The Dispatch: More from CWR...

The Great Paradox: A review of Mother Teresa: No Greater Love

The new documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus often treads well-worn ground, but does an excellent job of showing that the Saint of Calcutta’s mission was primarily and ultimately salvific, not philanthropic.


Distribution Service: Fathom Events
MPAA Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
USCCB Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5 reels     

Being a canonized saint is rare, and being recognized as such during your own lifetime is rarer still. Being a true saint, totally devoted to Christ and His radical message of love, while simultaneously being lauded by the secular world for your actions is the “rarest of the rare,” perhaps only achieved by the woman who helped “the poorest or the poor.”

Mother Teresa: No Greater Love is a new documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus, now entering an encore screening from Fathom events due to popular demand. Much has been said about this titan of the 20th-century, and the film often treads well-worn ground, but it also benefits from the current day Missionaries of Charity, who provide the most powerful testimony about the one they just call “Mother.” 

No Greater Love is primarily about St. Teresa’s philosophy and work, but it is peppered with scenes from her extraordinary life as well. She was born to a Catholic minority population, in 1910, in Albania, then part of the Ottoman Empire. She joined the Loretto Sisters, eventually ending up as a teacher in Calcutta, India. In a now legendary incident, she was traveling on the train to a retreat in 1946 when she heard “the call within a call.” It was Jesus asking her to leave her current life and serve those in most need of her help. She started the Missionaries of Charity and devoted the rest of her life to finding those abandoned by the world. In India, this meant going to those dying in streets. In Africa, she found children starving for every meal. In the United States, it was the drug addicted and AIDS patients. 

Despite her great charity work, her mission was primarily salvific, not philanthropic. She told her sisters to “see Jesus in the face of the poor” and “bring the love of Jesus to the poor.” Worse than the hunger for food or medicine was the hunger for dignity and love. She didn’t start with a blueprint for a hospital or religious order. She just walked into the streets and embraced the first dying man she met. She then gave them whatever she had, which was usually not even enough for herself. For example, her feet were seriously deformed, not just from the constant walking but only taking the donated shoes nobody else wanted, which were often ill-fitting or broken.

The most compelling aspect of No Greater Love is the frequent interviews with current-day Missionaries of Charity sisters. They are always smiling, and not the fake smile of a runway model, but the gentle smile of being at total peace with God and humanity. They live in hundreds of different places, some of which are quite dangerous. In Mexico, Teresa founded a house in a cartel-controlled neighborhood. When her sisters were fired upon during their daily work, she marched right into the leader’s apartment room and demanded that he, a multi-millionaire armed to the teeth, leave them alone. He complied.

Unlike many other religious orders that are in serious decline, the Missionaries continue to recruit vocations; many of the sisters were well under forty. This attraction was not just her social justice work, but its proper place as part of the mission of the Catholic Church. She insisted on doctrinal and ecclesial fidelity. Prayer was also essential; sisters are still required to do at least an hour of Eucharistic adoration a day. 

Despite her paradoxical success, she did have detractors, who unfortunately have been growing louder in recent decades. She was always hated by various political leaders due to her strong anti-abortion stance, even proclaiming its evil during a speech attended by a nervous President Clinton. She has even been criticized for her charity. Atheist and journalist Christopher Hitchens said she “didn’t love the poor, she loved poverty.” He criticized the supposed poor conditions of her houses and how she “wasted” money on religious work rather than proper Western style medical care. 

It’s true that this nearly penniless nun did not give her patients, abandoned on the streets moments from death, the latest million-dollar chemotherapy treatment. She gave them something better. She gave them hope, love, and a true death with dignity. She also took people who had been rejected by mainstream hospitals and mental institutions. Hitchens, of course, never did any of this work himself. Underneath this paper-thin criticism lies all kinds of hidden motives, but, at its heart, is a type of fearful denialism. Mother Teresa is too good. If she is for real, it’s because she is really holy, which means that holiness exists—and I could be holy, too. 

This documentary isn’t perfect. It’s a bit jumbled and hard to follow at times. Yet it hits all the important parts and does a good job underlining the work of the Knight as well. During the leadership of the previous supreme knight Carl Anderson, the Knights of Columbus was, somewhat unfairly, painted as a partisan organization aligned with conservative causes. No Greater Love, presented by Anderson’s successor, reminds Catholics in the U.S. that our duty to the poor is not divorced from pro-life teaching and pro-marriage causes but is a natural extension of them. Again, something that the world never seems to understand.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Nick Olszyk 194 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.


  1. Thanks for the review and info. Because of my interest in the movie, googled Mother Therese: No Greater Love and found it will be showing at theaters in NW suburbs starting Nov. 3. Also can be found using links from Knights of Columbus, fathom events etc. So anyone interested, suggest checking it out to find where it is showing in your area.

  2. I love St. Mother, I saw the movie, and I personally visited one of her homes, in Agra India, for disabled children. I would not dare suggest that Mother was not a saint. Wishing in no sense to detract from honor due her, one could however argue that she was both saint and philanthropist. Her EXAMPLE of service was salvific.

    At one of her homes (for disabled children) in India, people predominantly from the West (e.g., tourists) LINED UP on the street before the facility opened, then stood in a long line inside the compound in order to see the superior (not Mother since she had already passed). Checkbooks in hand, they were ready to donate their largess. In this sense, Mother used other people’s money to enable her work, and in this sense, Mother was a philanthropist.

    The children I met in India displayed smiles of peace and joy which MOVED me deeply. I was not moved in sympathy (I am parent to a child with a disability.) I was moved because these children were sincerely happy to meet anyone who were interested in visiting with them. My son is the same way. Mother’s legacy has been gifted to these children because she loved as a Mother to the strangers who had no love in their lives. My child too brightens when people show interest in him.

    Mr. Olszyk and I would perhaps not agree that the most compelling aspect of the movie was the interviews with current-day Missionaries of Charity sisters. One (?in New York) who blessed drug addicts and the homeless was indiscriminate in talking; she did not allow those to whom she ministered any unspoken space in which the other could speak. She incessantly spoke words of blessing; e.g., “You are lovable. God loves you. You are loved. You are great in God’s eyes.” While speaking, she would wipe tears from one’s eyes, clean the face of another, bless foreheads, pat backs, or hug others. Physical contact was part of the ministry. Before or after she gave her ministrations, another sister handed out a bag of food and/or other material goods. Some recipients appeared ashamed, many seemed sad, and others seemed clearly strung in drug-addled misery.

    Mr. Olszyk’s mention of mother’s foot problems was NOT mentioned in the film. Or I completely missed that part. I WAS struck by the sister who told of Mother’s going immediately to the latrine upon her arrival at this home since she knew it would need cleaning and no one else would have seen to do that job. FOR ME, that SUMMED, WHO MOTHER WAS. Anyone who travels to India knows that even the clean latrine there is still a much lower standard of clean that those typical in the West. Mother sought the lowliest and most degraded jobs and people in order to show love and to make life a bit better for others. That to me is the nature of her sainthood which we all can make our own. That is her salvific legacy.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Reclaiming the light of dogma in the face of supposed “deeper understanding” - Catholic World Report - Catholic Colbert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.