For the Centenary of Mother Teresa's Birth, a Trove of Rare Photos
In 1948, when she was 38 years old, Teresa departed the convent in India she had been living in and set out to create her own ministry, the Missionaries of Charity, where she attended to the most forsaken souls in Calcutta — the sick, the dying, the leprous. On top of that, she reached out to the city's many homeless children of the city, giving them shelter and love. The home she opened to welcome them, Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, above, admitted any child who arrived there.
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Teresa's ministry arrived at a critical moment in the city's history, when its population was swelling with an influx of refugees from the fighting that had broken out between India and Pakistan upon the end of British rule.
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Inspired by a vision of Jesus, Teresa began her endeavor alone, but was soon joined by others. Until a branch for Catholic brothers was founded in 1963, the Missionaries of Charity were all women.
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The sisters rose at 4:40 am, attended mass, then some fanned out across the city in search of the sick and dying, while others stayed behind to help out at the orphanage. In the photo above, the sisters wash their saris.
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The children's home also welcomed pregnant homeless mothers and homeless mothers with infants.
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Teresa's work was accomplished through straightforward action; her ministry did not require a lot of money or extensive plans to carry out its mission. She insisted always that the Missionaries of Charity did not need an organizer and that divine providence would guide her in the sisters' work and the means to support it.
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In 1957, when these photos were taken, Teresa was little known outside the circle of Calcutta homeless who found refuge in her ministry.
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Photographer Homer Page stumbled across the Missionaries of Charity while shooting a job on malaria for the United Nations in 1957. Some of the images in this gallery were published in Jubilee Magazine around that time, while others, like this one, have never been seen before.
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The weight of the work on Teresa was extraordinary. Half of the patients at the Missionaries of Charity hospice carried communicable diseases. Oftentimes, she would have to tell a mother that there was no more milk.
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When she first entered the sisterhood at the age 18, Agnes Gongxha Bojaxhiu chose the name Teresa in admiration for Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century Carmelite nun who pioneered the "little way," a philosophy that stressed doing small things, with great love, for God.
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