Born in 1910 Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Uskub, Ottoman Empire, she was the youngest child in a family from Albania. At age eight, when her father died, she began attending a Roman Catholic church. By age twelve she was convinced her life would be a religious one, and she became fascinated by stories of missionaries. In 1931 she took her first religious vows and chose the name Teresa for herself after the patron saint of missionaries, Therese de Lisieux. In 1946 she received what she called her "call within the call" to leave the convent and serve the poor.
It was a courageous and wild decision, one that would throw her into hunger and doubt. She had absolutely no income and had to resort to begging for supplies and food. In the early days she was constantly tempted to return to the relative comfort of the convent, but she allowed her compassion for the poor to drive her onward.
In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity with the purpose of caring for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." Her charity grew from a tiny concern in a Calcutta, India, into an enormous, world-wide organization.
In 1952 she opened her first Home for the Dying. Next she opened a home for those suffering from leprosy, as well as several leprosy clinics throughout Calcutta. In 1955, her Missionaries of Charity opened the Children's home of the Immaculate Heart as a home for orphans. By the 1960s the Missionaries of Charity were running hospices, leper homes, and orphanages across India, and soon thereafter began expanding similar operations around the globe.
All of this was wonderful in a way. With such a growing organization focused upon the lowest strata of existence, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity garnered international fame. She was featured in books and a documentary. She began receiving honors from around the world. She also received some scathing criticism that would follow her consistently throughout the rest of her life.
Caring for the poor was fine, according to her critics, but they had problems with her methods. Some attacked the conditions in her hospices, others attacked her treatment of the sisters in the Missionaries of Charity. One critic said she wasn't doing anything about the condition of the poor as such, but was simply treating people that were poor! Many critics, seizing upon her open admissions of the struggle to feel God's closeness during struggle and squalor, even expressed doubts about her faith and sincerity. Her globalism and organizational might were attacked as commercially exploiting her image as a saintly servant when she was actually an aggressive empire-builder for the church. One of the most lasting criticisms against her was the accusation that she was not treating the poor but rather proselytizing souls to the Catholic Church. Of this she offered no apology, saying, "I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church." Finally, always and everywhere, she was vilified the most for her unwavering stance against abortion.
Mother Teresa dealt with such criticism all the days of her public life. She simply refused to live her life for the reasons critics wished to assign her. Not once was she known to recant from her stand on the issues or pull back from her unpopular positions of morality and service. Not everyone agreed with her values, but almost everyone was amazed at her steely spunk. Perhaps no moment is as illustrative of this as her speech given at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in February 1997. Railing against the practice of abortion, Mother Teresa at one point said, " What is taking place in America is a war against the child. And if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" Conspicuous among the attendees at that prayer breakfast were President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton, politically aligned with the pro-choice side of the abortion question. Undeterred by such prominent figures positioned opposite her politically, Mother Teresa was unafraid and unashamed to state her position defiantly.
This spirit of defiance, of standing for what she believed in no matter who was in opposition, was the same spirit that led her to spearhead a rescue of 37 children trapped in a hospital in a fight between Palestinians and Israelis. It is the same spirit responsible for ministering to the starving masses in Ethiopia, tending to earthquake victims in Albania, and assisting radiation casualties at Chernobyl. It is the strong spirit of a Rascal driven by purpose and living life fully in the service of attacking the status quo. It is the spirit that, at the time of her death in 1997, had produced a charitable service organization of over 4,000 sisters operating over 600 missions in 123 countries with over 100,000 volunteers.
In the words of Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, she was a "rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes." From the viewpoint of critics and contributors alike, it must be agreed that if anything, Mother Teresa was certainly a Rascal, a title that despite Nobel Peace Prizes and beatification, she likely has not received until now!