She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia (then Yugoslavia) to parents Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. At the age of 18, Agnes found her true calling.
She became Sister Mary Teresa – a name you perhaps have heard, but which still may have little special meaning to you. But in 1937, Agnes had yet another name change, and it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard this name: Mother Teresa.
Reams have been written about this exceptional humanitarian, and there’s little that we can add. But on our recent trip to Skopje we visited the small, unpretentious Memorial House of Mother Teresa, and its many telling documents and photos helped us gain some insight into her early life, her achievements, and the life she lead as a Catholic nun.
In 1946, while teaching at St. Mary’s school in Calcutta Mother Teresa experienced another call from God:
“I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.”
I’ve always found hand-written manuscripts intriguing because they have a personal quality that’s missing from print, and this “Final Vow Paper of Mother Teresa” was especially touching. It was written in 1953 on the day that Mother Teresa publicly pronounced her vows as a Missionary of Charity.
These two photos show some of the respect and the global reach that Mother Teresa had.
While obedient, she was also known to be surprisingly independent. In 1979 she received the Noble Prize for her humanitarian work, and in true fashion, she refused the traditional Nobel honor banquet and requested that the $192,000 award be allocated to help the poor in India. It’s also said that Pope Paul VI came to meet her in 1965 but she said that she was too busy with her work among the poor to meet with him.
Mother Teresa’s tireless devotion to helping the the poor, the unwanted, and the disenfranchised made her a global icon of selfless sacrifice and one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. Prior to our trip to Macedonia, I had no idea that Mother Teresa had been born there, and in fact, knew very little about her. The Memorial House of Mother Teresa was another of Skopje’s delightful surprises which helped fill in the blanks on an astoundingly exceptional woman.
James & Terri
I had no idea she was born in Macedonia! I just love the feisty attitude, of course along with her heart the size of a country. Too busy to meet the Pope. You have to love that.
As always Sue, blogging is a great way to learn. I knew very little about Mother Teresa, so this museum and post were a good way to find out a bit more about her. I loved the handwritten vow. ~James
A beautiful tribute to a woman of honor and devotion. Who will fill her shoes…?
Amit, I’m sure there are thousands of unsung nuns out there laboring away to help the unfortunate, but I guess that the difference between them and Mother Teresa is her ability to use her position to reach a global group of contributors. I’m not sure how this happened, but there must be a story there. ~James
I’d read somewhere that she was from some part of the former Yugoslavia, but I couldn’t have told you it was Macedonia. She was a big part of the media landscape during my teenage years, often being sought out by powerful people who wanted to meet her. I’m impressed at her feistiness. There can’t have been too many nuns who dared snub a pope.
Bun, I’m not sure if this tale is true, but if it is, I’m surprised as well. But true or not, her accomplishments show that she was a focused and determined woman, so it wouldn’t surprise me. I also read that one of the popes gave her a Lincoln (car) which she raffled off and donated to proceeds to a leper colony. ~James
Really? Haha! Love it. I think she had her priorities right, although I’m not sure if the pope in question would have seen it that way. I bet Pope Francis would have approved, though. I imagine he’s a pontiff she would have had a lot of time for. 🙂
What impresses me when I look at her photos is what a tiny woman she was. However, her spirit and heart were immense and she left a legacy of true charity that will live for generations. Anita
Anita, do you not love that photo with Princess Diana? I knew that she was a tiny lady, and I knew that Diana was tall, but WOW. That photo is so charming for so many reasons. They were two iconic, but very different women who used their positions for doing good. ~James
Thanks for this excellent and informative article. Like the others above, I didn’t know that she was from Macedonia.
Thanks Marilyn. As I said to Sue above, blogging is a great way to learn, and I was happy to have visited the museum, and the research for the post taught me a lot about this amazing lady. ~James
Although Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, the Albanians would dispute that she was Macedonian – a country that didn’t exist at the time. She herself said that: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.” According to wikipedia she was successively an Ottoman subject, a Serbian, a Bulgarian, and a Yugoslavian before becoming an Indian citizen in 1948. There is a statue of her in a cemetery in Tirana, Albania, and Albania wanted India to “return” her remains there.
Her work was not without controversy, partly due to her opposition to contraception, There were also criticisms of the state of medical care in the hospices and of the number of baptisms of dying patients.
Kathy, as you know, there are few places on the planet where one’s “nationality” can be so controversial and changeable than in the Balkans. For instance, Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, which at the time was in the Austrian Empire, and is today Croatia. However, just about any source that you check will say that he was Serbian. And as for countries claiming famous native sons, the Belgrade, Serbia airport is named for Tesla, when he was actually born hundreds of miles away, and lived much of his life in America. That’s why I took the non-controversial route and only said that Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, which is undeniably true. ~James
True. This was more a response to the commenters who were equating “born in Skopje” with “born in/from Macedonia”. To really confuse things, at the time it was in the Kosovo Vilayet in the Ottoman Empire, As I once wrote: “I suspect that the Balkan department is where Professors of History send their enemies, that they may be driven mad”
Didn’t know that about Tesla, nice example!
How special to have been to the very place that gave the world Mother Theresa. It gives me goosebumps.
I don’t know if Mother Teresa actually saw the museum in Skopje, but I’m sure that she would have approved. It’s small, unpretentious, and informative. There were a few childhood/family photos and the vow letter is fabulous. It was also interesting to me that of all the dignitary photos they could have chosen, the two they picked were Lady Diana and (a young) Hillary Clinton. ~James
I find it interesting that her vow was written in English. I agree that hand-written history is a wonderful source. Thanks for the post – what a world-wide affect she had.
Susan, when Mother Teresa first entered the convent she chose the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. Her parents were Albanian, so I’m sure this was her mother tongue, but she must have learned English in Ireland. I’d never seen a document like this, and the words and illustration are an incredible view into the heart of the woman. ~James
It’s lovely, and the cursive is another lesson in history.
A beautifully written post , for the greatest humanitarian ! I am very proud to be from the same place of her origin ; Albania . Thanks for the post 🙂
Thanks for the comment Antigoni and for dropping by the blog. I can believe that you would be proud to share the same country of origin with Mother Teresa. It’s a beautiful and interesting part of the world, and I’m glad to see it getting more attention from tourists. ~James
Mother Teresa passed away when I was still pretty young, so although I have recollection of her name and greatness, I didn’t have many specifics. This was a good read – thank you!
Thanks for the comment Cameron and for dropping by the blog. I’m happy to have learned a bit more about such a selfless humanitarian, and give others the chance to learn more about her as well. ~James
Susan right above me here noted what I also found strange: that the vows were written in English. Why, I wonder? Or did she write out a second set for English-speaking followers? I’d also like to learn more about that second photo. Is that the Memorial House, or is it a church? It’s a very interesting-looking building!
Lexie, as I said to Susan: when Mother Teresa first entered the convent she chose the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. Her parents were Albanian, so I’m sure this was her mother tongue, but she must have learned English in Ireland. This photo is her Memorial House and not a church. I love the design as well, and apparently, it’s a modernized design of her original house, which was nearby. It’s a charming little museum located on one of the main streets just off the main square. ~James
Thank you for this. Like many people, I knew of her work, but knew little about her, not even that she came from Yugoslavia/Macedonia.
Alison, given Mother Teresa’s history, it’s no surprise that most people (me included) have no idea of here origins. She entered the convent in Dublin, Ireland, and then went to India where she spent the rest of her life. Apparently, she saw little of her family after leaving home. Her original home was torn down years ago – there’s a plaque on a modern building where it was. It’s a great tribute that the government built this Memorial House nearby. ~James
What an amazing woman…..the world could do with a whole army of Mother Teresas, she certanly was a force to be reckoned with.
Gilda, before researching this post, I didn’t know much about Mother Teresa’s independent streak. It’s a surprising trait in nun, and probably one of the things that made her so successful at helping people. An amazing woman. ~James
I guess I’d never given any thought either to where Mother Theresa had originated. I assumed she was from India since that is where she devoted her life’s work.
That’s a logical assumption Joanne. In fact, I think that she became an Indian citizen, and she’s buried in Kolkata. I’ve spent some time in India, and know that her life can’t have been easy, which makes her accomplishments even more impressive. BTW, I like the new avatar. ~James
A great reminder that one person can change the world with enough determination.
You’re right Marie. And it seems that Mother Teresa has her determination and tenacity from an early age – a rare combination for an eighteen-year-old. ~James