What Is Mother Teresa Most Famous For?

Mother Teresa is one of the most famous and revered figures in the world, whose selfless charity work saved millions of lives.

Apr 12, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art
what is mother teresa most famous for


Mother Teresa is one of the world’s most revered public figures of the entire 20th century, whose missionary work relieved the suffering of the sick, the poor, and the disadvantaged. Dubbed a ‘Living Saint’ during her lifetime, she founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, and dedicated her life to the pursuit of selflessness and compassion. Even today, her name is still famously associated with acts of care and devotion. We celebrate the life of this remarkable woman who had a marked impact on the lives of many, and who inspired future generations of humanitarians to come, with a series of her most famous achievements. 


She Became a Nun at a Young Age

mother teresa young picture photograph
Mother Teresa in her younger years


Mother Teresa was born as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia in 1910. Her parents were of Albanian descent and they lived a deeply pious, Catholic life. During her childhood, her own mother would invite poor people from the surrounding neighborhoods to eat supper with them. She told her daughter, “All of them are our people.” Mother Theresa followed in her mother’ footsteps, taking the same open, compassionate attitude towards everyone. She chose to devote her life to Catholicism from the age of 12. When she was 16, she decided to become a nun, joining the Sisters of Loreto in Rathfarnham in Ireland. 


She Experienced a Calling in India

mother teresa in india charity work
Mother Teresa in India


One year later, she was sent to Darjeeling in India, where she became the principal of a charity school. While working in India, the Bengal province was struck by a terrible famine, leading to widespread illness, starvation and homelessness, particularly amongst women. In response, Mother Teresa established an open-air school and a home for dying people.


Mother Teresa Founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity

mother teresa beirut charity work
Mother Teresa in Beirut


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Through her work with these underprivileged groups, Mother Teresa went on to found the Missionaries of Charity, a religious organization made up of former teachers and students from the charity school where she had previously worked. Word spread quickly about their selfless work, and donations soon came in from all across India, giving them the much needed finances to make a real difference to people’s lives.


Throughout the 1960s she charity set up charity houses dedicated to different groups in need all across India, including orphanages, hospices and lepers houses. During the 1970s Mother Teresa was able to take her humanitarian work further afield, spreading across the world. The types of groups her charity supported also expanded to unwed mothers and HIV/AIDS sufferers, as well as children from Christian and Muslim communities in Beirut. 


She Was Dubbed a ‘Living Saint’

mother teresa charity work india children babies
Mother Teresa carrying out charity work in India


Mother Teresa’s tireless work against the devastating effects of poverty and illness earned her worldwide recognition, and she even became dubbed a ‘living saint’ by much of the human population. She was awarded a series of prestigious accolades including the Jewel of India, the Soviet Union’s Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee, and a Decree of Praise from Pope Paul VI for her charity work. 


Mother Teresa Was Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979

mother teresa time magazine
Mother Teresa photographed for Time Magazine


In 1979, Mother Teresa achieved her greatest symbol of recognition yet – she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her charity work that helped many thousands of people living lives of extreme poverty and destitution. Mother Teresa died in 1997 at the age of 87. By now the Missionaries of Charity had around 4,000 members, and a worldwide reputation that lives on to this day. In 2016, Mother Teresa was declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, ensuring that her name, and the incredible strength of her legacy, will live on forever.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.