Updated: August 26, 2019 10:07 AM GMT
Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity congregation pray at the tomb of Mother Teresa to mark her 109th birth anniversary in Kolkata on Aug. 26. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)
Missionaries of Charity nuns celebrated the birthday of their founder St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta three years after her canonization, breaking a Catholic convention.
Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta led a Mass on Aug. 26 marking the nun’s 109th birth anniversary in the headquarters of Missionaries of Charity in the eastern city of Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta.
Soon after that Mass, some 300 nuns and novices sang "Happy Birthday" at the tomb of their founder, popularly known as Mother Teresa.
The saint’s birthday was a major celebration in the house when she was alive, and the nuns continue to celebrate it even after her death in 1997 and canonization in 2016.
In Catholic tradition, only a saint’s feast day — normally the anniversary of death — is celebrated, not the birth anniversary. The day of death is believed to be the day of a saint attaining a heavenly life.
Missionaries of Charity Superior General Sister Mary Prema and Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta light candles at the tomb of Mother Teresa on Aug. 26. (Photo by Anne Nigli)
Senior nuns told ucanews.com that the nuns continue to celebrate Mother Teresa’s birthday as no one told them to stop the practice, and they do not find anything wrong in doing it.
“There can be no feast day without a birthday,” one of them said, adding that they will begin a novena — or nine-day prayer — from Aug. 27 in preparation for Mother Teresa’s feast day celebration on Sept. 5. “So, our birthday celebrations could be seen as preparation for the feast day,” she said.
They also said Missionaries of Charity’s 700 homes in 136 countries around the world mark Mother Teresa’s birthday with festivities.
Superior General Sister Mary Prema said their founder served “the poorest of the poor … as her own mother had taught her to help the poor and to belong all to Jesus.”
Mother Teresa was 19 years of age when she came to India as a Loreto nun in 1929. She left the congregation in 1948 to serve the poorest in the slums of the city. The congregation she founded in 1950 now has some 4,500 sisters.
The saint was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910, in Skopje in Macedonia to devout Albanian Catholic parents Nicola and Dranafile.