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Happy Birthday, Mother Teresa, The 1979 Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

Written By Shannon Firth
Last updated: February 15, 2023

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her outstanding devotion to the poor in Calcutta’s slums.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents on August 26, 1910. She joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish Catholic order of nuns, in 1928. After learning English, she became a teacher in Calcutta.

In 1948, while teaching in India, she felt called to her life’s mission of living among the poor and helping them in any way she could. Two years later, she founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity. In the years that followed, “she became known to millions as a slight, brown-eyed figure—she was only 5 feet tall—smiling and dressed in the plain white sari with blue trim of her order,” The New York Times writes.

In 1979, at the age of 69, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. She “received the news with characteristic lack of fuss,” Time magazine reported at the time. “Personally, I am unworthy,” she said.

In accepting the prize, she expressed her unequivocal opposition to abortion. Mother Teresa refused to attend the traditional Nobel banquet in her honor, asking that the $7,000 cost of the dinner instead be donated to the poor of India. Nobel officials offered to donate $7,000 and also hold a banquet; Mother Teresa held fast, asking that whatever money was available to honor her be donated to the poor. The people of Norway responded to her selflessness by raising an additional $52,000 to support her work.

Despite her dedication to the homeless, the sick and the abandoned, and the recognition she received, the Vatican Web site reveals that “her interior life [was] marked by an experience of … being separated from God, even rejected by Him.” This “‘painful night’ of her soul” inspired Mother Teresa to seek “an ever more profound union with God,” the Vatican explains.

Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997, of cardiac arrest.

For a complete biography, visit Mother Teresa’s page on the Nobel Foundation Web site.

Sources in this Story

  • The New York Times: Mother Teresa, Hope of the Despairing, Dies at 87
  • Time: The Nobel Prizes: I Accept in the Name of the Poor
  • Vatican: The Holy See: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

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