Mother Teresa              Catholic Nun       1910-1997



Heaven's Saint or Hell's Angel?
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
--Mother Teresa

Pope John-Paul II has put Mother Teresa on the fast track to sainthood by authorizing her supporters to begin the complicated process whereby the Catholic Church canonizes someone. Most agree that Mother Teresa's transformation to Saint Teresa is a fait accompli. But not everyone agrees that Mother Teresa should become Saint Teresa.

Her critics suggest that Mother Teresa was really a devout and pious hypocrite who more frequently licked the feet of the wealthy and right-wing reactionaries like a Keating or a Duvalier than cleansed the feet of the poor. How is it, her critics ask, that a woman who had vowed to freely serve and help the "poorest of the poor" was so adamantly opposed to contraception? In India, with nearly a billion people, and 17 million more each year, wouldn't the right thing to do have been to help control the birth of so many unwanted children?

The critics allege that her facilities for the dying offered no substantive medical help, just some nun in a sari posted by the bed to obtain confession and effect conversion while holding the hand of the near dead. Of course when the good Mother got ill she found succor in the best medical institutes in the world.

Christopher Hitchens who made a 1994 film called The Devil's Angel and wrote a follow-up book called The Missionary Position: The Theory and Practice of Mother Teresa (1997) has been an outspoken and harsh critic. As an illustration of Mother Teresa's hypocrisy, Hitchens related the following story regarding her attitude about divorce:

During the Divorce Referendum the Irish Catholic church threatened to deny the sacrament to women who wanted to be remarried. There were no exceptions to be allowed: it didn't matter if you had been married to an alcoholic who beat you and sexually assaulted your children, you were not going to get a second chance in this world or the next. And that is the position that Mother Teresa intervened in Ireland to support. ...Mother Teresa was [later] interviewed by Ladies Home Journal, [April 1996 issue] a magazine read by millions of American women, and in the course of it she says that she heard that Princess Diana was getting divorced and she really hopes so because she will be so much happier that way. So there is forgiveness after all, but guess for whom...Anyway, she was forced to issue a statement saying that marriage is God's work and can't be undone and all the usual tripe. But when she was speaking from the heart, she was more forgiving of divorce. [see Hitchen's Interview.].

Indian journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, who grew up in Calcutta, wrote an article five days after Mother Teresa died entitled, "Saviour of the Needy Driven by Self-interest." Datta-Ray recalled preparing for an interview with Mother Teresa in the early 1970s:

Doordarshan [The Indian broadcasting company] wanted me to interview her in celebration of a papal award. During a preliminary chat, I asked what distinguished her from other social workers. Mother Teresa was horrified. She was not doing social service. She was "helping the poor" because "our Lord" had told her to do so for her salvation. "So, the good work that you do is for your own sake?" I asked. "The beneficial effect is only incidental, the real purpose is your personal salvation?" Mother Teresa did not disagree. As I spent the afternoon in her homes -- she wanted me to see her work before the interview -- I dwelt on what she had said. It would be central to our discourse before the cameras, for I realized that it revealed her and her mission, as well as her relationship with Calcutta, in a new light. So did Mother Teresa. Doordarshan telephoned early next morning to say that the interview was off.

In an article for the September 26, 1997 issue of the New Statesmen magazine, Aroup Chatterjee, a doctor who grew up in Calcutta and now lives in London wrote,

The image of Mother Teresa as the epitome of purer than pure has been carefully nurtured by the western media; the west has a vested interest in projecting the east in a dependent, capitulating posture.(see Chatterjee article)

Shortly after her death Hindu leaders questioned whether Mother Teresa, a foreign-born Roman Catholic, should have been allowed to rise to fame by portraying Calcutta and India as lacking in compassion for its poor. Giriraj Kishore, a political operative for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad party in India was reported as saying that "her first duty was to the Church and social service was incidental."

The purpose of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity is to serve the "poorest of the poor." In the process of fulfilling its mission it has become one of the wealthiest charities in the world. Exactly how much money the charity has received is difficult to pinpoint. Sister Pauline, head of the order's operations in Germany was quoted as saying, "It's nobody's business how much money we have, I mean to say how little we have." (see "Mother Teresa: Where Are Her Millions?") There have been reports that US$50 million was in a New York City bank account at the time of her death in 1997. The donated money does not appear to be used to better the conditions of the poor. Unsterile conditions prevail at the order's homes for the poor. Because Mother Teresa's concern was more focused on life after death than the mortal life she was able to say "The most beautiful gift for a person is that he can participate in the suffering of Christ." In terms of the donations it was probably the donors and their consciences that benefited the most since the money never seems to have trickled down to the poor souls in the order's care.

The common thread to much of this negative feeling about Mother Teresa is that her primary motivation, indeed her main ambition, was the selfish desire to become a saint. And selfishness, at least in the context of the Catholic Church, is not one of the heroic virtues befitting a saint.

It is not our job to make a final judgment on Mother Teresa's saintliness. That burden, according to Catholic rules and procedures, is reserved for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and ultimately the Pope.

Marching Into Sainthood Quickly
Elevation to Sainthood in the Catholic Church, like election into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, requires a five-year waiting period. In the case of potential saints they need to be dead for five years; baseball players need only to have stopped playing the game. (see "Beatification & Canonization", Catholic Encyclopedia and "Rules for Election to the Hall of Fame", Baseball Hall of Fame.)

The purpose of the five-year waiting period, according to the Holy See Press Office, is " to allow greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate." But in the case of Mother Teresa, who died on September 6, 1997 Pope John-Paul II has ignored his own guidelines. In March 1999 the Holy Father waived the five-year waiting period for Mother Teresa and the process of formally canonizing her began in Calcutta on July 26, 1999.

Love & Pain

Saint Theresa
When Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu decided to become a nun she adopted the name of Teresa in honor and memory of Saint Theresa of Lisieux. In the process of adopting the Saint's name, Bojaxhiu dropped the letter "h" from the name. Saint Theresa was known as the "Little Flower" and in the Albanian language the word "gonxha" is a botanical term referring to a flower bud. Saint Theresa is also the patron saint of missionaries.

Saint Theresa of Lisieux was a mystical Carmelite Nun who joined the convent when she was 15 and remained cloistered there until her early death at age 24. In 1925 the Catholic Church canonized her and on October 19, 1997 Pope John-Paul II made Saint Theresa a "Doctor of the Church." This is an unusually high honor; only 33 Saints have been named "Doctor" and Saint Theresa was the third woman so named.

In her spiritual autobiography, Story of a Soul, Saint Theresa wrote, "What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love." In the section of her autobiography entitled "I Shall be Love" Saint Theresa writes about her desire for martyrdom and weaves together the twin themes of love and pain which Mother Theresa will later take up.

To satisfy me I need all. Like You, my Adorable Spouse, I would be scourged and crucified. I would die flayed like St. Bartholomew. I would be plunged into boiling oil like St. John; I would undergo all the tortures inflicted upon the martyrs. With St. Agnes and St. Cecelia, I would present my neck to the sword, and like Joan of Arc, my dear sister, I would whisper at the stake Your Name, O JESUS.

On December 10, 1979 in Oslo, Norway Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech delivered the next day Mother Teresa talked about the power of love.

We read in the Gospel very clearly: love as I have loved you... we too must give to each other until it hurts... this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt.
Mother Teresa's Balls
In April 2000 (nearly three years after her mortal death) a dozen baseballs were confiscated in San Diego, California during a United States government sting operation that busted counterfeiters trafficking in the collectibles and memorabilia business. What made these particular twelve baseballs unusual is that they appeared to have been signed by Mother Teresa.

Aside from her involvement in cosmic baseball we know of no direct interaction Mother Teresa ever had with the great game of the quadrature. It is possible she saw a baseball game, but doubtful. The signature on the seized baseballs, of course, is fake.

The fake Mother Teresa balls are now in the possession of the Baseball Reliquary, an historical organization in California which plans to use them for "exhibition purposes in order to alert consumers to the large amount of inauthentic memorabilia in the market place."

Mother Teresa of the Poor
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in the city of Skopje (today Skopje is located in the Republic of Macedonia.). In 1910 Skopje was just emerging from several centuries of Ottoman rule. Her father, Nikola (Kole) and her mother Dranafile were Albanian Catholics. It is not clear just when Agnes' parents moved to Skopje. It is likely however that they met and were married in the city of Prizren which is just north of Skopje (in Kosova.)

Albanians are among the most ancient ethnic groups in southeastern Europe. Their ancestors, the Illyrians, were an Indo-European people who settled in the Balkans long before the Greeks. They are are divided by the Shkumbin River into two major dialect groups: the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south. The Ghegs, who make up two-thirds of Albanians, are less intermarried with non-Albanians than the Tosks, who throughout history were more often subjected to foreign rule and other foreign influences. In the past, the Ghegs were organized in clans and the Tosks in a semifeudal society. The Bojaxhius were Ghegs.

Agnes was the third of three children. A sister Age was born in 1904 and a brother Lazar was born in 1907.

Nikola Bojaxhiu
The name "Bojaxhiu" means "decorator" or "painter" in the Albanian language. There are conflicting reports about her father's occupation. Some biographers say he was a grocer and that his family lived in poor circumstances (Ramnaraine). One reports he was a pharmacist's aide (Mironski). In Anne Sebba's, Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image (1997) the father of Mother Teresa is described as prosperous and enterprising, "Kole had a keen entrepreneurial eye for an opportunity. At first he went into partnership running a pharmacy with a Dr Suskalovic, who had a reputation as one of the best doctors in Skopje, but he also joined forces with a building contractor and was responsible for building the Skopje theatre overlooking the river. Soon he joined a third enterprise, this time in partnership with Signor Morten, an Italian, and the pair traded in luxury goods and foods including oil, sugar, cloth and leather. " Sebba also indicates that Kole was active in the political struggle of ethnic Albanians. She even suggests that his premature death in either 1918 or 1919 might have been a result of poisoning by political rivals. Sebba quotes Kole's son, Agnes' brother Lazar, "When Yugoslavia took over the territories the family was persecuted and my father poisoned."

Dranafile Bojaxhiu
Agnes' mother, Dranafile Bernaj, ("Drana" means "rose" in Albanian) may have been of Italian descent although some reports indicate her family may have owned land in Serbia. She was more religious than her husband. When her husband died the family discussed religion more often then politics and their ties with the local church, Sacred Heart, got stronger. Drana set up a business of handcrafted embroidery and textiles, but life was certainly more difficult. Even so, Drana was apparently a charitable woman who helped widows and alcoholics.

Agnes sang in the church choir and in the Albanian Catholic Choir as a soprano; she also learned to play the mandolin. Her childhood seemed happy for the most part, at least until her father died. Her middle name means "flower bud" and she was described as "plump, round and tidy." She might not have been in robust health: She had suffered from malaria, whooping cough and apparently had a clubfoot.

In addition to her mother's charitable inclinations Agnes also would hear stories about men and women working as religious missionaries. Mother Teresa has described her desire to be a nun occurring as early as puberty. Jesuit priests who went on missionary duties from Yugoslavia to Bengal in 1924 were topics of discussion in the parish. Father Franjo Jambrekovic became Pastor of the Sacred Heart church in 1925 and Agnes was especially receptive to his enthusiasm for the work of the missions.

The desire to be a nun and a missionary most likely had several sources of inspiration. A future serving God in an exotic land might very well have seemed more compelling than the opportunities available to a young Albanian Catholic woman in the politically unstable Skopje.

When she told her brother Lazar of her decision to become a nun he was not entirely enthusiastic. Lazar had become a lieutenant in the Albanian army under King Zog I. In a letter to her brother Agnes wrote, "You will serve a king of two million people. I shall serve the king of the whole world."

Agnes Bojaxhiu
Agnes had applied and been accepted by the Sisters of Loreto, a religious order with headquarters in Ireland. On September 25, 1928 she traveled by train to Zagreb in Croatia with her mother and sister. It would be the last time that Agnes saw either her mother or sister who would shortly move from Skopje to the new Albanian capital of Tirana. From Croatia she traveled through Austria, Switzerland, France, England and finally to the Loreto motherhouse in Rathfarnham, near Dublin, Ireland. There she would spend several months studying English and undergoing religious training. She would also be prepared for missionary work in India. The Loreto Sisters had been active in missionary work in India since the middle of the 19th century. The order was originally organized to serve the interests of young Catholic girls in Europe and eventually the movement became international in scope with missions in India and Australia. Upon joining the Sisters of Loreto Agnes selected the name "Teresa" in honor of Saint Theresa of Lisieux. It is unknown why she dropped the letter "h" from the name.

On December 1 she departed from Ireland arriving in Calcutta, India on January 6, 1929. Her training continued. For 19 years she taught at the St. Mary's School in Calcutta teaching middle-class Bengali girls history and geography. Sister Teresa took her final vows on May 24, 1937 and that same year she became head of St. Mary's. Of these early years in India, Sister Marie-Therese Breen, a fellow Loreto nun, said, "There was nothing extraordinary about her. She was a simple nun. Very gentle, full of fun."

But on September 10, 1946 something extraordinary did happen to Sister Teresa. As she was riding on a train to Darjeeling she received what has been referred to as her "second call." "It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow him into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor. " Her plan to help the poor required her to petition the Church to leave the Sisters of Loreto.

Beginning in 1947 when India achieved political independence, which also resulted in the country's partition, huge numbers of displaced refugees streamed into Calcutta.

On August 16, 1948 Pope Pius XII granted Sister Teresa an Indent of Exclaustration which allowed her to leave the Loreto convent. She exchanged the Loreto habit for something more appropriate for work in the slums of Calcutta: She wore the white sari with blue band that would become the uniform of her Congregation for the first time in August 1948. After her departure from the Loreto's she took a nursing course under the tutelage of Mother Dengel of the Medical Missionary Hospital in Patna. In December, sister Teresa became an Indian citizen.

The Roman Catholic Church is nothing if not bureaucratic-- a situation made necessary by its traditions. But finally on October 12, 1950 the new order founded by Sister Teresa and called the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity was officially and formally established with twelve sisters. Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa and head of the new congregation.

In addition to the customary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, an unusual fourth vow of the order mandated free voluntary service to the poor. The Missionary Sisters of Charity were not to be cloistered in a convent. Instead they would live among the poor they had vowed to help.

Between February 1949 and February 1953, Mother Teresa lived in 14 Creek Lane on the upper floor of the house of Michael Gomes. Here her student Subashini Das, who would become Sister Agnes and the first nun to join Mother Teresa's order, joined her. Another student, Magdalena Gomes, soon joined the order and took the name of Sister Gertrude.

In 1952 in a building once used as a place of rest by Hindus visiting the Kali Temple, Mother Teresa created the Nirmal Hriday Home for Dying Destitutes (also known as the Kalighat Home for the Dying; Nirmal Hriday means "Pure Heart"). In February 1953, twenty-seven Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity moved into a three-storied building at 54A Lower Circular Road (now Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road), which came to be known as the Mother House. Shortly after this move the order established Sishu Bhavan ("Children's House") to take care of deserted babies and unwanted children. In 1957 the Missionaries of Charity set up a center for victims of leprosy. Shanti Nagar ("The Place of Peace") was a leprosarium village outside Calcutta city limits consisting of a hospital, a convent, a chapel, thirty family homes, and a school.

The lifestyle of a Sister of the Missionaries of Charity was austere. It has been reported that Mother Teresa slept 3 to 4 hours a day and prayed for 5. To work with the poor one must be poor. Mother Teresa ate simply: rice, curry, and vegetables. Her inventory of material possessions was small: a bedroll, 3 habits, writing paper and, of course, a prayer book.

With a child
The order began to expand in 1960 when church officials allowed Mother Teresa to establish charitable centers outside of Caclutta. The government in 1961 noted her service to the poor when Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, gave her the Padmashri Award. By the middle 1960s Mother Teresa's order had established itself in 23 cities.

In 1968 the British journalist and obsessive womanizer Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed Mother Teresa. Subsequently Muggeridge produced a television documentary and published a book about her life and work called Something Beautiful for God (1971). The stoical journalist was much moved by the nun. "I only say of her that in a dark time she is a burning and shining light; in a cruel time, a living embodiment of Christ's gospel of love; in a godless time, the Word dwelling among us, full of grace and truth." (Muggeridge, under the influence of Mother Teresa, also began a personal transformation that resulted in his conversion to Catholicism in 1982.)

The Muggeridge coverage brought global attention and fame to Mother Teresa and her order. She received a number of humanitarian awards over the next several years including the Pope John XXlll Peace Prize (1971), the Joseph Kennedy Junior Foundation Award (1971), the Prize of the Good Samaritan, Boston (1971), the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding (1972), the Angel of Charity Award (1972), the Templeton Prize (1973), and the first Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975).

On December 10, 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech the next day in Oslo, Norway, Mother Teresa used the platform to deliver a polemic against the evils of abortion ("the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion") and contraception. The speech was also laced with her views on love ("love, to be true, has to hurt.") Her comments brought forth charges that she may have been more concerned to advance the spread of Catholicism than she was to tend to the physical needs of the poor and the dying. These criticisms would surface again in the 1990s.

With the Pope
In 1980 she received the Bahrat Ratna India's supreme decoration and honor, awarded for the highest degrees of national service. She attracted negative attention in 1981 when she visited Haiti to accept that nation's highest award from Jean-Claude Duvalier who was widely viewed to be as cruel and inhuman as his father Francois was before him. She made a speech pointing out how much the Duvalier family loved the poor. (Was she really ignorant of the activities of the Tonton Macoutes, the Duvaliers' personal torture squad?) In 1983 Queen Elizabeth of England awarded an honorary Order of Merit to Mother Teresa. Also that year, during a visit to Rome to see Pope John-Paul II she suffered a heart attack.

She continued her work tirelessly throughout the 1980s and worldwide recognition continued unabated. In 1985 the Missionaries of Charity opened an AIDS hospice in New York. Also in 1985 U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave Mother Teresa the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor. In 1986 Eileen Egan, long associated with the Catholic Worker Movement published an "authorized" biography of Mother Teresa. The following year David Porter's Mother Teresa: The Early Years was published. These biographies are really hagiographies and offer a mostly uncritical look at their subject.

In 1986 Mother Teresa narrowly escaped death when her plane crashed in Tanzania. Towards the end of the 1980s health problems began to plague Mother Teresa. In 1989 surgeons installed a pacemaker to regulate her heart. On a visit to Mexico in 1991 she got pneumonia and later underwent heart surgery in the United States. In 1993 she fell and broke several ribs and also in 1993 she had more heart surgery in Calcutta to clear a blocked heart vessel.

In 1990 she returned home to visit Albania. In a move that surprised some of her supporters she laid a wreath on the grave of the former Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha and embraced his widow without ever mentioning any of the human rights violations the Hoxha regime sanctioned. In another move that garnered negative publicity Mother Teresa intervened on behalf of American businessman and swindler Charles Keating. Keating, who had been convicted of stealing $252 million from customers of savings & loans institutions had also contributed $1.25 million to the Missionaries of Charity and apparently had loaned his jet airplane for Mother Teresa's use. During Keating's 1992 trial in California Mother Teresa wrote to Lance Ito, the Keating trial judge asking the court to be merciful and forgiving. She ignored requests to return the Keating donation.

Perhaps because of these unfortunate public relations mistakes a certain groundswell of criticism emerged in the 1990s. The most notable example was the British documentary "Hell's Angel" by journalist Christopher Hitchens and writer/filmmaker Tariq Ali. The film was openly critical of the level of medical care Mother Teresa and her Sisters offered. The film also questioned where all the money donated to the charity was going since the various "homes" maintained by the order were clearly substandard. Hitchens followed up the documentary with a book published in 1995 called The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995). Hitchens called Mother Teresa a "demagogue, an obscurantist and a servant of earthly powers." Her stance on abortion and contraception were a sharp target of criticism by feminists such as Germaine Greer who found Mother Teresa's work with the poor to be hypocritical.

Mother Teresa appeared undaunted by the criticism. She continued her work with poor and appearing in places where her brand of charity could be effective. At a public Mass in Knock, Ireland, in 1992, she pleaded, "Let us promise Our Lady who loves Ireland so much that we will never allow in this country a single abortion. And no contraceptions." Mother Teresa first met Princess Diana in Rome in 1992 and the two women forged a relationship that would link them in life and in death. Mother Teresa was a signatory who called for communal peace after the destruction of the Islamic mosque Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 by Hindu extremists. In the subsequent disturbances in Calcutta after the mosque's destruction Mother Teresa was on the streets conducting her mission. In 1993 she was in riot-torn Mumbai and when an earthquake struck Maharashtra, Mother Teresa and her nuns were there helping out.

In 1994 she received Albania's Golden Honour of the Nation award. In 1995 she was in Ireland fighting against a referendum that was narrowly passed to end a constitutional ban on divorce and remarriage. In 1996 more medical problems plagued the 86 year old missionary. On August 22 her heart stopped beating for nearly two minutes but she was resuscitated. She later had a heart attack and underwent more surgery to clear her arteries. On September 16 she injured her head in fall while getting out of bed; doctors detected a spot on her brain. On November 22 she entered Woodlands Nursing Home with an irregular heartbeat. On November 29, 1996 she had angioplasty surgery to remove blockages in two major coronary arteries. Also in 1996 Mother Teresa became an honorary American citizen.

With Princess Diana
In 1997, the last year of Mother Teresa's life the Missionaries of Charity, the order she had started 40 years earlier had grown to include 755 homes in 125 countries. The Sisters of the order each year fed some 500,000 families, taught 20,000 children, treated 90,000 lepers. Throughout India alone there were 2,000 nuns associated with the Missionaries of Charity running over 100 homes for children and 200 relief centers. It was estimated that 27,000 who might otherwise have died in the gutter were given a dignified death because of Mother Teresa's efforts.

Ill health and advancing age had finally brought Mother Teresa to accept retirement and on March 13, 1997 an assembly of the sisters elected Sister Nirmal to become the order's new leader. In one of her last public appearances Mother Teresa met Princess Diana in New York on June 18 at the Missionaries of Charity residence in New York. The residence, located on East 145th Street was in the poverty-stricken area of the Bronx known as Mott Haven. Photographs show the two disparate women holding hands. On September 5, five days after the accidental death of Princess Diana in France, Mother Teresa died of heart failure at the mission's motherhouse in Calcutta.

Mother Teresa was a determined and controversial figure on the world scene. Many see her as an angel of mercy, some depict her as a self-centered hypocrite unleashed by a conservative Catholic bureaucracy that needed a symbol of grace and sacrifice. In an article published shortly after Mother Teresa's death, Indian journalist Parvathi Menon put it well:

"Mother Teresa had two personas. One was the ideologically retrogressive adherent to the views of the Papacy ...The other was the trailblazer who put Christian charity into action as no one else has done in the modern age. It is the second persona that the world will remember - Mother Teresa of the Poor."

Official Cosmic Record

This may be the last season in the Underleague for Mother Teresa. Scouts from the Vestal Virgins in the Overleague have expressed an interest in the right-handed starting pitcher. The Mothers need her to win 12 to 15 games during the 2001 season if they want to stay competitive. She's a workhorse with good mechanics and good working habits.


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Mother Teresa- Season 2001 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: February 19, 2001
Copyright © 2001 by the Cosmic Baseball Association