The Indian nun who replaced Mother Teresa as head of the Missionaries of Charity died early today, the organization says. Sister Nirmala Joshi was 81. Her health had been declining in recent days, the charity says, without specifying the cause of her death. She was selected to lead the Roman Catholic charity six months before the death of its founder, Mother Teresa, in 1997. She remained its leader, or Superior General, until stepping down in 2009. That year, she also received India's second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in honor of her service to the nation.
Born to Hindu parents in 1934 in Ranchi before India had gained independence from the British Empire, Sister Nirmala reportedly converted to Roman Catholicism after being educated by Christian missionaries and learning of Mother Teresa's work. Indian politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi praised her work for the poor in Kolkata, where the charity is based. "Sister Nirmala's life was devoted to service, caring for the poor and underprivileged," Modi says in a statement, adding that he is "saddened by her demise. May her soul rest in peace." (Read more Mother Teresa stories.)