Mother Teresa was my first feminist inspiration
I was delighted to watch the news that Mother Teresa was canonized yesterday, but the best part of the news was watching her community in Calcutta celebrate this amazing moment. Many are so very proud of her. I met Mother T when I was in Calcutta in 1995.
It was an accidental meeting. I went to the Missionaries of Charity compound, inspired to see her work first-hand, and wandered upstairs, curious about a crowd gathering there. And then I saw her. A tiny, frail, wrinkled, delicate woman, giving blessings to everyone who lined up.
So I joined the line and stood before this diminutive woman as she put her hand on my forehead and blessed me. I’ve met a lot of famous people in my life, but no one has ever left me in awe like she did. Truly amazing. Truly remarkable.
If you’ve followed my journey, you’ll know I was raised Catholic, which included attending Catholic schools all the way through. And then I decided no more. I was done with organised religion, I was done with Catholicism, I was done with the sexism inherent in all religions, and in this blog Religious Un-programming, I explained how hard and painful that separation was. I was done.
Mother T, though, was never someone I could dis. Sure I’ve read everything written about her – except for Christopher Hitchens’ book, I can’t read that out of respect for her. I might one day…
But when it comes to Mother Teresa, I’ve heard all the claims, read the speculations and I know what is said. She was not a perfect person, the way the work was administered is questionable, and I definitely don’t agree with many of her ideas - her anti-abortion stance being one.
However, I saw the incredible work the Missionaries of Charity were doing. I spent a lot of time in India in 1995 and at this time, it was not set up to take care of people with leprosy or other hideous diseases or afflictions. I don’t know if that has changed either.
Equally, I grew up around the physically and intellectually disabled through my dad’s work, and was in awe of these beautiful women taking care of people who are not capable of taking care of themselves. These ladies were doing something remarkable. They were giving dignity to people who could get it nowhere else.
I admired their work, even though I knew this was a path I would never take. I have always believed there are many ways we can give to the world. We’ve got to find our own path.
But above all of that, Mother T is my first feminist inspiration. This tiny woman stood up to the men of the Catholic Church and she fought hard, finally getting her way. She had to ask permission to set up the Missionaries of Charity and she did not give up until she succeeded. This was not an easy fight. Read her biography. It’s all there.
And think about it - it was 1950! In 2015 American nuns finally stopped fighting the Vatican for the right to offer care to those they believe needed it! Mother T was a true leader of change in my mind. A disruptor of her day. A woman who was fierce and determined. A woman who didn’t find it easy, but never gave up. I love that part of her story. It’s the part that taught me the most. Never give up!
So I was happy to see Saint Mother Teresa proclaimed yesterday. She reminds me to give all I can to make the world a better place in whatever way I can. She is an inspiration to me – as a woman and as a human being. I think she’s marvelous.
Any thoughts, one way or the other?
Yours, without the bollocks
Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity sign and one of the houses of the Missionaries of Charity photos courtesy of Shutterstock.