On October 17, 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work with the poor. Considered one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century, she was beatified in October 2003 and canonized by Pope Francis as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in September 2016. Although she died 20 years ago, Mother Teresa is still an omnipresent role model for do-gooders, religious or secular, across the globe.
Born on August 26, 1910 to devoutly Catholic Albanian parents in what is currently the capital of Macedonia, she was baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Her father died when she was eight years old and this made her especially close with her charitable and compassionate mother. After making an annual pilgrimage to the Church of the Black Madonna in Letnice with her congregation, a 12-year old Agnes first felt a religious calling. Six years later she joined the Sisters of Loreto nunnery in Dublin, Ireland, and took the name Sister Mary Teresa.
She traveled to India to teach at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls. In May 1931 she took her First Profession of Vows in 1931 and took her Final Profession of Vows on May 24, 1937. After taking her final vows, Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa. She continued teaching at the high school, moving up as the school’s principal in 1944.
Although she had dedicated her life to help her pupils devote their lives the Christ, her September 10, 1946 train ride from Calcutta (now Kolkata), India to the Himalayan foothills forever changed her life’s mission. On that trip, she said that Christ spoke to her, telling her to leave teaching and move to the Calcutta slums to assist the poor and sick. When she finally got permission to follow her “call within a call” in 1948, Mother Teresa put on her now iconic blue-and-white sari that she would wear in public for the rest of her life.
After undergoing six months of medical training, Mother Teresa devoted herself to help Calcutta’s poor. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and encouraged former teachers and students from her former school to join her in her work. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Mother Teresa created a leper colony, a nursing home, an orphanage, a family clinic, and many mobile health clinics to help the struggling Calcutta residents. By the time she died in 1997, her Missionaries of Charity had expanded to nearly 4,000 nuns with 610 foundations in 123 countries across the globe.
However, her humanitarian work transcended the confines of India. She set up an American-based charity in New York City in 1971, secretly traveled to help children in war torn Beirut in 1982 and instituted a home to care for HIV/AIDS victims in New York City in 1985.
Aside from winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Mother Teresa received the Jewel of India, the highest honor awarded to Indian civilians. Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997. After Pope Francis recognized a second miracle that he attributed to her in December 2015, she was posthumously canonized on September 4, 2016. Even before receiving sainthood, her name is #goals for anyone looking to make the world a better place.