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“Saint of the Gutters”is a masterpiece written by Professor Neerja Mattoo about the life journey of Mother Theresa, one of the greatest figures of twentieth century, who was awarded the highest honours including the Nobel Peace Prize for dedicating herself to a life of poverty and a humble submission to God, yet the rich, the famous and the powerful flocked to her to become a part of her mission and to give some real meaning to their lives.
She was born in Skopje on 26th August 1910, and was named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Her family was looked after by the mother, Drana, because she lost her father when she was eight years old. Agnes loved to spend time in the church, decorating it with flowers, hanging flags and banners for festivals and singing in the church choir. She was also a keen listener to stories of Christian Missionaries going to different parts of the world to serve, educate and tend to the poor, the illiterate and the sick.
Once on a trip to the mountains,she heard a voice”Follow God and serve others”. So she made up her mind to become a missionary and decided to leave home, become a nun, lead a life of poverty and chastity and serve the people. She first went to Ireland and joined the convent of “The Sisters of Loreto” in order to learn English before she went to Bengal, India
Arrival in India
Agnes arrived in Kolkata in 1929 and was sent by her Order to Darjeeling in West Bengal to begin her novitiate. Apart from prayer, she spent her time here in learning Hindi and Bengali, so that she could speak to the people whom she had come to serve. Then she began to teach in schools run by the Sisters of Loreto, first at Darjeeling and then at Kolkata.
She took her final vows as a nun in 1937 and assumed the name “Theresa’, because that was the name of the patron saint of missionaries. She could not keep her eyes away from the desperately poor and homeless who lived on the streets of the city, in slums, suffering from various diseases. She would sometimes carry the worst cases off the street herself, clean them up and look after them till they recovered or died.
The turning point.
While travelling in a train from Kolkata to Darjeeling, she again heard a voice, like the one she had heard before, telling her that now she must leave the convent and help the poor by living with them. This was the final turning point that gave birth to the Mother Theresa we all know about.
She asked her church order to give her permission to leave the convent and to start a new order of nuns who would help her in her work among the poor. She dressed in a cotton blue bordered white to reflect her simplicity. She set up Nirmal Hriday, home and hospices for the poor, the orphans and the dying. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
In 1970, Malcolm Muggeridge, a well known British writer visited Kolkata and saw Mother Theresa in a slum, cleaning the sores on the body of a half dead man peacefully. It made such a deep impression on his mind that he wanted the whole world to know about this saintly person and her extraordinary work. His book and a documentary film on Mother Theresa, appropriately titled, ‘Something Beautiful for God’ brought world attention to her and her appreciable work.
Before her death in 1997, there was a lot of opening of branches of her “Missionaries of Charity” in a number of countries to continue her work among the poorest of the poor. Mother Theresa was truly a saint of her times, who brought comfort to the needy, gave care to those who had no one to care for them and made the most insignificant and unwanted human feel that God, through the agency of Mother Theresa, remembered them.