Mother Teresa Biography: The Incredible Mother Teresa Saga

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia. Her parents were Albanian and she was raised in the Albanian Catholic church.


Even as a young girl, Agnes was thoughtful and interested in helping the poor. She was always dedicated to her faith as a youth. Her father’s unexpected death when Agnes was eight years old had a big impact on her.

Calling to Religious Life

At age 12, Agnes first felt a calling to dedicate her life to serving God. At 18 she decided to become a nun and left home in 1928 to join the Sisters of Loreto, receiving the name Sister Mary Teresa. She learned English and was sent to India to become a teacher.

Life in India

Sister Teresa spent nearly 20 years teaching geography and catechism at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta. In 1946, she experienced a second calling that set her life’s mission to serving the poor.

The Second Calling

On September 10, 1946 riding a train to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. ” She was to leave convent teaching and instead work in the slums of Calcutta to serve the city’s poorest and sickest people.

Creation of the Missionaries of Charity

In 1948, Sister Teresa trained in basic medicine and ventured into the slums searching for people needing care. She started an open-air school for slum children and founded a hospice in a temple. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for the poor, sick, orphaned and dying.

Table 1: Timeline of Mother Teresa’s Early Years

1910Born in Skopje, Macedonia (now part of Northern Macedonia)
1928Joins Sisters of Loreto nunnery
1929Sent to India as a teacher
1946Receives her “call within a call” vision to help the poor
1948Begins working in Calcutta slums
1950Founds the Missionaries of Charity

Growth of the Missionaries of Charity

Over the next few decades, Mother Teresa expanded her reach, founding Missionaries of Charity convents, hospices, and homes for lepers and HIV/AIDS patients around India. In 1965, the order became an international organization.

International Expansion

Mother Teresa brought her Missionaries of Charity order to countries around the world, including Venezuela, Tanzania, and Albania. She founded schools, hospitals, and orphanages in cities from Rome to Moscow to New York. By 1990, the Missionaries of Charity organization had over one million members operating 610 missions in 123 countries.

Major Activities and Honors

Mother Teresa won many honors for her tireless work on behalf of the poor, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She spoke against poverty, abortion and divorce around the world. Her work attracted criticism too from those saying her approach glorified rather than helped the poor. Still she never wavered in dedicating herself to the impoverished and forgotten.

Table 2: Timeline of Growth & Global Activities

YearNew Activity or Honor
1965Missionaries of Charity Becomes International Organization
1979Wins Nobel Peace Prize
1980sExpands to Soviet Countries
1990Over 1 Million Members; 610 Missions in 123 Nations
1997Dies in Calcutta

Later Years and Death

Although her health declined, Mother Teresa continued overseeing her organization until her death at age 87 in 1997. She received a full state funeral in India befitting a national hero.

Failing Health

Sister Teresa first started experiencing heart problems in 1983 while visiting Pope John Paul II. In 1989, she suffered a heart attack in Tijuana, Mexico while establishing a new Missionaries of Charity house. Her worsening heart issues led to many hospital stays. In March 1997, she stepped down as head of her order due to health reasons.

Death and Legacy

On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa died of cardiac arrest at age 87 in Calcutta. The government of India gave her a state funeral, only the second private citizen after Mahatma Gandhi to receive the honor.

Over 1 million mourners lined the streets to watch her funeral procession. Today, Mother Teresa remains an inspiration to many for her life-long devotion to serving impoverished people. She left behind a still-growing international organization of over 5,000 Sisters working to relieve suffering around the world.

Table 3: Later Years Timelin

1983Begins Having Heart Issues
1989Suffers Heart Attack in Mexico
1997Steps Down as Head of Missionaries of Charity Due to Health Issues
1997Dies of Cardiac Arrest on September 5


As her many titles reflect, Mother Teresa played diverse roles during her long and complex lifetime: Nun. Teacher. Social worker. International charity director. Diplomat. Moral example and inspiration. But as evidenced in the selfless and difficult work she gladly took on caring directly for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, Mother Teresa was first and foremost a humanitarian and helper to those in greatest need.

Beginning in 1948 when she first ventured unaccompanied out of her Calcutta convent into the dangerous, desperate slums surrounding her in search of people needing her help, Mother Teresa never wavered from her commitment to tend to “the poorest of the poor” and spotlight the humanity in those often ostracized as untouchables. Propelled by her unshakable religious calling yet influenced also by a love for humanity beyond just those sharing her Catholic faith, she expanded her reach globally to defend human dignity through concrete direct action.

In her Nobel Peace Prize speech, Mother Teresa compellingly yet simply stated her driving motivation: “In order to succeed, you must know what you are made for.” Though small in stature, Mother Teresa had an enormous spirit and showed herself a willing vessel ready to take on her divine assignment.

Her sustained dedication over nearly five decades to comforting the sick and dying, saving the lives of abandoned newborns, tending the disabled, advocating politically for struggling communities, and raising money and aid for people experiencing misfortune worldwide was her way of carrying out the purpose she felt born to fulfill.

Through founding her revolutionary Missionaries of Charity order initially with just a handful of members which expanded to over one million by the 1990s, Mother Teresa created a blueprint for how charities could operate morally, selflessly and fearlessly to provide direct, on-the-ground relief for people in desperate need. Now containing thousands of charity houses in over 139 countries, the order she started continues her legacy.

Not without critics and controversies but beloved especially by those whose lives she touched most intimately, Mother Teresa led an uncommonly impactful and internationally influential life. Now declared a Saint in the Catholic church, she serves as an enduring reminder of how a single determined woman can create immeasurable good – and change hearts in the process.


Who was Mother Teresa?

Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order that serves poor communities around the world. She dedicated her life to caring for impoverished and sick people, especially in the slums of Calcutta, India.

Where was Mother Teresa born?

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia. Her family was ethnically Albanian. Today Skopje is the capital city of the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

What order did Mother Teresa start?

In 1950, Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious order focused on serving “the poorest of the poor.” Initially made up of only 13 members, by 1990 the Missionaries of Charity had over one million nuns and lay workers operating hundreds of charitable organizations globally.

Why was Mother Teresa famous?

Mother Teresa became famous for dedicating her life to selflessly serving destitute, sick, and dying people in the slums of Calcutta, India. Photos of her humble and compassionate work gained worldwide attention. She also won many humanitarian prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her international spiritual efforts aiding impoverished communities.

When did Mother Teresa die?

On September 5, 1997 at age 87, Mother Teresa died of cardiac arrest in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India where she had lived and worked among the city’s poorest residents. The Government of India honored her with a state funeral, only the second private citizen after Mahatma Gandhi to earn this distinction.