Mother Teresa

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13134

Declared a Catholic saint in 2016, Mother Teresa is famous for caring for the poor and dying in India. But some people criticize her work and say she was not saintly at all! Who's right? You decide!



learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Imagine you're a poor, old man living on the streets of a crowded city.

You have no home, no family, no money.

You haven't eaten in the past 2 days. You feel sick and weak.

homeless man in India

You lay down on the roadside and wonder what will happen to you.

  • Will you die right here in the open, by the street?
  • Will anyone passing by stop to help you, give you food, or take you to a hospital?

It's not likely. You know that many people die on these streets, and no one ever misses them. Maybe you will be one of close your eyes and await your sad and lonely end.

Suddenly, a kind voice speaks to you. A soft hand touches your head. It's the first gentle touch you've felt in many years. You open your eyes. A smiling face looks down at you.

"Who are you?" you ask, thinking maybe you have died and are seeing an angel!

"I'm a Missionary of Charity," the young woman says, "and I'm going to take you to our home, where you'll be washed and fed and cared for. Would you like to go?"

Weakly, you nod your head. Tears stream down your face at the thought that there is someone in this world who cares...

Mother Teresa left a quiet, comfortable life as a Catholic nun teaching in a private school to live and work among the poorest of the poor.

Watch the following video for a short introduction to Mother Teresa and the work of the order (group of nuns) she started, the Missionaries of Charity:

Blessed Among Us: St. Teresa of Calcutta from Sheen Center:

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  • How did Mother Teresa start down this path of caring for the poor?

Let's go back to the beginning of her life.

Mother Teresa's name as a child was Agnes Bojaxhiu. She was born in what is now called North Macedonia (once part of Yugoslavia).

map of North Macedonia

She had loving parents and an older brother and sister. You can see pictures of her family and her as a young woman in these 14 Vintage Photos of Mother Teresa Show A Saint In The Making, by Carol Kuruvilla for HuffPost.

There was sadness in her young life as well, though. Her father died when she was only 8 years old. Her family was not rich, and they had to work very hard to get by after her father's death.

As a young girl, Agnes was taught to love God above all things. She was very active in her church, which was run by a Catholic order of priests called the Jesuits. They sent missionaries around the world, and Agnes began to feel that God was calling her to a missionary life.

After much prayer and reflection, Agnes decided to become a Catholic nun.

  • What does that mean?

It means that she would devote her whole life to serving God, taking three vows:

  • poverty (She would not have any property of her own, other than basic necessities.)
  • chastity (She would not get married or have any romantic relationships.)
  • obedience (She would go wherever she was sent by her superiors and do what they told her.)

She chose an order of nuns based in Ireland because she knew they had missions in India, and that was where she thought God wanted her to go.

In September 1928, she went to join the Loreto Sisters in Ireland and was given a new name: Sister Mary Teresa.

  • Why did they give her a new name?

Many Catholic orders of nuns and priests give people entering their order a new name, to signify that they're starting a new life. Usually, it's the name of a saint. So, in Agnes's case, it was both the Virgin Mary and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a young lady from France who taught a "simple way" of being close to God by doing little things with great love. Agnes would come to follow her example very closely.

After some training, Agnes--now called "Sister Teresa"--was sent to India. She was assigned a teaching position in a school for girls, and she was a very good teacher. She was so good that the order kept her there for twenty years and even made her the principal of the school. It looked like she might stay there for the rest of her life.

But something extraordinary happened to change that.

In later years, she would call it "the call within a call." The first "call" was when she understood that God was calling her to be a religious sister. The second was a call to a new mission to serve the "poorest of the poor." It happened on a train trip across India. Sister Teresa understood that God was calling her to leave her comfortable life and go out into the streets to serve the poor and help them to know God's love.

It took several years for her to get permission to leave the convent and start on this new mission. Then, one day in 1948, she walked out of the gate of the convent and never returned.

  • What did she do next?

She put on a white "sari" (a traditional Indian dress) with a blue border and began to serve the poor of Calcutta (now Kolkata). Some of her previous students joined her, and that was the beginning of her order of nuns called the Missionaries of Charity. As the head of a new order, she was now "Mother" instead of "Sister." For her new sisters, Mother Teresa added one more vow to the three mentioned above:

  • whole-hearted, free service to the poorest of the poor

She quickly discovered that many people were dying, alone and uncared for in the streets of Calcutta. In 1952, she started the Kalighat Home for the Dying to lovingly care for these people, who were considered "untouchables" in Indian society.

Learn more about Mother Teresa's work in INDIA - Calcutta: the legacy of Mother Teresa, from FRANCE 24 English:

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Today, there are over 6,000 Missionaries of Charity. They are in many different countries all over the world. They care for refugees, sick people, the mentally ill, abandoned children, lepers, and the elderly. They run soup kitchens for the hungry and schools for poor children. They never charge anyone for their services, never take government money, and never ask for donations.

Watch some of these Missionaries of Charity at work in this portion of Finding Faith: Mother Teresa's Legacy in New York from Fox5NY:

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Mother Teresa's good work was recognized by many people all over the world. Many world leaders wanted to meet with her and help her in her work.

President Ronald Reagan and Mother Teresa, 1985

Image from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

She was declared a saint by the Catholic Church and honored as a great humanitarian by many other organizations. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In all, she was given over 120 major awards!

Here are just a few:

  • The Padmashree Award from the President of India in August, 1962
  • The Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in January, 1971
  • The John F. Kennedy International Award in September, 1971
  • The Jawahalal Nehru Award for International Understanding in November, 1972
  • The Templeton Prize for "Progress in Religion" in April, 1973
  • The Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India Award) in March, 1980
  • The British Order of Merit (given by Queen Elizabeth) in November, 1983
  • The Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee in August, 1987
  • The United States Congressional Gold Medal in June 1997

Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997 in Kolkata, India. Her funeral was attended by 15,000 people.

Now that you've learned some things about Mother Teresa, head over to the Got It? section, where you'll review the facts of her life and pretend you are one of the poor people to whom she ministered!

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