Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sister Nirmala, Blessed Mother Teresa’s successor, visits Spokane parish

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 15, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Sister Nirmala greets a child at St. Patrick Parish, Spokane, during her visit last month. Sister Nirmala is the successor of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta as Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity. The Missionaries have a community centered at St. Patrick. (IR photo courtesy of St. Patrick School, Spokane)

Sister Nirmala is the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, the Religious community founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mother Teresa’s successor in that role.

She spent two days in Spokane last month during a trip to the United States, visiting Missionaries communities in this country.

This was Sister Nirmala’s first visit to Spokane. The Missionaries community was established here almost two years ago, on the grounds of St. Patrick Parish, in Spokane’s Hillyard neighborhood.

She arrived by car around 12:20 p.m., greeted by a crowd of students, teachers, parents, several priests, and a few of Spokane’s newest Association of the Faithful, the white-and-blue habited Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church. The crowd applauded and cheered as she stepped to the curb in front of the convent.

The students sang a couple of choruses of the hymn “Immaculate Mary” while the diminutive Superior General, clad in the familiar white-with-blue-trim, sari-like habit of the Missionaries of Charity, stood beaming and nodding her head in thanks. “Immaculate Mary” was specifically chosen because “Nirmala” translates into English as “Immaculate.”

Sister Nirmala enchanted everyone immediately. Cameras clicked, and the air was filled with happy chatter and laughter as bright sunshine illuminated the crisp, early autumn afternoon.

Graciously consenting to a brief interview, Sister Nirmala first stepped into the simple convent chapel, devoid of pews or anything else to sit upon, and bowed briefly in prayer toward the Blessed Sacrament. Then she stepped across the hall to a simply furnished parlor where she took a chair at a round table to reply to a few questions.

Speaking with the lilting accent characteristic of her culture, Sister Nirmala quietly explained that, in the days just prior to her arrival in Spokane, she had been visiting the two Missionaries of Charity communities in Los Angeles – “one active, one contemplative.” Observing the excitement generated by her arrival a few minutes before, a bystander might have concluded that Sister Nirmala was a celebrity, but she insisted otherwise. “I never think of myself as a celebrity,” she said with a smile.

Sister Nirmala allowed, however, that she did have a few words for the people of the Diocese of Spokane, and they were words as basic as the Gospel. “God loves us,” she said, “our people here. Trust him, no matter what. Seek to do his will, and happiness will be always ours.”

During her brief stay in Spokane, Sister Nirmala intended first to visit with and observe the work of the Sisters of her community. Then she wanted to see the parish church and to attend a Mass the following morning at which Bishop Skylstand would be principal celebrant. She referred to Spokane as “God’s place. There are poor here – the presence of the poor is the thing. We go where the poor are, you know, and the service of the poor is a wonderful thing.”

Sister Nirmala, now 73, explained that she joined Blessed Mother Teresa in 1958, but she wasn’t one of the earliest. “I am number 76,” she said. “Mother started alone in 1948, and I came in 10 years later. Many Sisters have been in the community longer than I.”

It was not Mother Teresa who chose Sister Nirmala as her successor. Rather, she explained, while Mother Teresa was still living, a general chapter of the Missionaries of Charity elected Sister Nirmala to succeed the woman who is now beatified and who will probably be canonized a saint.

“They chose me. Only God knows why,” Sister Nirmala said with a quiet laugh.

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