Sister Nirmala, a sweet-faced nun who grew up in an Indian army family of the highest Hindu caste and left everything to join the Missionaries of Charity, was elected Superior General of the order yesterday after six weeks of deliberation. She will be the successor to the frail Mother Teresa, 83, who retains the title of Mother General.
"God will give me the courage to carry out our work with the guidance of Mother Teresa," she told reporters at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Calcutta. "Please pray for me."
"Personally, I believe that the sisters, after long deliberation, have chosen the best combination of spiritual motivator and administrator," said Navin Chawla, an Indian civil servant who wrote a biography of the Nobel Peace laureate and frequently visits her missions. "She has warmth and faith, and comes close to the only role model that they've had for the last 50 years."
In Calcutta, garlands of chrysanthemums, jasmine, and roses arrived at the door of the Mother House, where the order's 126 senior nuns had been cloistered since their return from a spiritual retreat in the West Bengal countryside.
Nirmala, who normally spends half her day in prayer as head of the Contemplative Wing, leads devotees to express spirituality, but has also proved to be an exacting manager while directing an early mission in Panama, and in later posts in Europe and the US. Though 63, she looks a decade younger, and is considerably more youthful than Sister Frederick, who was widely tipped for the position.
Sister Nirmala has often wheeled Mother Teresa to prayers since the nun's deteriorating physical condition, after three heart attacks, has wracked her with acute back pains. Mother Teresa, who founded her order in 1947 to shelter Calcutta's poor and homeless and allow them a dignity in death, secured Vatican permission to step down in 1990, but was unanimously re- elected. As head of the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Nirmala, the former Missy Joshi, will oversee a multi-national organisation with 517 centres around the world. More than 4000 nuns in blue trimmed white saris staff the orphanages, Aids hospices, mental homes, and basic medical clinics, alongside numerous lay volunteers.
"I pray that she will be able to carry out her job with God's blessings," Mother Teresa told reporters after the near-unanimous choice was announced.
Relatives of Sister Nirmala expressed pride and joy over her selection and said she deserved the honour because of her sacrifices. "We are very happy," Rajendra Prasad Joshi, the nun's younger brother, said in the Nepali capital Kathmandu.
Sister Frederick, who had been considered one of the front-runners for the post of superior general and was elected the second-ranking nun, said: "God is always working out the best thing for us."
Jan McGirk, New DelhiReuse content