Kolkata, India, Jun 23, 2015 / 10:30 am America/Denver (CNA).
Catholics around the world are mourning the death of Sister Nirmala Joshi, who passed away Tuesday. Sr. Nirmala had succeeded Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, serving in that capacity from 1997 to 2009.
Sr. Nirmala, who was 81, had suffered ill health for some years, and was hospitalized and then brought home a few days ago, dying at a Missionaries of Charity home in Kolkata in the early hours of June 23.
“All people in India and especially the Archdiocese of Calcutta is saddened with this great loss of Sr. Nirmala Joshi, who was very close and dear to us,” Fr. Dominic Gomes, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Calcutta, told CNA.
“She was simple, humble and emanated a strong spirituality of faith,” Fr. Gomes added. “Her exemplary life was an inspiration to the younger generation in the congregation and to people around the world.”
The body of Sr. Nirmala is lying in state at St John's Church in Kolkata's Sealdah district, and will be taken to the Missionaries of Charity's Mother House in Kolkata tomorrow. The funeral Mass will be said at 4 pm local time on Wednesday, and then interred at St. Johns cemetery.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta, who had visited Sr. Nirmala a fortnight ago when she had regained consciousness, has expressed his deep sadness and grief at her death, saying, 'she was a great soul.”
He praised her work, noting that “she never talked about herself; she was more about how to support peace, to be helpful to the poor … she had a deep union with Jesus and she was a gentle apostle of peace until the end.”
Sr. Nirmala was in born in 1934 in Ranchi, capital of what is now India's Jharkhand state, to a Hindu brahmin family from Nepal who were serving the British during colonial rule. Her given name was Kusum, meaning “flower,” and she was the eldest sibling among eight girls and two boys. Her early education was at Christian schools.
She was inspired by Mother Teresa's humanitarian work, and was baptized. She later entered the Missionaries of Charity and took the name Nirmala, meaning “purity” in Sanskrit. She completed a master's degree in political science, and studied law as well. In the 1970s, she became head of the congregation's contemplative wing.
Sr. Nirmala was elected as superior general of the congregation just a few months before Mother Teresa's death in 1997, and pursued the founder's cause for beatification.
During the Missionaries of Charity's general chapter in 2009 she declined to remain head of the congregation, given her health issues. She was succeeded by Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, who remains superior general.
The Indian government has recognized her work for the poor and for peace, granting her the Padma Vibhushan, the nation's second highest civilian award, in 2009.
Tributes and messages have started to flood social media praising her service to the poor.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was quick to tweet, "Sister Nirmala's life was devoted to service, caring for the poor & underprivileged. Saddened by her demise. May her soul rest in peace.”
The opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Extremely saddened at the passing away of Sister Nirmala. She carried forward Mother Teresa's work with quiet dedication & dignity. She will be missed by the countless whose lives she touched."
The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee stated, “Saddened at the passing away of Sister Nirmala, who headed the Missionaries of Charity after Mother Teresa. Kolkata and the world will miss her.”