This Day In History: September 4

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On September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who dedicated her life to caring for the destitute in India, officially becomes Saint Teresa of Calcutta, almost two decades after her death on September 5, 1997.

Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa of Calcutta a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in front of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City—to much applause.

“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… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity…,” Pope Francis said in his homily that day. “Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness!”  

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to an Albanian family in what is now Skopje, North Macedonia on August 26, 1910. At age 18, Agnes joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish Catholic order with missions in India. She took her initial sisterhood vows in 1931 and taught at a Catholic high school in Calcutta (now Kolkata) for 17 years. But seeing extreme poverty outside the walls of the convent, Mother Teresa found herself moved to leave the school in 1948 and focus on serving the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city’s slums.  

In 1950, Mother Teresa got permission to start her own order called the Missionaries of Charity. As part of their work, her organization opened homes for abandoned children, people with terminal illness, as well as a colony for people afflicted with leprosy. They offered compassion and assistance to AIDs patients, refugees, people with disabilities and others. At the time of her death at the age of 87 in 1997, her order had grown to include hundreds of centers in more than 90 countries. Among her numerous awards and accolades, she received the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.

While she was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2003 and canonized in 2016, Mother Teresa apparently experienced a long-standing crisis of faith. Her private letters, published posthumously in 2007, reveal that she had felt consumed by darkness and had been unable to feel the presence of God for the last half-century of her life. Despite that personal sense of darkness, she continued to radiate light for those in need.

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