Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Nobel Peace prize winner Mother Teresa as the head of Missionaries of Charity and served for 12 years, died in Kolkata on Tuesday. She was 81.
An official of the Missionaries of Charity said Sister Nirmala was not keeping well for the past few days and her health was gradually deteriorating.
Born as Nirmala Joshi in 1934 in Ranchi, she took over from Mother Teresa as the superior general of the organisation in March 1997. Her father was an officer in the British army.
She learnt about Mother Teresa at her Christian missionary school in Patna, soon converted to Roman Catholicism and joined the Missionaries of Charity. In 1976, Sister Nirmala started the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity and remained its head until 1997.
Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Mother Teresa, passes away at 81
She had a masters degree in political science and was trained as a lawyer. She was one of the first nuns of the organisation to head a foreign mission when she went to Panama.
Sister Nirmala, whose term as superior general ended on 25 March 2009, did not accept the title of mother as a mark of respect to Mother Teresa. She was succeeded by Sister Mary Prema Pierick.
She was bestowed Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award, for her services to the nation in 2009.
Her body has been kept at St John The Evangelist Church in Sealdah, where she lived the last few years of her life, for people to pay their last respect.
"Even common people are mourning her death. She was an extraordinary person who dedicated her life to helping others," said Father Moloy B D'Costa of the church.
"In the first week of May when she was seriously ill, I went to meet her and told her not to worry about her health and that God would look after her. It was during this time that the sister superior indicated that her mortal remains should be buried at St John The Evangelist Church in Sealdah," said D'Costa.
He talked about the soft-spoken nun who always spread the message of love.
"During Easter and Christmas many people would visit the church. The day before Sister Nirmala would sit at a table and write down small verses from Bible in small pieces of paper and put them in a bowl. And she would ask whoever would pay her a visit to pick up a piece of paper. Then she used to smile and say that this is the message God wanted to give them."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed their condolence on Twitter.
"Sister Nirmala's life was devoted to service, caring for the poor & underprivileged. Saddened by her demise. May her soul rest in peace," PM Modi posted on Twitter.
The Congress vice-president wrote, "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."
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee also wrote on Twitter to mourn the nun's death.
"Saddened at the passing of Sister Nirmala who headed Missionaries of Charity after Mother Teresa. Kolkata and the world will miss her," Banerjee tweeted.
Her body would be brought to the Mother House at AJC Bose Road in Kolkata on Wednesday and the funeral will be held at 4pm.
(With agency inputs)