Outside a chapel at the Gift of Peace house in Northeast Washington is an honor roll of the 240 men and women who have died there since the house opened in November 1986 -- about one every month. Most had AIDS, many were homeless and others had sought the comfort of the Missionaries of Charity home because they had been rejected by their families or left to die in obscurity.

The chapel, part of a multi-winged facility that includes separate, sparsely furnished but freshly painted dormitories for men with AIDS, women with AIDS and formerly homeless men and women, is the largest of the more than 600 such houses throughout the world founded by Mother Teresa.

The renowned nun, who died a year ago today, will be remembered this afternoon at a 5:15 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Mother Teresa required the sisters in her order to work quietly and steadily, with few words to one another and no words to outsiders. But Sister Priscilla, a Calcutta-based counselor to Mother Teresa and her successor, Sister Nirmala, decided to make an exception this week for the anniversary of "Mother's" death by opening the doors of Gift of Peace and two other houses in the District that are operated by the Missionaries of Charity. A fourth is a convent for prayer and contemplation.

"In general, we do avoid publicity. It's God's work, and he must provide for the needs," said Sister Priscilla, who has been visiting the United States since May and came to Washington to review the sisters preparing to take final vows.

It's not that she thinks Mother Teresa has been slighted amid all the coverage of the anniversary of the death, five days earlier, of Princess Diana. "There's always a story about Mother," she said, noting the "steady stream" of thousands of visitors a day to Mother Teresa's tomb in Calcutta.

But Sister Priscilla does want it known -- "maybe it's God talking" -- that the work a young Albanian nun started in India a half-century ago continues. The Missionaries of Charity organization remains strong, she said, and 17 new houses have opened or been approved since Mother Teresa "went home to Jesus." By year's end, Sister Priscilla said, the order will have 614 houses in more than 120 countries.

Letters from young women wanting to join the society increased after Mother Teresa's death, Sister Priscilla said. The order has more than 4,000 sisters and 400 brothers worldwide, with about 65 sisters in the Washington area. Each year, about 200 young women begin the arduous, nine-year process of becoming a Missionaries of Charity sister.

Four houses have opened in the District since 1981: a home at 1310 Wheeler Rd. SE for unwed mothers; the Gift of Peace house at 2800 Otis St. NE for homeless men and women and people dying of AIDS; a home at 5649 Western Ave. NW for infants awaiting adoption and mothers who want to give up their babies for adoption; and a convent at 1244 V St. SE.

There also is a home for men with AIDS in Baltimore.

All who are physically able could leave the houses any time they want, but most don't.

"They feel at home, they feel they have family here," said Sister Pietra, who as the superior at Gift of Peace led a reporter and photographer on a rare tour this week. "The sisters love them, and they {in turn} realize they are capable of loving one another."

What sets the Missionaries of Charity apart from other Roman Catholic orders is a fourth vow taken after the usual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, said Jim Towey, who trained the first volunteers at Gift of Peace and is now a Tallahassee lawyer who provides free legal counsel to the order. That additional vow is "wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor."

Such a promise can be especially challenging in the United States, where poverty is as much internal as external, said Towey, who met Mother Teresa in 1985 and traveled with her for two years.

In India, giving people food and medicine results in immediate improvement in their lives, he said. In this country, food and medicine are just the beginning, because "a lot of our poverty is inside," including intense anger and abuse of the body with drugs and alcohol. Seeing a change might take years.

It's not uncommon to see the needy, some of them drunk and belligerent, fighting one another or cursing or attacking the people who are trying to help them, said Towey, who once had hot soup thrown in his face. A volunteer in New York was stabbed.

Some of the poor yell at the nuns but don't physically hurt them. "They show amazing respect for the sisters," Towey said. "The sisters have such a calming effect on people's lives that it's almost a rediscovery that they don't have to be angry and mean. They bring out the best that's left in these people."

Towey pointed to Joe Green, a 74-year-old North Carolina native who has lived at Gift of Peace since just after it opened in 1986, as a testament to the impact of the sisters' love.

Green was an angry, disconsolate man when the nuns found him at an area shelter, Towey said, and he got into a broom fight with another resident early in his stay at Otis Street, a former orphanage that sits on 15 acres. But this week, Green greeted visitors with an outstretched hand, a broad smile and his favorite phrase, "Never give up!" He has become one of the staff's favorite residents and has earned the title "house father."

Neacole Smith, a 21-year-old mother of three, said the sisters at the Wheeler Road home have "shown a lot of patience" with some of the mothers, who move in during various stages of pregnancy and stay until their babies are 6 weeks old. "Some mothers are rowdy and foul toward the sisters, but they work with us," said Smith, holding 2 1/2-week-old Emanuel and watching over Elijah, 2, and Erin, 1.

"After they come here, it changes their lives," said Sister Eva Shalini, superior at the Wheeler Road complex, which includes a one-story frame house where six sisters live; a two-story brick house for up to 15 women and children; and a cinder-block hall that doubles as a morning soup kitchen and a place for after-school activities for 25 neighborhood children.

"They don't get a lot of love" elsewhere, she said of the numerous young mothers who have passed through the facility since it opened in 1981.

The sisters' duties inside the houses are only part of their responsibilities, which begin at 4:40 a.m. each day -- except for Sunday, when they can sleep in an extra 30 minutes.

Among other activities, the six resident sisters and 45 sisters in training at Gift of Peace, wearing their trademark blue-trimmed, white cotton saris, deliver bags of food daily to 100 nearby families.

The sisters on Wheeler Road serve 60 to 100 people each morning in their soup kitchen and go into neighborhoods to visit shut-ins and clean homes for the elderly, then return in the afternoon to run the after-school program. The four sisters on Western Avenue, who live in a large Tudor-style house in an affluent neighborhood, prepare 80 servings of soup and sandwiches three times a week and deliver them to the homeless in downtown Washington.

Each house is self-supporting, which means that the sisters and superiors depend on contributions of money and food from individuals and organizations. But the houses have never been allowed to solicit these contributions, and well-intentioned people who try to raise money on behalf of the Missionaries of Charity are asked to stop immediately, Sister Priscilla said. "We depend on God to provide for our needs," she said.

"We always know the Lord will provide," said Sister Maria Cecile, who lives at the Wheeler Road complex. "The more we give out, the more we get."

Sister Priscilla, who will return to Calcutta later this month, said the Missionaries of Charity will continue to follow Mother Teresa's example by taking love and care to those in need. "She is very much alive and with us," she said. "I don't feel her absence at all."

And the sister had an answer for Mother Teresa's critics, who felt the world-renowned "saint of the gutters" could have done more for humanity by using her fame to influence governmental policy or secure more sophisticated medical equipment for her clinics. "We never, never thought she was going to solve all the problems in the world," Sister Priscilla said. "She just wanted to pick up that man who had fallen by the wayside. And I think if I were that man or woman, I'd be very glad somebody stopped to pick me up." CAPTION: Continuing the Mission: Joe Green, a resident of Mother Teresa's Gift of Peace home in Northeast, has a favorite phrase: "Never give up!" The nun's followers haven't; they continue her work at four local sites. CAPTION: At right, Joe Green, who has lived at the Gift of Peace home in Washington since just after it opened in 1986, holds a rosary while standing in a hallway of the facility. Below, Sister Fredina, superior of the Missionaries of Charity home on Western Avenue NW, shares a smile with another sister at an award presentation at Gift of Peace. (Photo ran in an earlier edition) CAPTION: Sister Fredina, superior at the home on Western Avenue NW, shares a smile with another sister at an award presentation at the Gift of Peace house in Northeast. CAPTION: At left, Neacole Smith, 21, holds son Emanuel at the home on Wheeler Road. The four D.C. houses are among more than 600 worldwide founded by Mother Teresa, above.