On the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Order Turns 70

Devotion to Mary was always a central element of St. Teresa’s faith, as demonstrated by her choice to found her congregation on this date.

The order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta was instituted on Oct. 7,  1950.
The order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta was instituted on Oct. 7, 1950. (photo: Anto Akkara)

St. Teresa of Calcutta, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) congregation, had great devotion to Mother Mary — as witnessed by the fact that she chose Oct. 7 as the date that she founded her congregation 70 years ago.

The saint’s bond with Mother Mary can be traced to the time she joined the Loreto congregation in 1928. Born in Macedonia in present-day Albania, 18-year-old Agnes Bojaxhiu set off for Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin. There she took the name Sister Mary Teresa, after St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

After reaching India in 1929, Mother Teresa served as a teacher at the Loreto nuns’ St. Mary’s High School, until she decided to leave in 1948 in order to set up the MC congregation. It was no coincidence that Mother Teresa chose Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, as the official date of the launch of her congregation in the service of the “poorest of the poor,” in 1950. 

“On the feast of the Holy Rosary, we offer deep gratitude to God for the gift of these 70 years, for the gift of our Mother, St. Teresa of Kolkata, for Mother Church, our volunteers, co-workers, benefactors and the poor, for all the good He has done through us, with us and in us in service of the poorest of the poor,” Sister Mary Prema, superior general of the MCs, told the Register via email on the occasion of the congregation turning 70 on Oct. 7.

“We, Missionaries of Charity, observe the 7th of October each year as a day of thanksgiving, for it was on this day in 1950 that Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, S.J., with the permission of the Holy See, officially established the Society of the Missionaries of Charity in the Archdiocese of Kolkata,” Sister Prema explained.

 

Marian Devotion

Church officials closely associated with Mother Teresa have recounted to this correspondent her love for Mother Mary and her passion for Rosary.

In 1994 Mother Teresa was featured in a major event at Kolkata’s St. Xavier’s College in the city’s famed Park Street, which later was renamed “Mother Teresa Sarani” on her beatification in 2003. Jesuit Father Felix Raj, one of the professors at the prestigious Jesuit college, recalled that Mother Teresa came with a bag full of rosaries for the occasion. “Mother, you don’t worry. We will carry and distribute the rosaries for you,” Father Raj said. But Mother Teresa replied, “No, no, I will do it myself.”

“All those who got the rosaries from Mother then should be cherishing that memory,” said Father Raj, who is now the vice chancellor of Xavier University, another Jesuit institute that was established in 2017.

Archbishop Henry D’Souza of Kolkata, a close associate of Mother Teresa for decades who died in 2016, had shared with this correspondent Mother Teresa’s passion to defend devotion to the Blessed Mother even to non-Catholics.

At an ecumenical gathering, Mother Teresa referred to Marian devotion publicly. A Protestant pastor present at the gathering later objected to Mother Teresa’s bringing in “Mary,” as many Protestant denominations do not attach much significance to Marian devotion. Mother Teresa told him emphatically, “There is no Jesus without Mary.” 

The next day, Archbishop D’Souza recalled, the pastor returned to Mother Teresa apologetically and presented her a wooden plaque of Mary and Jesus as a gift for the holy nun. 

Mother Teresa’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is also manifest on her tomb, which features a statue of the Blessed Mother.

Akkara-Missionaries of Charity Tomb of Mother Teresa
Missionaries of Charity and other pilgrims pray at the tomb of Mother Teresa. The tomb reflects the Marian devotion of the saint.(Photo: Anto Akkara)


 

Following Mother Teresa’s Path

“Mother can do much more for you … in heaven and said that, ‘If I ever become a saint — I will surely be one of darkness. I will continually be absent from heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth,’” Sister Prema said, quoting the promise of Mother Teresa, in reply to the Register’s question if the MCs are “missing” their foundress, who died in 1997.

“Mother has been a constant support for me and all the sisters throughout these 23 years,” said Sister Prema, who has been heading the MC congregation since taking over the mantle of superior general from Sister Nirmala Joshi in 2009. 

“Mother is not ‘missing’ because she is very much alive in the hearts of the many people whose lives she touched. She comes alive in the hearts of the post-1997 generation when they read her words or take part in her service of the poorest of the poor,” Sister Prema reiterated.

Archbishop Thomas D’Souza, who has led the Archdiocese of Kolkata since 2012, told the Register Oct. 7, “The congregation has been totally faithful and kept up the charism and the path Mother had set for them.” 

When Mother Teresa died in 1997, Archbishop Thomas acknowledged, “There were apprehensions even in Church circles — often more private than in public — if they could carry on with the simplicity and poverty that Mother had laid down.” 

“All these years, they have been going on with the same spirit and style, surrendering to trust in God,” said Kolkata’s archbishop, who presided over the feast of St. Teresa of Kolkata on Sept. 5 at the motherhouse. 

As of 2020, the number of MC nuns stands at 5,165 in 139 countries. Though the congregation continued to grow steadily after the death of their foundress, as shown in this chart, Sister Prema noted there has been a decline in the rate of growth in recent years “due to fewer vocations, aging of members and the increasingly stringent regulations that restrict our work.”

However, Sister Prema stressed, “We hope to keep growing in the living of our life as Missionaries of Charity, in our spirit of loving trust, total surrender and cheerfulness and in striving for holiness. The gift given to us Missionaries of Charity is a gift to be shared with the world.”

Added Sister Prema, “Mother always insisted that [our] work is God’ s work and asked people to pray that we may not spoil God’s work. The work begun by Mother is God’s work; our work is to remain faithful to our charism, to be what He expects us to be.” 

Register correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.

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