Book Review: Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink

My prayer: Lord, please send us another Mother Teresa to save us from our stupid selves. Amen.

But do we deserve her? Or would some angry Twitter mob cancel her because she’s pro-life or because she refuses to weigh in on political topics?

The beautiful thing about Mother Teresa is she wouldn’t care about the haters. She would just continue to graciously take care of the poorest of the poor. It’s the rest of us, the spiritually impoverished, who would suffer from her absence.

Yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty cynical lately. I should probably stay away from Twitter and TV news for a week and see if that improves my outlook.

But reading this book really made me think about our culture and what kinds of celebrities we elevate and what values we celebrate. Mother Teresa is the type of person we should be elevating, and in her time that’s what happened. But would that happen now when so many people seem to prefer twerking performers to individuals with some decency and substance to their character? I’m not so sure. I’m skeptical.

So, about the book. I read this biography as part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. August’s challenge was to read a biography of someone born in August. The options were rich – Lucille Ball, Lewis and Clark (both born in August), Warren Buffett, Louis Armstrong, to name just a few. But I’m so glad Mother Teresa ended up at the top of the list because reading about Mother Teresa was food for the soul.

Mother Teresa was, indeed, born in August and the year was 1910. She was raised in Albania and from an early age felt a calling to serve the poor in India. She did, of course, go to India, originally joining the Loreto Sisters in 1928. But she had her own ideas about how to serve the poor, and so she formed her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1950. Her vision was simple – she wanted the order to live among the poor and as the poor, offering them tender love and care. She believed that by serving the poor she was also serving Christ.

I didn’t know much about the sheer breadth of her ministries, assuming they were mostly confined to India. The order did, in fact, start in Calcutta and initially focused on comforting the dying, treating lepers, and housing and educating orphans. But it quickly spread worldwide, often as a result of Mother Teresa showing up at disaster sites and offering assistance. By 1990, for example, the order had about 3,660 nuns in various stages of their formal commitment. They staffed 400 houses in over 90 countries. The Missionaries of Charity also have an order of brothers, another of priests, and a network of hundreds of thousands of lay people. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

Throughout, Mother Teresa remained a humble servant to God and the poor, even as her fame grew. She had audiences with a diverse set of world leaders that included Ronald Reagan, Yassar Arafat, Queen Elizabeth, Fidel Castro, and Pope John Paul II. She won numerous awards, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She wasn’t comfortable with fame but accepted it as something that would benefit her charitable works. Mother Teresa died in 1997 and was canonized in 2016.

This was an OK book about a remarkable person. The writing at times was a little awkward, tending towards long sentences that I sometimes had to re-read in order to understand. The first few chapters were a little hard to get through, but then the author found her rhythm and the rest of the book was fine. The book was organized mostly by major concepts about Mother Teresa’s life rather than strict chronology. So each chapter potentially covered several decades and sometimes the same decades. I got used to it and it wasn’t a terrible way to organize a biography, but I had to keep on my toes about what year it was and how old Mother Teresa was during certain events. (Thankfully, she was born in 1910, making the math very easy.)

On the positive side, kudos to the author for taking on a formidable task. Screwing up a biography of Mother Teresa would probably be career suicide for a writer and she did just fine. Evidently, Mother Teresa didn’t like keeping records of her personal life, so the author must have had to do a ton of research to fill in the gaps. And the book does seem to be well researched, as it is packed with facts and anecdotes. I also appreciate the fact that the author showed a lot of respect for her subject matter. She didn’t try to dig up any “gotchas.” It was just a straightforward story about an admirable servant of God.

I would recommend this biography to anyone interested in learning more about Mother Teresa. But have your dictionary handy because there is a lot of Catholic jargon. Also, be patient as you make your way through the first few chapters.

Did you read a biography this month? Have you read a good biography this year? Tell us about it below.

Reminder: September’s challenge is to read a book that has been banned before.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink

  1. Hey Michelle,
    I just finished reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
    It was really good and featured a couple of doctors from India practicing in Ethiopia.
    Also made surgeons more relatable than I previously thought…
    Hope you are well as can be and especially enjoyed the first day of school pictures-wow!
    Hugs,
    julia

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too enjoyed the book but think you’re spot on regarding how it was written. A bit tough to follow at the beginning and bounced around quite a lot but overall, a great message about a wonderful woman. The key message that I took away from the book: it’s not about us personally. Mother Teresa didn’t like to dwell on her personal story but more importantly, how she could help those around her, especially the poor. Ironically, with her humble lifestyle, she lived a life of poverty as well! But, she always focused on how she could help others. That’s news we all can use.

    Regarding our present day society, we sure could use a few more Mother Teresas in our midst! But I would also say that our world is filled with people like her. I’m a firm believer that most people are good regardless of their color, faith, or where they’re from. Also, there are so many people who help those less fortunate but are never recognized for their efforts. That doesn’t make them any less of a saint in my eyes. Unfortunately, our 24 hour media coverage doesn’t spend too much time on these folks since it seems every story has to be more and more sensational than the last. But that’s not really what is important and usually, I feel better about myself and the world when I don’t have the TV on or when I’m not surfing the internet.

    I’m glad I read the book but wasn’t overwhelmed with the writer’s style. In sum: A good book about a great woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, George, and thanks for reminding me that there are a lot of really good people in the world. I’m definitely going to adjust my news and web surfing habits!

      Like

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