KOLKATA, India (AP) — The Indian nun who replaced Mother Teresa as head of the Missionaries of Charity died early Tuesday, the organization said. Sister Nirmala Joshi was 81.
Her health had been declining in recent days, the charity said, but did not give more details about the cause of her death.
She was selected to lead the Roman Catholic charity six months before the death of its founder, Mother Teresa, in 1997. She remained its leader, or Superior General, until stepping down in 2009. That year, she also received India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in honor of her service to the nation.
She was born to Hindu parents in 1934 in the northern Indian city of Ranchi, now the capital of the state of Jharkhand, before India had gained independence from the British Empire. She reportedly converted to Roman Catholicism after being educated by Christian missionaries and learning of Mother Teresa’s work.
Indian politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi praised her work for the poor in the eastern city of Kolkata, where the charity is based.
“Sister Nirmala’s life was devoted to service, caring for the poor and underprivileged,” Modi said in a statement, adding that he was “saddened by her demise. May her soul rest in peace.”
West Bengal’s highest elected official, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said in a Twitter message that “Kolkata and the world will miss her.”
A funeral was planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday at the charity’s Kolkata headquarters, called the Mother House.
Mother Teresa received the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her charity work and is considered a candidate for Catholic sainthood.