One of the bright lights of the 20th century

Perhaps the most famous woman of the 20th century is a small, frail-looking nun by the name of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu - who became much better known to the world as Mother Teresa.

Not only did she win a Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless charity work she was also canonised by Pope Francis.

This amazing woman is one of many women whose lives we celebrate in the week of  International Women’s Day which is celebrated on 8 March.

A life dedicated to others

Mother Teresa, who was born in 1910 in Skopje in Macedonia, left her country of birth for Ireland in 1928 to learn English. She was then sent as a missionary to India where she taught children at a school in Kolkata (Culcutta).

It was soon after the end of World War II that she felt a calling from God to work with the poorest of India’s half a million citizens.

She established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 with just 13 members, This eventually grew to a staff of 4,000 nuns who ran dozens of orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centres.

Her extraordinary charity and compassion eventually came to the attention of the international community, inspiring countless other organisations to follow her example by helping the poor and societies’ ‘undesirables’ in many Third World countries.

Though sometimes criticised for her strict religious views, she remained one of the bright lights of the 20th century right up to her death in 1997.

Her important work continues to this day.

Nobel Peace Prize in 1979

Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, winning the revered award over candidates like United States President Jimmy Carter.

She received the prize for her tireless work at the Missionaries of Charity - the order she founded in Kolkata (Calcutta)

It was an honour which made her not only a household name but also made the name Mother Teresa synonymous with compassion and charity

She humbly expressed that she did not deserve the prize but accepted it “in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

In her Nobel prize acceptance speech, she began with a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi – after whom Pope Francis chose his name.

She continued: “There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery - and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.”

A ‘Saint of the slums’

Of the 885 people Pope Francis has canonised during his papacy, Mother Teresa is perhaps the most well-known.

In his homily during her canonisation on 4 September 2016 – 19 years after her death – Pope Francis said the diminutive nun had, by her actions, shamed world leaders for the “crimes of poverty” they had created.

“She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognise their guilt for the crime of poverty they created,” Pope Francis said on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, beneath a huge portrait of Mother Teresa.

Two miracles are generally required for canonisation. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican concluded that an Indian woman’s prayers to the nun cause her incurable tumour to disappear.

The second miracle involves a Brazilian man who suffered a viral brain infection that cause multiple abscesses, and eventually left him in a coma and dying.

His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers. The next morning – without needing surgery overnight – the man fully awoke, with normal cognition, and was able to resume his work as a mechanical engineer.

Doctors had previously told him that he was sterile because of his weakened immune system and antibiotics, however, he and his wife has two healthy children, in 2009 and 2012.

International Women's Day 2018

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March and the theme of this year is ‘Press for Progress’ which calls for everyone is work together to press forward and progress gender parity.

Click here to read more articles about other inspiring women just like Mother Teresa.