Mother Teresa, the ‘Saint of the Gutters’
Mother Teresa, also known as Saint Teresa of Kolkata (previously Calcutta), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 17, 1979, and was declared a saint by Pope Francis in 2016. She made it her life’s work to help the sick, the disadvantaged and the needy.
Mother Teresa once famously said, ‘The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted.’ Whereas others would refuse to look at the weeping sores and life-changing deformities of people with leprosy, for fear of becoming infected themselves, she remained steadfast and courageous in her care of them.
In the 1950s, in Kolkata alone, there were around 30,000 people with leprosy. Mother Teresa created a Leprosy Fund to help educate people about the disease and, in 1957, she launched mobile leprosy clinics so sufferers could receive treatment and care closer to their homes.
Less than a decade later, Mother Teresa had also established a centre for people with leprosy called Shanti Nagar – The Place of Peace – on land donated by the Government of India, so impressed were they by her dedication to these marginalised people. It was a place where people with leprosy could live and work.
In order to support the care of leprosy patients and other disadvantaged groups, Mother Teresa spent a good deal of time in the 1960s on speaking tours in the USA and Europe. These inspired many countries in the West to provide financial support for the work being carried out, both by Mother Teresa and the thousands of sisters who made up her Missionaries of Charity.
At the time of Mother Teresa’s death in 1997, there were over 4,000 sisters operating across 610 missions in 123 countries, caring for people with leprosy, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and the dying.
When so many others chose to look away, Mother Teresa brought the needs of people with leprosy into the mainstream, offering them care, compassion and dignity. Her motto was: ‘Do small things with great love.’ The “small things” she did for leprosy patients have had a huge impact on their self-esteem and quality of life.