Mother Teresa Founds the Missionaries of Charity

Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity was officially approved as an institute for the Roman Catholic Church’s archdiocese of Calcutta as a congregation that pledged to serve the sick and destitute. The missionary would soon establish foundations or houses throughout the world.

Summary of Event

Born in Shkup, Albania, Ottoman Empire (now Skopje, Macedonia) in 1910, Mother Teresa had joined the Ireland-based order of the Sisters of Loreto in India in 1929. On September 10, 1946, she was traveling by train from Calcutta to her annual retreat in Darjeeling, when she experienced a calling from God to leave the convent and serve the poor in the slums. This day was later celebrated as the Inspiration Day for the Missionaries of Charity, a new religious order that would expand rapidly and would profoundly affect lives throughout the world. Missionaries of Charity
International Association of Co-Workers of Mother Teresa[International Association of Coworkers of Mother Teresa]
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[kw]Mother Teresa Founds the Missionaries of Charity (Oct. 7, 1950)
[kw]Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa Founds the (Oct. 7, 1950)
[kw]Charity, Mother Teresa Founds the Missionaries of (Oct. 7, 1950)
Missionaries of Charity
International Association of Co-Workers of Mother Teresa[International Association of Coworkers of Mother Teresa]
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[g]India;Oct. 7, 1950: Mother Teresa Founds the Missionaries of Charity[03280]
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Teresa, Mother
Agnes, Sister
Van Exem, Celeste
Périer, Ferdinand
Pius XII

After returning to Calcutta, she told her spiritual director, Jesuit father Celeste Van Exem, about her religious experience on the train. He encouraged her to apply to Ferdinand Périer, archbishop of Calcutta, for permission to leave the Loreto congregation and work as an independent nun. In January, 1948, Périer granted her permission to take the request to Loreto’s mother general, Gertrude Kennedy Kennedy, Gertrude . In February, Kennedy gave her blessing and permission for Teresa to apply to the Vatican. On April 12, Pope Pius XII granted Teresa permission to leave the Loreto convent.

At a local bazaar, Teresa purchased her new habit, a plain white sari made of cheap cotton and edged with three blue stripes. This would become the dress of her new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. On August 16 she dressed in her new habit and left the Loreto congregation.

At Father Van Exem’s suggestion, she acquired several months of medical training with the American Medical Mission Sisters at the Holy Family Hospital in the city of Patna. When she returned to Calcutta, she had no financial resources but found lodging with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who ran a shelter for the elderly poor. Teresa worked in the slums each day. In December she was given permission to open a slum school among the huts in Motijhil, where the muddy ground was her blackboard. She also visited the elderly, the sick, and the dying among Hindu and Muslim people, as well as Christians.

On February 28, 1949, Teresa established her convent at Creek Lane in a sparsely furnished space donated by a Bengali Catholic family named Gomes. Donations began coming in to the new convent, so she was able to start purchasing medicines and school supplies. On March 19, a former Loreto student, Subhasini Das, who was later named Sister Agnes, became Teresa’s first postulant. On April 26, another former student and champion of Indian independence, Magdalen Polton Gomes, became her second postulant. Gomes would become Sister Gertrude Gertrude, Sister . Soon there were ten postulants, all former students, in this new religious order.

In 1948, Teresa had already begun writing rules for a formal constitution for setting up her new religious order, which was to be a part of the diocese, or district of churches, under Périer. Van Exem wrote the final constitution of the Missionary Sisters of Charity in time for Périer to take it to Rome in 1950. Pius XII gave official approval for the building of the new congregation.

On October 7, 1950, the archbishop of Calcutta formally established Teresa’s new order as a religious institute for the archdiocese of Calcutta. Teresa was recognized as the head of this congregation, and the eleven young women formally began their postulancy as missionaries of the order. Six months later, in a special ceremony, they were officially received as novices (new members of a religious community who go through a period of initiation before taking final vows).

The Missionaries of Charity required new members to take four vows: three traditional vows (of poverty, chastity, and obedience) and a new fourth vow, which required members to live among the poor, whom they would serve voluntarily. Their mission was to care wholeheartedly for those shunned by society: the destitute, dying, and starving; lepers; and other helpless people.

The missionaries were required to live in poverty so that they could live like those they served and aided. Missionaries possessed only the basic necessities: white habits, a pair of sandals, a metal bucket for washing, a crucifix and rosary (string of beads used in counting prayers), and a thin mattress to use as a bed.

Teresa taught the young missionaries to beg, because they were totally dependent on the generosity of donors. Their first priority was begging for the poor, such as going door-to-door to beg for food for starving children. Gradually, nurses, doctors, and other volunteers joined the work, and the missionaries attracted increasing private donations and support from the government.

Following independence from the British Empire in 1947, India had been partitioned, creating Pakistan as a separate Muslim state. There was widespread unrest, as more than two million destitute refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) moved to Calcutta. Refugees;Calcutta slums The “official” three thousand slums could not accommodate the increasing population of sick and dying people. In 1952, unable to deal with the situation, even with international aid, the Calcutta government gave the Missionaries of Charity an abandoned temple of the Hindu goddess Kali to use as a free hospice for the dying. Here, Teresa opened the Home for the Dying Home for the Dying , where the terminally ill could die with dignity; the Missionaries of Charity became well known for this work.

In February, 1953, the nuns moved into a three-story building that became their central house: the Mother House. In 1955, they opened Shishu Bhavan, the first in a series of children’s homes for abandoned infants and children. In 1957 the missionaries built a leper colony outside Calcutta and began helping disaster victims. During the 1960’s, they founded houses throughout India. In 1965, Pope Paul VI granted a decree of praise to the Missionaries of Charity congregation, raising it to pontifical right, or the control of the papacy, thus allowing expansion to other countries. In 1965 the first house outside India was established in Cocorote, Venezuela. In 1968, the Missionaries of Charity opened foundations in Rome and in Tabora, Tanzania.


Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1969 documentary and 1971 book, Something Beautiful for God: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Something Beautiful for God (Muggeridge) helped establish Teresa, often called a modern-day saint, as an international icon. She received numerous awards, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971); the Prize of the Good Samaritan, Boston (1971); the Joseph Kennedy Junior Foundation Award (1971); the Angel of Charity Award (1972); the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding (1972); the Templeton Prize (1973); and the first Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975). In 1979, Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Nobel Peace Prize;Mother Teresa[Teresa] in recognition of her humanitarian work.

During the 1970’s-1990’s, transcending social, religious, and political barriers, the Missionaries of Charity expanded rapidly and increased its membership. Numerous books, films, and other media chronicled the order’s work in the world’s most troubled areas.

Teresa died on September 5, 1997. In 2003, Pope John Paul II performed her beatification mass, the first step toward canonization, or proclamation of sainthood. The Missionaries of Charity continued to grow, with more than seven hundred convents in more than 130 countries, including the United States. More than forty-seven hundred nuns work to run AIDS hospices, orphanages, homeless shelters, and centers for the aged, disabled, and poor. The missionaries also help victims of epidemics, famine, and floods throughout the world. Missionaries of Charity
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Further Reading

  • Collopy, Michael, and Mother Teresa. Works of Love Are Works of Peace: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. A photographic chronicle of Mother Teresa’s missionaries. Includes daily prayers of the missionaries and other spiritual text.
  • Muggeridge, Malcolm. Something Beautiful for God: Mother Teresa of Calcutta. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. British journalist Muggeridge’s 1969 documentary and this volume, originally published in 1971, made Mother Teresa an international celebrity. Includes transcripts of conversations with Mother Teresa. Illustrated.
  • Schaefer, Linda. Come and See: A Photojournalist’s Journey into the World of Mother Teresa. Sanford, Fla.: DC Press, 2003. A beautiful pictorial biography of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. Includes color photographs.
  • Spink, Kathryn. Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. An in-depth portrait that includes discussions of criticisms of Mother Teresa, as well as her popularity as a “modern-day saint.” Illustrated. Appendixes include a list of Missionary of Charity Foundations outside India.
  • Teresa, Mother, and Hiroshi Katayanagi. My Dear Children: Mother Teresa’s Last Message. New York: Paulist Press, 2001. Includes her favorite prayers, the early diary, speeches, interviews, letters of the last years, and her final letter. Illustrations, bibliography.

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