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Betsy Kerekes reviews Jon M. Sweeney's well-researched account of the life of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

A particularly favorable aspect of Jon M. Sweeney’s biography, Teresa of Calcutta: Dark Night, Active Love is the details he goes into that aren’t common knowledge. For instance, Teresa’s difficult childhood as a religious minority in Albania, or the grisly poisoning of her politically active father before Teresa’s 9-year-old eyes.  

Teresa’s thirty-year-old now-widowed mother of three was left nearly destitute. Despite this, she brought the poor and homeless into her house for meals, telling her children they were “distant relatives.” No doubt this example helped shape Teresa’s future work. 




Teresa’s famous “call within a call” to found her own order wasn’t new information. The suffering of waiting years for the religious bureaucracy to approve her mission, however, was palpable in this retelling. She had no choice but to take a master class in patience and trust.  

When she was finally able to form her order, the distrust of her motives by the local Hindus and Muslims made her work not only difficult, but dangerous. Stones were thrown at her and her sisters as they carried the sick into their home. 

Other interesting aspects of her life are framed within the historical context of the time. Sweeney does an excellent job explaining the political upheaval within India, literally coming over her convent school walls.  

War and turmoil existed in other countries Teresa worked, causing her to cross war zones to save orphaned children. Sweeney even accounts an instance where she literally brought about a cease-fire. 

Teresa was, in a word: fearless. When she prayed, stuff got done. When witnessing death, destruction, even blood and gore, not to mention terrible wounds and illnesses, she was unflappable.  

The book shares the objections to her work. Some, such as the poor care of children in some of the international houses she founded, even gave me pause. This is the result of fallible humans in charge, I imagine.  

Others complained that Teresa accepted donations from men who obtained their wealth by questionable means. Teresa asserted that she never asked where financial support for the Missionaries of Charity came from. Whether or not she should have been more concerned is debated. 

Her fame, the interviews and documentaries made about her, the close friendship with Pope St. John Paul II and Princess Diana, are all covered in detail.  

One delightful story tells of how she would travel to a country to receive an award, then set it down at the nearest MC house. Her sisters would collect the prizes and keep them in a cupboard at the mother house. When Teresa asked what was in the cupboard, the response was, “Nothing important,” because that’s how she regarded the awards. 

Sweeney goes into detail of Teresa’s dark night, including the controversial “bomb shell” about her decades of not feeling the presence of God in her life. The secular world jumped on this as evidence of her questioning her faith and even her belief in the existence of God. As with all aspects of the book, Sweeney covers this topic thoroughly.  

We learn from Sweeney’s book not only biographical information about St. Teresa, but also her wisdom. For instance, no matter the trying circumstances, she began each day with, “Good morning, Jesus.” She also said, “When I see someone sad, I always think, she is refusing something to Jesus” and “Let Jesus use you without consulting you.” 

Perhaps her best wisdom for Catholic moms: “Keep the joy of Jesus as your strength. Be happy and at peace. Accept whatever he gives you, and give him whatever he takes from you. True holiness consists in doing God’s will with a big smile.” 

Ask for Teresa of Calcutta: Dark Night, Active Love at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon.com or the publisher, Liturgical Press.




Copyright 2023 Betsy Kerekes
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