Following the canonisation of Mother Teresa last Sunday, the CTS kindly sent me their booklet about her, written by Jim Gallagher. For £2.50 it contains a wealth of information about her, some of it widely known, some probably less so.
It includes a photo of her, taken in her teens, before she left her home in Skopje (then in Albania) when her name was simply Agnes Bojaxhiu. What links the photo to the world-famous religious Sister she was to become is her strong jaw line and the clear and resolute expression in her eyes.
I also learnt that when, almost 18, she told her mother that she wanted to become a missionary, her mother, “well aware that it would mean she would never see her daughter again, could not come out of her room for 24 hours.”
It reminds one that, despite the deep Catholic piety that Mother Teresa absorbed from her early home life and which was a characteristic of both her parents, to give a beloved daughter to religious life can still be an enormous emotional sacrifice for parents.
St Thérèse of Lisieux’s desire to join the Carmelites aged only 15 was also a great wrench for her father. Mother Teresa, who read her writings when she was a novice in India, took Thérèse’s name for her own; the “Little Way” of St Thérèse suited her own unassuming temperament more than the ecstasies and visions of Teresa of Avila.
The two greatest sacrifices, humanly speaking, of Mother Teresa’s life were leaving her much-loved home and family to join the missionary Loreto Sisters in 1928 and, 20 years later, leaving the Loreto convent enclosure in Calcutta to serve “the poorest of the poor” in 1948. “Loreto meant everything to me,” she later admitted.
Starting her new apostolate by teaching slum children, she had no paper, no pens, no blackboards or chalk. “She took a stick and began to write on the dusty ground” – just as Christ had done as related in the Gospels.
Intensely practical, Mother Teresa “had a penchant for moving furniture about”. Her Missionaries of Charity had to be able to ride bicycles and drive mobile dispensaries.
When her critics claim that she ignored “the economic sources of poverty” one wants to riposte: “Her vocation was to love and serve the poor – not to spend endless hours analysing the concept of poverty on a committee.”