ 1998

      Albanian-born Indian nun (baptized Aug. 27, 1910, Shkup, Albania, Ottoman Empire [now Skopje, Macedonia]—d. Sept. 5, 1997, Calcutta, India), was the venerated founder and superior general (1950-97) of the Roman Catholic Order of the Missionaries of Charity and the recipient of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Peace. Born into a working-class Albanian family, she joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rathfarnham, Ire., in 1928. She soon sailed for India, however, where she became a nun in the Congregation of Loreto and taught history and geography at a girls' school in Entally, Bengal. She later became an Indian citizen. In 1946, having obtained permission to leave the convent, she studied nursing and ministered among the poor of Calcutta. In 1948 she founded the Missionaries of Charity, which received canonical sanction from Pope Pius XII two years later. The order was raised in 1965 to the status of pontifical congregation, which made it responsible only to the Vatican. Despite many obstacles, including resistance from Indian officials who considered her an outsider and conservative Roman Catholics who felt that a nun belonged inside a convent, the diminutive and deceptively mild Mother Teresa tenaciously expanded the order's work to provide compassionate aid to the dying, lepers, abandoned children, and the elderly. Over the years, she established missions (with varying degrees of success) among the needy in other parts of South Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In 1971 the order opened its first house in New York City.

      After receiving the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) and the Nobel Prize, Mother Teresa gained a wider international platform for her passionate advocacy of the poor and needy. In later years she also publicly voiced her opposition to working women, divorce, contraception, and abortion, often becoming quietly involved in political debates outside her usual sphere of influence. In 1990 Mother Teresa, who suffered from increasing heart problems, officially resigned as superior general, but she was forced to stay on until a suitable successor, Indian-born Sister Nirmala, was finally named in March 1997. The Indian government, which had initially been skeptical of the modest little nun, granted her a national award in 1963 and honoured her with an elaborate, hours-long state funeral, the grandeur of which was in marked contrast to the simple life of India's "saint of the gutter."

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Universalium. 2010.

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