The Missionaries of Charity congregation has elected Sister Joseph Michael, 68, as its new superior general.
The election took place March 12 at the congregation’s Mother House in Kolkata, eastern India.
Sister Joseph replaces Sister Mary Prema (Pierick), a German who led the congregation founded by Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata, for the past 13 years.
Sister Joseph is currently the superior of the congregation’s Kerala region, according to sources in the Mother House.
The nun is Mother Teresa’s former secretary.
Members of the religious order from 110 countries gathered in India to elect their new leader during a weekend prayer retreat, spokeswoman Sunita Kumar told AFP.
The new superior general of the charity “has been with the organization for a long time and was Mother Teresa’s secretary for years,” Kumar said.
Her predecessor, Sister Prema, had served in the role since 2009 and had recently asked to stand down on account of poor health.
Sister Prema’s departure comes after the Indian government threatened to cut off foreign funding to the charity on Christmas Day last year, before backpedalling two weeks later.
India’s home ministry said then that the Missionaries of Charity was ineligible to receive overseas donations.
But critics at the time described the move as further evidence of harassment of Christians under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It came soon after police in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, began investigating the charity for alleged “forceful conversion” of Hindus to Christianity — a regular accusation by hardline members of India’s majority religion.
Activists say that religious minorities in India have faced increased levels of discrimination and violence since Modi’s government took office in 2014.
The government has also increased pressure on non-governmental organisations receiving foreign funding, including rights groups.
Originally from Thissur in Kerala, she joined the Missionaries of Charity at the age of 20 and was one of Mother Teresa’s closest collaborators.
She spent her life in missions to the Philippines, Poland and Papua New Guinea. She currently lives in Ernakulam’s Shishu Bhavan (children’s home).
The congregation also elected Sister Christina as the first councilor and Sister Cecile the second councilor. The third and fourth councilors are Sisters Maria Juan and Patrick.
Saint Mother Teresa’s immediate successor was Sister Nirmala Joshi of Nepalese origin, who led the congregation from 1997-2009.
Sister Joshi started the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity and remained at its head until she was elected to succeed Mother Teresa as the superior general. – with a report from Matters India and Agence France Presse