Ninety years ago, on 12th October, 1928, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu came from Albania at the age of eighteen to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Dublin. There, the young lady who was to become the legendary Roman Catholic nun and missionary, Mother Teresa, learned English with the aim of becoming a missionary in India, writes Gerry Breen.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was the youngest child of Nikolle and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle until her father died when she was only eight. She had a brother, Lazar, and an older sister, Age. The family lost everything but their home. It was a difficult and testing time, but the family learned to cope with adversity and poverty with courage and an enterprising spirit.
Agnes had a talent for writing and her brother, Lazar, thought she might make writing her career. But Agnes had other ideas. She had made up her mind to become a nun, and when she was eighteen years old, her ambition was to become a member of the Loreto order. After setting out on the journey to Ireland, she never saw her mother or her sister again.
During her time in Dublin, she was remembered as a happy and cheerful person with a good sense of humour. She was also noted for her deep faith and for her energy and resourcefulness.
She remained in Rathfarnham for only about six weeks, but she became very fond of Ireland and she returned many times and was granted the Freedom of Dublin in 1993. At the height of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, she sent a group of her sisters to Belfast to assist in whatever way they could.
In an interview, she responded to a question as to whether Ireland held a unique place in her affections by saying: ‘The people of the world are my people, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Ireland.’
In 1929, she began her novitiate and was teaching in Darjeeling near the Himalayan mountains before going on to teach humanities in St. Mary’s in Calcutta. It was an all-girls’ high school and she taught there for nearly twenty years until she was disturbed by the extent of the poverty beyond the school walls.
She took her first religious vows on 24th May, 1931. She chose to be named after St. Therese de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. Because a nun in the convent had already chosen that name, she opted for its Spanish spelling ‘Teresa’. She took her solemn vows on 14th May, 1937. As was the custom for Loreto nuns, she took the title of ‘Mother’ upon making her final vows and thus became known as Mother Teresa.