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Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s successor, dies at 81

Sister Nirmala, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, stands in front of a portrait of Mother Teresa at the headquarters of the order in Calcutta (AP)

Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded Mother Teresa as the leader of the Missionaries of Charity, has died at the age of 81.

Sister Nirmala took over as superior general of the order, based in Calcutta, India, after Mother Teresa’s death in 1997.

Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta told the Indian Express that Sister Nirmala had been suffering from a heart condition and had recently moved back to a Missionaries of Charity home in the city after a period spent in hospital.

“She breathed her last peacefully, she was a great soul,” said Archbishop D’Souza.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences.

Sister Nirmala was in charge of the order until 2009, when she stepped down citing ill health. She was replaced by the current superior general, Sister Mary Prema Pierick.

Mamata Bannerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, where Calcutta is located, said she was saddened by Sister Nirmala’s death. “The world will miss her,” she said.

Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore said in a statement:”I express my deep sorrow, heartfelt sympathy and sincere condolences to all the sisters of Missionaries of Charity spread all over the world, and pray to God to give necessary strength and courage to all of them to accept this irreparable loss, and to carry forward Sister Nirmala’s legacy of compassion, gentleness and service to the poorest of the poor and holiness of life.”

Sister Nirmala was born the second of 10 children in a Nepalese Hindu family that settled in Bihar state. Born July 23, 1934, she was given the name Kusum, which means flower. She graduated from Patna Women’s College, managed by Apostolic Carmel nuns.

She said in a media interview that her call to religious life originated in college at age 16 when she saw a Hindu companion kneel to pray and make the sign of the cross.

The daughter of a late army officer, she continued to search for her life’s calling for seven years and became a Catholic in 1958 at age 23. She joined the Missionaries of Charity a month later.

Her family was not happy with the conversion, she told

One of the few Missionaries of Charity sisters who pursued studies after joining the order, Sister Nirmala supervised the work of Missionaries of Charity houses in Europe and the United States. She also had headed the order’s contemplative wing since 1979.

A funeral Mass planned June 24 at the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse in Calcutta.