St. Teresa of Calcutta, known globally as “Mother Teresa,” was born in 1910 in Skopje, Albania, as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Teresa was an ordinary person who devoted her life to loving the poor with extraordinary measures. She received the Nobel Peace Prize “for her work for bringing help to suffering humanity” in 1979 and was canonized about two decades after her death by Pope Francis in 2016.
Every year, we celebrate the St. Teresa of Calcutta’s feast day on September 5, the anniversary of her death. Continue reading to learn more about Mother Teresa’s biography, her path to sainthood, and the quotes and prayers she wrote in her lifetime that continue to impact millions.
Table of Contents
- Who was Mother Teresa?
- Path to Sainthood
- “Flying” Emergency Novena Prayer
- “I Thirst” Meditation
- “Do it Anyway” Poem-Prayer
- Mother Teresa’s Famous Quotes
- Related Saints and Prayers
Who was Mother Teresa?
While Agnes and her siblings were young, Agnes’ mother and father emphasized hospitality and serving the poor. When Agnes was 9, her father fell ill, and her mother, Drana, was left a widower. Drana continued to serve the poor, sick, and elderly, and Agnes would occasionally join her.
At 18, Agnes entered the novitiate (a period of training and discernment before entering religious life) of Loretto, where she taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, India. She made final vows as a sister of the Loretto order in 1937 and took on the name Teresa, after St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who took her vocational name after St. Teresa of Ávila.
The Sisters of Loretto take several vows, including poverty, chastity, and obedience; she taught alongside them in Calcutta for 15 years.
“Call within a call”
In 1946, Teresa was traveling via train from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat. She experienced a profound moment which she later referred to as her “call within a call” – when Jesus spoke to her and inspired the famous “I thirst” prayer known worldwide.
About two years later, the Loretto Order permitted Teresa to depart from the convent and began serving the slums of Calcutta. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity order with the purpose “to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after.”
“Dark night of the soul”
Mother Teresa continued to serve the poor for the rest of her life, receiving many awards, including the Medal of Freedom in 1985 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Like many saints and Christians, she did not go without spiritual distress or despair.
Called a “dark night of the soul” after the spiritual poem by St. John of the Cross, Teresa suffered for fifty years. Her writings on this intense spiritual darkness and doubt, however, did not become public until the book Come Be My Light, a collection of her private writings, was published in 2007 in the period between her beatification and canonization.
Path to Sainthood
Cause for Canonziation
St. Pope John Paul II opened the cause for Mother Teresa’s canonization just two years after her death, waving the standard 5-year waiting period before beatification with a special dispensation.
Beatification – October 19, 2003
On October 19, 2003 (World Mission Sunday), St. Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa.
“Her life is a testimony to the dignity and the privilege of humble service. She had chosen to be not just the least but to be the servant of the least. As a real mother to the poor, she bent down to those suffering various forms of poverty. Her greatness lies in her ability to give without counting the cost, to give “until it hurts”. Her life was a radical living and a bold proclamation of the Gospel.”
Canonization – September 4, 2016
About 13 years later, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa on September 4, 2016.
“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded … For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”
Today, Mother Teresa is an emblem of charity worldwide, though her spiritual journey reminds us that the road to holiness is never easy.
Learn more about Mother Teresa in Hallow’s Saints in 7 Days series, meditating on her spiritual and charitable life.
Emergency “Flying” Novena
To pray a novena typically means to pray with one intention for nine days. But the Missionaries of Charity often faced problems in which the petitions couldn’t wait nine days, which led to the origin of Mother Teresa’s “emergency” or “flying” novena. 10 Memorares (a prayer invoking Mary’s intercession) make up the Emergency Novena. Pray this novena anytime you need Our Lady’s “quick” intercession – guiding us to share what’s on our hearts with Jesus.
Mother Teresa used this prayer constantly: for petitions for the cure of a sick child, before important discussions or when passports went missing, to request heavenly aid when the fuel supply was running short on a night-time mission and the destination was still far away in the darkness.Msgr. Leo Maasburg, friend and spiritual advisor of Mother Teresa
Time needed: 8 minutes
How to Pray the Emergency Novena
- Make the Sign of the Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
- Pray the Memorare.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
- Repeat the Memorare 9 more times.
- Close with the Sign of the Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“I Thirst” Meditation
Mother Teresa wrote this beautiful meditation inspired by her “call within a call” from Jesus.
I thirst for you.
It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there: waiting for even the smallest signal of your response, even the smallest suggestion of an invitation that will permit Me to enter…
I know you like the palm of my hand. I know everything about you. Even the hairs of your head I have counted. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years and I have always loved you even when you have strayed. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries and yes, I know all your sins.
But I tell you again that I love you, not for what you have or ceased to do, I love you for you, for the beauty and the dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to rescue you. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life: I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and from all its destructive power.
I know what is in your heart, I know your loneliness and all your wounds, the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you could share My strength and My victory. I know, above all, your need for love, how much you are thirsting for love and tenderness. Yet, how many times have you desired to satisfy your thirst in vain, seeking that love with selfishness, trying to fill the void within you with passing pleasures, with the even greater emptiness of sin.
Do you thirst for love?
“Come to Me all you who thirst …” I will satisfy you and fill you.
Read the full meditation here.
“Do it Anyway” Poem-Prayer
This poem-payer was found on a wall inside Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Mother Teresa Famous Quotes
Mother Teresa did not speak in a particularly complicated way nor with academic language throughout her life. Rather, she spoke simply from her heart on life’s most important matters – namely faith, kindness, love, and peace. Thus, much of her legacy is recorded and shared daily through famous quips and quotes that have been translated and shared with millions worldwide. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from St. Teresa of Calcutta:
- “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
- “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”
- “Prayer in action is love; love in action is service.”
- “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
- “Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
- “I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness.”
- “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile.”
- “Love is a fruit in season at all times and within reach of every hand.”
- “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
- “It is not about how much you do but how love you put into what you do that counts.”
- “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
- “Peace begins with a smile.”
- “The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace.”
- “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
- “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
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Related saints and prayers
- Hail Mary Prayer
- Catholic Patron Saints
- St. Thérèse Novena
- St. Catherine of Siena
- St. Rita Novena
- St. Jude Novena