The body of Mother Teresa now lies in a simple white marble tomb
in the central house of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order
that she founded. Today that order has spread around the globe, and
is now at work in 133 countries, with more than 4,000 nuns from 80
In August, Catholic World News had an exclusive interview with
Mother Teresa's successor as head of the Missionaries of Charity.
Sister Nirmala--whose name means "Immaculate" in Hindi--was born
in Nepal, and raised a Hindu. She met Mother Teresa here in Calcutta
in the spring of 1958, when she was 23 years old, and was about to
ask to be admitted to the Catholic Church.
The interview was conducted with Sister Nirmala sitting on the same
bench where Mother Teresa used to receive her visitors. Sister
Nirmala invited also Sister Frederic--a British nun, whom she
describes as her best counselor, to sit in on the interview.
Q: Sister, can you explain to us how the life of Missionaries of Charity
has changed since Mother left?
Sister Nirmala: The life of Missionaries of Charity, by the grace of
God, has not changed in any way, except that we miss our Mother:
her physical presence. Otherwise, by the grace of God it is continuing
in her spirit.
Q: Can you share with us some anecdotes of the devotion that people
have shown for Mother Teresa since she died?
Sister Nirmala: People are continuously coming to see (the tomb of)
Mother, and everywhere they pray to Mother and they are receiving
many favors. The main devotion to Mother is that all these people
are coming to share the work, to support us. They come with
donations, and all of them are tell us how much their life is inspired
by the life of Mother.
Q: Have you received notice of any miracles from her intercession?
Sister Nirmala: Many miracles are happening around the world.
Physical, spiritual miracles are been reported. Or course for the
canonization process not everything is accepted; they accept only
certain kinds of miracles.
Q: Well, have you already seen "those kinds" of miracles?
Sister Nirmala: No, we cannot say that yet. It has to be documented.
They [officials at the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints]
have to examine the evidence and they have to say this is the one,
we can not say it. The postulation for the cause of beatification has
not yet started.
(In the Chapel some nuns have started the Adoration hour and their
voices singing hymns are clearly hear from where we are. The
central house of the Missionaries of Charity is a four-story building
where 250 nuns live together. The usual work is done with
remarkable diligence and silence. It is hard to believe that there are
so many people working in the same complex.)
Q: Can you tell us something that made a deep impression in your
heart, being living side by side with a holy woman?
Sister Nirmala: When I joined, I was just a postulant, and I had not
been here even one year, I got sick and Mother brought me from our
section to her room, she gave me her bed to sleep on and she slept on
the table. Do you understand that? I won't ever forget that.
She gave up her bed for me. There was no extra bed. She was only
taking care of me, and sacrificing.
I was very new in the order. I was just a small little one, you know,
and she was Mother--big Mother. Do you understand the meaning of
that? These little things of love were common with Mother: her
delicate love.... .
Q: What was Mother's favorite thing to do besides working with the
Sister Nirmala: She loved to eat sweets! But more than anything she
loved to help the helpless. She was always ready to help, always
encouraging and challenging us, always asking others to help her to
(Sister Frederick adds, while laughing): And she loved settling things.
Mother always was settling things in their proper place.
She liked to challenge people to make sacrifices, to give of
themselves--not of somebody else. You make the sacrifice and you
Mother used to tell the story of a little child who, when he heard that
there was no sugar for the children in Shushi Bhawan [an orphanage
run by the Missionaries of Charity], he did not take sugar for a few
days and collected it and brought it to Mother. These were the kinds
of things she loved: to challenge people to make the sacrifice for the
sake of others.
She was always ready to love; everybody experienced her capacity to
love. We all talk about Mother all the time. No matter where we are,
we always are talking of her. We love her so much, because she
loved us much.
Q: What about the sacrifices she used to make?
Sister Nirmala: Even is she was sick and all, she would not care. How
much she used to push herself to fulfill her duties! When she was
sick she didn't care for her life. It was we people who used to pursue
her and take care of her. She never wanted.
I never saw somebody who just "threw away" her life as Mother did.
We had to protect her life, but she was absolutely carefree, and not
wanting any attention for herself, because she said there are so
many poor people outside. She never wanted to be different from us
and from the sisters. Everybody ate same food. She would take no
Q: But in India, that must had been quite shocking--here in a society
accustomed to caste distinctions, where she was the figure of
authority, the general superior.
Sister Nirmala: We were very happy to see this in our Mother. It
made us feel--as we are--a real family, it was a great inspiration to
all of us.
Q: Are there any persons or institutions in India that are not happy
with the work the Missionaries of Charity are carrying out? Are
there any detractors? [This interview was conducted just before the
killing of three Missionaries of Charity in Yemen.]
Sister Nirmala: I cannot tell. Maybe they are not happy because they
don't want to be happy. That is their business. But I don't know of
any; I have never heard of any.
We have so many applications; there are so many bishops are asking
for the sisters to go into their dioceses, in so many countries. With
some of them, we are already there, but they want more houses of
the sisters. In some countries we have not yet started because we
have not enough sisters to respond to all those applications. Sisters
are very well accepted and very much wanted.
Q: But in India Christian organizations are not "very well accepted"
Sister Nirmala: We have had no difficulty along that line. Never. We
have never had any confrontation with Hindus or Muslims.
Q: What was Mother's attitude toward Hindus and Muslims?
Sister Nirmala: She respected everybody's religion; she helped them
to live whatever they have received in their faith, as best as they
could. Her whole idea was: "This is what they should do, and if some
day God gives them the grace of faith, they may be able to respond
generously to that call." But she wanted everybody to be
wholehearted in whatever they believed.
Q: Did she try to convert them?
Sister Nirmala: No, but she would have been happy if people received
the grace of faith. She prayed for the grace of faith. Some of them
converted: a few.
Q: One final, specific question: Can you tell us about the work that the
Missionaries of Charity carry out with pregnant women who are
considering an abortion?
Sister Nirmala: Yes. We have a home for troubled mothers and we
tell them not to abort, to give us the baby. They come to us and they
give birth to the baby. Some then take the baby home with them;
after giving birth, you know, somehow they are willing to keep the
baby. Others they hand the baby over to the sisters to take care of
him, and then give the baby for adoption. In India alone, we have
given in adoption more than 8,000 children. Some of these babies
come from these ladies; many more are from among the abandoned
children we receive.