Starting of Charity
September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as "the call within the call" when she
traveled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. "I was to
leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to
break the faith." Joseph Langford later wrote, "Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just
become Mother Teresa".
She began missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple,
white cotton sari with a blue border. Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent several months in Patna to
receive basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital and ventured into the slums. She founded a school
in Motijhil, Kolkata, before she began tending to the poor and hungry. At the beginning of 1949 Teresa was
joined in her effort by a group of young women, and she laid the foundation for a new religious community
helping the "poorest among the poor".
Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials, including the prime minister. Teresa wrote
in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and
supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life
during these early months:
Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson.
The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my
arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and
health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. "You have only to say the
word and all that will be yours again", the Tempter kept on saying. ... Of free choice, my God, and out of
love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single
On 7 October 1950, Teresa received Vatican permission for the diocesan congregation, which would become
the Missionaries of Charity. In her words, it would care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the
crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout
society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone".
In 1952, Teresa opened her first hospice with help from Calcutta officials. She converted an abandoned
Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, free for the poor, and renamed it Kalighat, the Home of
the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and the opportunity
to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water
from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. "A beautiful death", Teresa said, "is for people
who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted."
She opened a hospice for those with leprosy, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace). The Missionaries of
Charity established leprosy-outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, dressings and
food. The Missionaries of Charity took in an increasing number of homeless children; in 1955 Teresa opened
Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless
The congregation began to attract recruits and donations, and by the 1960s it had opened hospices,
orphanages and leper houses throughout India. Teresa then expanded the congregation abroad, opening a
house in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters. Houses followed in Italy (Rome), Tanzania and Austria in
1968, and during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in the United States and dozens
of countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters
followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the
Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. Responding to requests by many
priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa founded the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests and with Joseph Langford
the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984, to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity
with the resources of the priesthood.
By 1997, the 13-member Calcutta congregation had grown to more than 4,000 sisters who managed orphanages,
AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics,
the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine. By 2007, the Missionaries of Charity
numbered about 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in
Teresa said, "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my
calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus." Fluent in five
languages – Bengali, Albanian, Serbian, English and Hindi – she made occasional trips outside India for
At the height of the Siege of Beirut in 1982, Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital
by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas.Accompanied by Red
Cross workers, she travelled through the war zone to the hospital to evacuate the young patients.
When Eastern Europe experienced increased openness in the late 1980s, Teresa expanded her efforts to
Communist countries which had rejected the Missionaries of Charity. She began dozens of projects,
undeterred by criticism of her stands against abortion and divorce: "No matter who says what, you should
accept it with a smile and do your own work." She visited Armenia after the 1988 earthquake and met with
Nikolai Ryzhkov, Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Teresa travelled to assist the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl and earthquake victims
in Armenia. In 1991 she returned to Albania for the first time, opening a Missionaries of Charity Brothers
home in Tirana.
By 1996, Teresa operated 517 missions in over 100 countries. Her Missionaries of Charity grew from twelve
to thousands, serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centres worldwide. The first Missionaries of
Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx area of New York City, and by 1984
the congregation operated 19 establishments throughout the country.