DARE TO DREAM BIG!: From Independent Young Girl to “Saint of the Poor”

Encourage your kids to DARE TO DREAM BIG!

Imagine This: At the age of twelve you receive a call from God to become a nun and serve the poor in India. At age 17 you do become a nun and you do go to India. Then in 1946 you receive your second call from God--to leave the convent and live among the poorest of the poor. Do you accept this second call?

You’re born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Yugoslavia, August 26, 1910, the youngest of three children. Athough you’re always obedient, you’re also very independent and very much your own person. You always act according to your own conscience, regardless of what those around you are doing.

Your father Nikola is a wealthy merchant who gives generously to the Church and feeds the poor at his own table. He values family, hard work, and faith above all else and no one in need is ever turned away. This is a lesson that you never forget.

Your father dies when you’re eight, and, although the family is no longer wealthy, your mother Drane still continues her husband’s generous ways, giving food and help to the poor and the old. Your mother is a deeply religious woman, and you often accompany her into the town’s poorest neighborhoods where you give out food, medicine, clothes, and money to the poor.

While you’re praying one day at age twelve, you feel a “call” from God to become a nun and work in India. Moved by the photographs of starving families in India, you make your final decision at age seventeen to become a nun and you do go to India.

At age eighteen, you’re sent to the Loreto House in Darjeeling, India, to begin your novitiate, the first step toward taking your final vows as a nun. After you complete your training (novitiate), you take the name Teresa after Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who believed in the “little way”--working for good by carrying out very simple tasks joyfully.

After nine happy years in the Loreto Order, your life changes very dramatically on September 10, 1946, a day you later remember as your “Day of Inspiration.” You receive a second call from God--what you call “a call within a call”--to leave the convent and serve the poor while living among them. You are called to serve the poorest of the poor.

In 1948 the Vatican grants you permission to leave the Sisters of Loreto and work on the streets of Calcutta. You exchange your nun’s habit for a white cotton sari like those worn by the poor women in India. The sari has a blue border to remind you of the Virgin Mary, and you wear this uniform for the rest of your life.

In your simple white sari, you set out on foot each day to distribute food and medicines. Hunger and disease are everywhere. You find old and sick people left on the streets to die, eaten by rats and insects. And unwanted babies are thrown onto piles of garbage!

On October 7, 1950, the Pope gives you permission to set up a new order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity. In addition to your vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Missionaries of Charity add a new vow: “to give wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor.” This fourth vow is what sets your order apart from the other orders.

You lead very simple lives. Each nun owns only three saris, a pair of sandals, underwear, a crucifix, a bucket to wash in, and a prayer book. And you wake before 5:00 A.M. to pray before going out to work in the slums all day

In 1979, you’re awarded one of the most prestigious prizes of all, the Nobel Peace Prize. You accept the award in the name of the poor and use the money to feed the poor and build more homes for the homeless and people suffering from leprosy. 

Some people call you the most powerful woman in the world because when you call, prime ministers and presidents around the world respond.

In 1990, you resign as the head of the Missionaries of Charity because of poor health, but in spite of your failing health, you continue to travel and work at the Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta.    

When you die on September 5, 1997, at age 87, nearly half a million people of all religions--ordinary people as well as world leaders--come to say a final good-bye to you.

                       “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

                                                Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Excerpted from They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

For More about


Giving Back: Mother Teresa spent her entire life helping those who most needed her help.

Did You Know that Mother Teresa spoke fluent English, Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Bengali, and Hindi?

Something to Think about: Why do you think Mother Teresa was so willing to devote her entire life to helping the poor and sickly?

Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!

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