Perhaps of of the most famous mothers in history wasn't technically a mother herself, yet millions who she provided care for would look up to her. Mother Theresa was her name, and she has gone down in history as one of the most influential humanitarians to ever walk the earth, spending her entire adult life taking care of the poor, homeless, and the sick in the name of Jesus Christ.
Born Agnes Gonxha in 1910, Theresa would grow up as a Roman Catholic following the death of her father at a very young age, and this upbringing would have an important effect on her work later in life. At the age of 12 she would become obsessed with the work of missionaries and decide to dedicate her life to their work.
She left her native home in Albania at the age of 18 to begin her missionary life with the Sisters of Loreto, never to see her family again. After a stay in Ireland to learn English, Theresa would then head to India where she cared for the sick and poor for many years.
In September of 1946 Theresa would experience what she described as the "call within the call". This is where Theresa decided to leave the convent in 1948 to devote her life to helping those within the poorest sections of Calcutta. There she would being schooling the children of the slums and begin a small movement of supporters to help he with her work.
In 1950, this work would culminate in "The Missionaries of Charity", dedicated to caring for the poorest of people that Theresa referred to as "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."
Over the years, these missionaries would go on to assist the poor in countries worldwide, helping not just the poor but also those who have lived through floods, famine and other natural disasters to helping orphanages and AIDS hospices, alcoholics, and others suffering. This organization of charity would become an official International Association in 1969; today it has thousands of nuns organizing millions of co-workers worldwide.
While she has been criticized by many for her obvious affiliations to her Catholic religion, her work at helping those less fortunate in the world cannot be denied. Theresa fought hard to help spread the work she and the Missionaries of Charity accomplished to nations who at first rejected it, and traveled to areas such as Ethiopia and Chernobyl to see her work help others first hand.
Mother Theresa was given an official state funeral by the Indian Government in death in 1997. She had won numerous important Indian awards over the years such as the Padma Shri in 1962. Other awards would continue to follow, including the Jawaharlal Neru Award for International Understanding in 1972, and the highest civilian award known as the Bharat Ratna in 1980. Even though se received this recognition, her reception to the people at the time in India wasn't necessarily mutual.
Critics pointed out that a negative appearance of Calcutta may have been interpreted through her work, and others often reflected on her opposition to the Hindu religion that many throughout India were affiliated with. Politics frequently arose around Theresa's "non-political" agendas related to her opinions on divorce and abortion, as she obviously did not favor these actions due to her faith in Christ and Catholicism. Many at the time often wondered if her actions were playing a larger role in trying to convert others to her beliefs and religion. Still, even some her most outspoken critics praised and favored her in her death.
For her work in southeast asia, Mother Theresa earned the Ramon Magsayay Award for International Understanding in 1962. In 1971, Theresa had the honor of receiving were the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, presented to her by Pope John Paul for Christian charity work, and the Pacem in Terris Award in 1976. By this time, Theresa was known worldwide for her work, mostly in part to these awards and an earlier documentary entitled Something Beautiful for God, both a film in 1969 and book in 1971. It was in this film that a "divine light" supposedly lit from Mother Theresa during a shoot in less than desirable lighting conditions.
As her celebrity rose, so did her acceptance by some nations and some opposition by others. Critics would create politics around the finances surrounding Theresa in addition to her supposed affiliations with particular governments, including the United States, where she was named an honorary citizen in 1986 by Ronald Regan, and the United Kingdom. Still, she continued to be recognized in various parts of the world for her continued philanthropy, obtaining the Albert Scweitzer International Prize in 1975. She was granted the Balzan prize in 1978 for "promoting humanity, peace, and brotherhood amoung peoples". Finally, in 1979, she was awarded the highly regarded Nobel Peace Prize, donating the financial reward to her poor in Calcutta.
Throughout her life as a believer in Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa has followed a path towards sainthood. After in death in 1997, the Holy See, or central governing body of the Catholic Church, began the steps that needed to be taken for Theresa to receive Beatification. This was a recognition by the church that Theresa had accented into heaven and was to be considered one to have achieved sainthood.
Part of this process involved evidence that Theresa had indeed performed a miracle, and called upon an incident where a patient witnessed a "beam of light" that shun from a picture of Theresa, curing a tumor. Of course, in the proceedings, witnesses denounced the miracle in addition to critics of Theresa questioning Theresa's motivations for work throughout her career.
Nonetheless, in October of 2003, her beatification took place and the title of "Blessed" given to one of the greatest "mothers" to have ever lived.