Book Review: Mother Teresa A Biography by Meg Greene

It is her ordinary things that made Mother Teresa extraordinary.

About Author: Meg Greene is a historian and writer. She is the author of volumes on Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Billie Holiday, Jane Goodall, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II in the Greenwood Biographies series, as well as of numerous other works, many of them about American history.

From “Google Books”

Book Summary

Real name of Mother Teresa is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu who was born on 26 Aug 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia (Now divided in 3 countries Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria after Balkan war that ends in 1913). She was the follower of Catholic teaching and her natural instinct to serve others came from her Parents attitude towards the less fortunate people. She was the third child after sister Aga and brother Lazar.

Influence of her parents:

Her father (Nikola Bojaxhiu) was a big business man and active politician who always tried to help the poor in many possible ways so her mother (Drana). After her father’s death her took the responsibility to raise and teach her children.

Summoning them one day, her mother asked them to inspect a basket in which a number of good apples rested. She then placed a rotten apple in the basket and covered it. The following day, she had the children inspect the apples. They discovered that many of the apples, so luscious the day before, were now beginning to rot. The moral was simple but profound: it takes only one corrupt person to corrupt many others.

Her Name:

Inspired by Thérèse Martin who was famous for her missionary work and died at a very young age 24 due to TB. She wanted to choose that name for her new journey but there was one problem as one on the nun already took that name, so she decided to go by the Spanish spelling “Teresa.”

Voyage to India

In her early age she took the decision to go to India to serve poor and first she went to Ireland for her initial training as sister. Then she was sent to the Loreto Novitiate located in Darjeeling, a fashionable hill resort about 400 miles north of Calcutta. Here she kept with English studies and started Bengali as well.

From 1938 to 1948 she begins teaching geography at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, where she will also serve as principal of the school.

Inspiration Day

10th Sep 1946 was her inspiration day, while riding a train, Sister Teresa receives her call to help serve the poorest of the poor.

  • Mother Teresa and her nuns were to work and live among the poorest of the poor. Special attention, too, was to be focused on those people who had no family or were unwanted in any way.
  • Leaving the convent was not easy for Mother Teresa. It was, she admitted years later, the most difficult thing she had ever done, even harder than leaving her family and homeland.

Missionaries of Charity:

After her inspiration and leaving the convent, she started her own journey and started Missionaries of Charity initially alone and now it is world famous institution. It was possible because Rome had granted Mother Teresa’s request for exclaustration (she would continue to live by her vows but would serve as a Loreto Sister in a new setting.)

  • In July 1965, the Missionaries of Charity opened their first home outside India in Cocorote, Venezuela

Only time she broke her vow:

During the second world war, Bengal was struggling with famine and internal wars. At that Mother Teresa was responsible to feed more than 300 girls and there was not transportation of food. She broke her vow and came out of convent to search the food. There she saw a lot of dead people with dried blood. Fortunately, an army truck spot her and helped her with ration too.

Home for dying: Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), Kalighat

Two incidents that led Mother Teresa to open Nirmal Hriday which she started with the help of Dr. Ahmed.

  • One day, Mother Teresa saw a woman dying on the street beside a hospital. She picked the woman up and took her to the hospital but was refused admission because the woman had no money. The woman later died on the street. Mother Teresa then realized that she must make a home for the dying.
  • Watching from the train window, she and her companion saw a man, completely drenched, slumped under a tree. The two hurried to finish collecting medicines and went back with the hopes of helping the man. However, when they reached him, he was already dead. Mother Teresa was in anguish over the incident, and the fact that many other poor and gravely ill men and women, like the unknown man, might have wanted to say something to someone, to have some comfort in their final hours. The incident hardened her resolve to search for a facility where the terminally ill could die in dignity and peace.

Shishu Bhawan and Ambulance services

Apart from Nirmal Hriday she also started Shishu Bhawan for adoption and education for children. Ambulance services was mainly for those people who are not admitted by the hospital and fair treatment was given at Nirmal Hriday through this Ambulance services.

  • In September 1957, the first mobile leprosy clinic was launched. The ambulance could hold six persons along with a generous supply of medicine, food, and medical records
  • In 1975 Mother Teresa organized the World Child Welfare Fund, which shared the financial assistance among all of the children under the care of the Missionaries of Charity.

Noble prize and later years:

She got fame and success a documentary “Something Beautiful for God (1969) now Mother Teresa no longer just belonged to Calcutta or to India. She belonged to the world.

Inn 1979, Mother Teresa got Nobel Prize and there were 158 foundations established throughout the world. There were 1,187 professed sisters, 411 novices, and 120 postulants. As of 2020, it consisted of 5,167 religious’ sisters.

With fame she also got some criticism from works like Hell’s Angel and The Missionary Position.  She had allowed herself to become well known to publicize her cause, while personally shunning the worldly trappings that accompany celebrity.

On September 5, 1997, the eve of Princess Diana’s funeral (her good friend), Mother Teresa’s heart finally stopped. Thousands of people came for her funeral. After 6 years she was even canonized.

Quotes by Mother Teresa:

  • Our rigorous poverty is our safeguard: In order to understand and help those who have nothing, we must live like them.  The only difference is that they are poor by birth and we are poor by choice.
  • Four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and free service to the poorest of the poor.
  • “A beautiful death is for people who lived like animals to die like angels— loved and wanted.”
  • “In my heart, I carry the last glances of the dying. I do all I can so that they feel loved at that most important moment when a seemingly useless existence can be redeemed.”
  • Children long for somebody to accept them, to love them, to praise them, to be proud of them. Let us bring the child back to the center of our care and concern. This is the only way the world can survive because our children are the only hope for the future. As older people are called to God, only their children can take their place.
  • Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love but to use violence to get what they want.
  • I am nothing more than a pencil in God’s hand.

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