Sister Nirmala, (Kusum Joshi) was an Indian Roman Catholic nun who succeeded Mother Teresa as the superior general (1997–2009) of the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation of women based in Kolkata. In that position she headed an order of some 4,500 nuns operating more than 500 orphanages, hospices, homes for the poor, and other charity centres throughout the world.
One of her chief duties was to ensure a steady stream of donations. She was born Kusum Joshi, the daughter of an Indian army officer who had emigrated from Nepal.
She was born Nirmala Joshi, on July 23, 1934, into a Brahmin family in Ranchi (then in Bihar and now the capital of the Indian State of Jharkhand). Her parents were Hindu Brahmins from Nepal. Her father was devout Hindu Indian Army officer originally from Nepal.
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Although she was born into a family of Brahmins, the traditional Hindu priestly caste, she converted to Roman Catholicism as a young adult.
She trained to be a lawyer before joining (1958) Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and taking the name Sister Nirmala. Thereafter she served in various capacities for the order, including working as an aide to Mother Teresa. Sister Nirmala was one of the first nuns to head a foreign mission, running posts in Panama, Europe, and the U.S. In 1979 she became the leader of the order’s contemplative wing (in which nuns dedicate their lives primarily to meditation).
When Mother Teresa’s health began declining during the 1990s, the order twice refused to accept her wish to step down; however, more than 120 senior nuns met early in 1997 to choose a successor.
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Following an eight-week selection process, they announced in March that Sister Nirmala had been elected by an almost unanimous vote. She stepped down as superior general in 2009.
Nirmala was one of the first Sisters of the institute to head a foreign mission when she went to Panama. In 1976, Joshi started the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity and remained at its head until 1997, when she was elected to succeed Mother Teresa as Superior General of the institute.
The government of India bestowed the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award, on Sister Joshi on Republic Day (26 January) 2009 for her services to the nation. Her term as Superior General ended on 25 March 2009, and she was succeeded by German born Sister Mary Prema Pierick.
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Sister Nirmala died from a heart ailment on June 23, 2015, in Kolkata, India.