Beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003, Mother Teresa, Kolkata’s most famous citizen (1910–97), was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents, and grew up in Skopje in the former Yugoslavia. Joining the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order, she was sent as a teacher to Darjeeling, where she took her vows in May 1931 and became Teresa. While working in Kolkata, she was moved by the terrible poverty around her; in 1948 she changed her nun’s habit for the simple blue-bordered white sari that became the uniform of the Missionaries of Charity.
The best known of their many homes and clinics is Nirmal Hriday, a hospice for destitutes. Despite local resistance, Mother Teresa chose its site by Kalighat temple in the knowledge that many poor people come here to die next to a holy tirtha or crossing-place. Mother Teresa’s piety and single-minded devotion to the poor won her international acclaim, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Subsequently she also attracted a fair share of controversy with her fierce anti-abortion stance and was also accused of disregarding advances in medicine in favour of saving souls. Censure, however, seems iniquitous in the light of her immense contribution to humanity.
If you’re interested in the work of the Missionaries of Charity, they can be contacted at Mother House, near Sealdah Station. Mother Teresa is buried here, and along with her tomb there is a small museum dedicated to her life. They run orientation workshops (a brief introduction to their work) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at nearby Shishu Bhavan, which is an orphanage and a dispensary for children.
The appalling poverty highlighted by Mother Teresa has led to a number of NGO charities developing in the city. Established in 1979, Calcutta Rescue is a non-religious organization that runs clinics, schools and a crèche in Kolkata, as well as an outreach programme to help people in need further afield in West Bengal.
An organization dedicated to the welfare and rehabilitation of street and slum children, Hope relies on volunteers and donors for its many projects throughout the city and further afield.