Mother Teresa bows out quit form the top order

Mother Teresa's recent decision to relinquish the leadership of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, has drawn at least 122 senior nuns to Calcutta to choose her successor. Because the frail Nobel Peace Laureate has spent the past week confined to bed with acute back pains, the sisters have postponed yesterday's scheduled election until 2 February.

"Anyone else in her condition would be admitted to hospital," one of her medical advisers said. "But Mother Teresa is adamant she won't go back."

Sensitive to criticism that she benefits from sophisticated medical attention which is unavailable to those at her Home for the Destitute and Dying, Mother Teresa is stubborn about following her doctors' advice. After heart attacks in November, the Albanian nun, 86, nearly died. Even after her heart was restarted by a team of five doctors, her weakened kidneys and respiratory problems complicated her recovery.

The assembled nuns plan to retreat from Calcutta to the West Bengal countryside and individually "will seek guidance through prayer," a spokeswoman said. When they reconvene on 28 January, they are likely to choose between two very different personalities.

Sister Priscilla and Sister Frederica are the main contenders for Mother Teresa's challenging job. Sister Priscilla, who handles publicity from the Calcutta office, has the higher profile and sometimes gets testy with the international press. Sister Frederica, 78, is responsible for operations in the United States and is a tough disciplinarian. Unlike Mother Teresa, she avoids publicity. Neither woman is likely to match the charismatic style of the order's founder, who has never groomed a successor.