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Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor, dies at 81

Sister Nirmala Joshi, who had taken over Mother Teresa's work of helping the poor and sick in Kolkata, has passed away, church officials said. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to the Hindu-born nun.

Nirmala succeeded Mother Teresa as head of Missionaries of Charity in 1997, and led the order of Catholic nuns for 12 years, before stepping down over health problems. She passed away in Kolkata on Tuesday, at the age of 81, according to church officials.

"She had been suffering from a heart disease for quite some time, but she never lost her smile and was always cheerful," Archbishop of Kolkata Thomas D'Souza told AFP. "She passed away peacefully, surrounded by sisters praying for her."

'Zeal' to serve

Missionaries of Charity was founded in 1950 by

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Teresa

, who spent decades in Kolkata caring for the sick, dying and orphans. The Albanian-born nun died six months after retiring from her post in 1997.

"Sister Nirmala carried forward Mother Teresa's legacy of compassion, gentleness, service to the poorest of the poor and holiness of life," Archbishop D'Souza said, adding that Nirmala continued to serve the people "with the same zeal" even after stepping down as head of the charity.

Modi paying tribute

Nirmala was born in eastern India in 1934, and converted from Hinduism to Christianity in the late 1950s.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to the Missionaries of Charity over her death.

"Sister Nirmala's life was devoted to service, caring for the poor and underprivileged," Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. "May her soul rest in peace."

Hundreds are expected to pay respect to Nirmala at her funeral, which is set for Wednesday.

dj/msh (dpa, AFP, PTI)

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