Convent years

By the time Gonxha became 12 years old. Her mind was made up to follow in the foot steps of Florence Nightingale and St. Francis alias Cisco of Asissi. Her life’s mission would be the selfless service and the care of sick and the poorest. And unwittingly she had chosen the place of her work. India, of course, the country that needed most the selfless and dedicated service of some one who could become the hope and consolation of its staggering numbers of the poorest, the orphans, uncared for sick and the abandoned. Their miseries were aggravated by prejudiced society.
Agnes ‘Gonxha’ prepared herself well for her mission by reading literature on India and learning about the Christian Missions active there for the next five years. So, single minded was Agnes that she had no time for the teenage frivolities the girls of her age indulged in. This teenager was already in different zone.
1927 was the watershed year of Agnes Gonxha’s life. She had entered 17th year of her life. Agnes set out for India with a batch of missionaries that was to travel by a ship.
One year later, in 1928 she finally reached her destination, Calcutta, a teeming city of millions situated in the eastern part of India.
As planned, she formally joined Loretto Order of the Catholic Church of Calcutta and became a sister of the Order. The rules of the Loretto Order required a new sister to give up her old name and adopt a new name. This name changing act was a symbolic gesture which signified the complete break with the past and the start of a new life dedicated to the service of the Catholic Church and God.
Agnes chose ‘Teresa’ as her new name.
Why Teresa?
May be, the name was already in her mind. There had been two Teresas whose stories were famous. No one exactly knows which one had made impression on the mind of young Agnes. Mother Teresa never made it clear or tried to explain on record.
The first Teresa was a nun of Carmel Convent of Spain in 16th century. She had become nun at the age of 18.
For thirty years, she lived in the Convent bound by harsh rules of nunnery following the regimen mechanically. Over the years she had been gradually becoming disenchanted with the fanatical atmosphere of the Convent. There all importance was given to the unproductive conduct of strict discipline and praying which only resulted in robotisation of the inmates of the nunnery.
She thought that the religious rituals should be supplemented by social work and service to the poor and needy. She articulated her pioneering idea. It was opposed by orthodox Sisters and Mothers. But Sister Teresa had firm faith in the correctness of her thinking and didn’t give up.
With the due permission of Pope she left Carmel Convent and returned to her city of birth Odilla. She was not alone. Four other Sisters who believed in the line of her thinking had accompanied her.
She along with her fellow Sisters preached the sublime message of Bible in simple common man’s language. They served the needy, poor, sick, helpless, abandoned and orphans by taking care of them and rendering help in whatever way possible. Their dedication and selfless spirit was exemplary.
And the result of their good work was there for all to see and it evoked a great reverence among the people for Sister Teresa and her group.
Later the church bestowed Sainthood on her.
The story of Carmel Convent Teresa has uncanny resemblance to the story of Mother Teresa as if Agnes Gonxha had chosen the Carmel Teresa to be her role model. Both joined their respective Convents almost at the same age of their lives 17-18. Both served the Convents for thirty years. Then, both disassociated from their Convents after which they served the sick and the poorest through their own Missions.
And the both were declared ‘Saints’ after their death.
The another Teresa was a nun in a French Convent. She was better known as ‘Little Teresa of Lissiway’. Her another nickname was ‘Tender Flower’. She was a picture of tenderness, love and compassion to others. For most of the people she was the very embodiment of purity and piety.
This Teresa died at the age of 28.
And 28 years after her death she was also bestowed the ‘Sainthood’.
All these saints must have been always in the back of her mind showing her the way.
Some people claim that Mother Teresa had admitted to some one that she had letter Teresa (Tender Flower) in mind while opting for a name. This claim also has some merit. Gonxha, her childhood name as already written, means ‘Flower bud’ in local dialect of Skopaze, her native town. So, there’s ‘Flower’ connection.
Agnes remained in the Loretto Order Convent for one year after getting initiated as Sister Teresa during which period she learnt Bangla, the mother tongue of Calcuttans.
She started her second year as a teacher in St. Mary High School of the Convent. The school undertook social works also. The Sisters went to slums and taught slum kids and gave medicines to the sick. Sometimes they took their students along. It was on such outings that Sister Teresa saw from close quarters the abject poverty, misery, helplessness, festering diseases, neglect and callousness of the passersby or authorities. She had to move through crowds being mobbed by beggars and urchins. The noise and the filth strewn around all over was nauseating. The misery of the people would shock her. The poor would beg for money in the belief that every white skinned person was a walking bankroll. The fact was that the Sister carried no money.
The years went by. Sister Teresa progressed to become the principal of the school. After nine years of teaching, Sister Teresa decided to become a nun and she returned to live in Loretto Order Convent in 1937. She crossed the stages of Sister, Nun, Mother and Mother Superior along with the teaching.
Mother Teresa’s health suffered noticeably in 1946. May be, she hid her internal pain from others for quite some time. Her malady was suspected to be TB.
The doctors advised her to go a salubrious hill station for the recovery of health. She took the toy train to Darjeeling, a pretty hill resort nearest to Calcutta.
That train journey inspired her to reassess her life. The toy train chugged along the winding rail lines offering her views of snow peaked Himalayas magical enough to transport her into a spiritual world. The fresh mountain air infused life to her tired lungs. She could again think afresh and make new resolves. Thus far, she had not taken any major step towards achieving the goal of serving the poorest and taking care of the sick and suffering that she had set for herself back in her teens.
The twenty years of teaching in the convent school at Calcutta and occasional forays in slums had only given her inputs regarding the conditions in India, the country of her adoption. Now she knew the financial and social backgrounds, mindset of the people, authorities and politicians, problems, miseries, tragedies, prejudices, poverty and the local language.
The time had come to take a major decision to realise her dream of following in the footsteps of Saint Teresa of Odilla.

The inevitable could not now be delayed. To dedicate her life entirely in serving the poorest of the poor, caring for the sick, abandoned and helpless was what she had come to India for. Her mind was made up. This day was 10th September, 1946. The train of her thoughts had reached the destination as had the toy train that steamed into the Darjeeling railway station.

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