*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Just 18 years old and far from her Albanian home, a young novitiate named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu arrived in Kolkata, India to fulfill a long-held dream on January 6, 1929. By the time she died in 1997, she came to fame for her work with the poor on the streets of Kolkata as Mother Teresa.
Growing up in modern Macedonia, Mother Teresa found herself absorbed with stories of Roman Catholics traveling to the Far East in service of Jesus Christ. At the age of 12, her enchantment with the lives of those working in Bengal grew to the point she decided a future in the Church was the only thing for her. Six years later, she left home for Ireland to learn English from the Sisters of Loreto, whom she resolved to join for the opportunity to set foot in India.
After a few months, Mother Teresa -- still known as Agnes -- left the Emerald Isle bound for Darjeeling, India to begin formal training as a nun. On January 6, 1929 she arrived in the city at the foot of the Himalayas, eager to learn Bengali and participate in the education programs run by the Loreto convent. Two years later, she would receive her official name, Teresa, after taking her first set of vows.
Focused on teaching children living in some of the most severe poverty in the world, she worked in eastern Kolkata for two decades. Having taken her final vows in 1937, she was called Sister Teresa by her students, but something still did not seem quite right. Observing the horrifying conditions throughout the city, by 1946 she felt determined to provide care for those sick and dying on the streets.
Four years into her “call within the call,” she had already gained the attention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and soon petitioned administrators in Rome to institute the Missionaries of Charity, a diocese for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled...all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Attracting the orphaned and starving, the now-Mother Teresa developed a series of homes for children and the dying around the world by the late 1960s.
Always willing to accept people regardless of creed or ethnicity, she ensured those dying in her care were treated with respect based on their own religious beliefs -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu or none at all. As her influence grew into Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, she established parallel organizations to work alongside her own that would include male clergy and laypeople.
Fiercely committed to her Catholic beliefs, she was not always popular with others. Her stances against abortion and divorce, in particular, won her few friends. When she died in September 1997 at the age of 87, the world mourned the loss of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner at a state funeral held in Kolkata.
Also On This Day:
1492 - King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella enter Granada, officially ending the Spanish Reconquista
1852 - Louis Braille, French teacher of the blind and inventor of the touch-based alphabet, dies
1912 - German geophysicist Alfred Wegener reveals his theory of continental drift
1947 - Pan American Airlines is the first commercial carrier to set up a flight around the world
2005 - Edgar Ray Killen is arrested for the murder of three civil rights workers in June 1964