Helping the Sick, the Dying, the Orphaned, and the Lepers
There were literally millions of people in need in India. Droughts, the caste system, India's independence, and partition all contributed to the masses of people that lived on the streets. India's government was trying, but they could not handle the overwhelming multitudes that needed help.
While the hospitals were overflowing with patients that had a chance to survive, Mother Teresa opened a home for the dying, called Nirmal Hriday ("Place of the Immaculate Heart"), on August 22, 1952. Each day, nuns would walk through the streets and bring people who were dying to Nirmal Hriday, located in a building donated by the city of Kolkata. The nuns would bathe and feed these people and then place them in a cot. These people were given the opportunity to die with dignity, with the rituals of their faith.
In 1955, the Missionaries of Charity opened their first children's home (Shishu Bhavan), which cared for orphans. These children were housed and fed and given medical aid. When possible, the children were adopted out. Those not adopted were given an education, learned a trade skill, and found marriages.
In India's slums, huge numbers of people were infected with leprosy, a disease that can lead to major disfiguration. At the time, lepers (people infected with leprosy) were ostracized, often abandoned by their families. Because of the widespread fear of lepers, Mother Teresa struggled to find a way to help these neglected people. Mother Teresa eventually created a Leprosy Fund and a Leprosy Day to help educate the public about the disease and established a number of mobile leper clinics (the first opened in September 1957) to provide lepers with medicine and bandages near their homes. By the mid-1960s, Mother Teresa had established a leper colony called Shanti Nagar ("The Place of Peace") where lepers could live and work.
Just before the Missionaries of Charity celebrated its 10th anniversary, they were given permission to establish houses outside of Calcutta, but still within India. Almost immediately, houses were established in Delhi, Ranchi, and Jhansi; more soon followed.
For their 15th anniversary, the Missionaries of Charity was given permission to establish houses outside of India. The first house was established in Venezuela in 1965. Soon there were Missionaries of Charity houses all around the world.
As Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity expanded at an amazing rate, so did international recognition for her work. Although Mother Teresa was awarded numerous honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she never took personal credit for her accomplishments. She said it was God's work and that she was just the tool used to facilitate it.
With international recognition also came critique. Some people complained that the houses for the sick and dying were not sanitary, that those treating the sick were not properly trained in medicine, that Mother Teresa was more interested in helping the dying go to God than in potentially helping cure them. Others claimed that she helped people just so she could convert them to Christianity.
Mother Teresa also caused much controversy when she openly spoke against abortion and birth control. Others critiqued her because they believed that with her new celebrity status, she could have worked to end the poverty rather than soften its symptoms.
Old and Frail
Despite the controversy, Mother Teresa continued to be an advocate for those in need. In the 1980s, Mother Teresa, already in her 70s, opened Gift of Love homes in New York, San Francisco, Denver, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for AIDS sufferers.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Mother Teresa's health deteriorated, but she still traveled the world, spreading her message.
When Mother Teresa, age 87, died of heart failure on September 5, 1997, the world mourned her passing. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to see her body, while millions more watched her state funeral on television. After the funeral, Mother Teresa's body was laid to rest at the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata.
When Mother Teresa passed away, she left behind over 4,000 Missionary of Charity Sisters, in 610 centers in 123 countries.
After Mother Teresa's death, the Vatican began the lengthy process of canonization. On October 19, 2003, the third of the four steps to sainthood was completed when the Pope approved Mother Teresa's beatification, awarding Mother Teresa the title "Blessed."