Lately I have seen Blessed Teresa, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, referred to as "of Kolkata." What happened to "Calcutta"? Also, who is now the Mother Superior of the order? And why do they not receive press about their great charity work as did Mother Teresa? -- R.C., of Trenton
Let me ask you this: What would you think if a bunch of "furriners" took over the United States and began renaming its states, cities, streets and everything else? I assume you wouldn't like it very much, would you?
Well, neither apparently did the Indian people. So, ever since their country won independence from Britain in 1947, it has changed dozens of place names to reflect the reorganization of its states and the linguistic systems in various regions -- and to rid itself of the anglicized leftovers.
Your question is a perfect example. According to historians, the city originally derived its name from Kalikata, which was one of three villages in the area centuries ago. Some say it may have come from "khal" (a natural canal) and "katta" (dug).
Whatever the origin, they say the Bengali pronunciation of "Kolkata" was used before the British arrived and changed it to Calcutta. In 2001, it was formally changed back to its original name -- exactly 40 years after champagne music maker Lawrence Welk recorded "Calcutta." (At 57, by the way, Welk became the oldest artist at that time to hit No. 1 on the Billboard rock 'n' roll chart.)
Speaking of pop songs, Jimmie Rodgers today might have had to rethink his 1958 hit of "Bimbombey" (even though it isn't spelled the same). When the Portuguese settled the area in the 1600s, they called it "Bombaim," Portuguese for "good bay." Then, after it was given to England in 1661 when King Charles II married a Portuguese princess, the British began calling it simply "Bombay."
But in 1996, the Indian government changed it to "Mumbai" to reflect the names that the Kolis ethnic group had given towns in the area. By the early 1900s, one of these towns had been named Mumbadevi after a Hindu goddess of the same name. By 2006, even the Associated Press agreed to call it Mumbai.
One more: In 1639, the Raja of Chandragiri allowed the British East India Company to build a fort near Madraspattinam, which became Madras. The local people built another town nearby, which they called Chennappatnam -- Chennai for short. Eventually Madras won out while the British were there, but in 1996 it, too, was changed to Chennai.
You can find a long list of similar changes on Wikipedia, but now onto your more pressing questions: When Mother Teresa became too ill to lead the mission she had founded in 1950, she turned the reins over to Nirmala Joshi (Sister Nirmala) in March 1997, six months before Mother Teresa's death.
But on March 24, 2009, Sister Nirmala also stepped down because of failing health, and the baton was passed to Sister Mary Prema Pierick, who heads the order today.
According to the Sister Teresa Center, she was born Mechthild Pierick on May 13, 1953, in the farming community of Reken, Germany.
In 1980, she read Malcolm Muggeridge's biography of Mother Teresa, "Something Beautiful for God." She was so moved that she went to Berlin to meet Mother Teresa and promptly moved to India to train.
Eventually she became the regional superior of the institute for the sisters in Europe. Now, she heads the order, which boasts more than 5,000 nuns in 130-plus countries.
As for why the Missionaries of Charity no longer commands headlines, I can only speculate. As the founder and leader for nearly a half-century, Mother Teresa was constantly in the news, winning awards (the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, for example), earning degrees and grabbing photo time with world dignitaries. She even drew international criticism on occasion for some of her practices and views.
Her successors apparently shun such spotlight. So her Missionaries of Charity, like untold numbers of other worthwhile causes, keep doing their good work under the radar.
"Only Jesus will tell me what is the next step," Sister Mary Prema told the Fides news agency on the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa's birth in 2010. "So, in the spirit of Mother, I'm not the one who controls things. God is the one who decides."
Mother Teresa, she explained, "never gave us any indications of future plans besides the fact that we should always strive to become more holy. This was her constant advice."
So I don't expect to see any ice bucket challenges anytime soon.
Who is now the oldest artist ever to hit No. 1 on the Billboard rock 'n' roll chart?
Answer to Tuesday's trivia: As a teen, Richard Nixon spent the summers of 1928 and 1929 in Prescott, Ariz., where he worked as a barker for the Wheel of Fortune game booth at the Slippery Gulch Carnival. (He also reportedly plucked and dressed chickens for a butcher and worked as a country club pool boy.)
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