Martyred Ruma nuns still remembered 20 years later

Pictured is the statue of the five Adorers of the Blood of Christ Martyrs that was erected in their honor on the Ruma Convent grounds. (Alan Dooley photo)

The top headline in the Nov. 4, 1992, issue of the Republic-Times read “Waterloo Nuns Killed in Liberia.” Despite an election, three of the four front page stories focused on five nuns from the Ruma Convent who were murdered during an African mission trip.

It was obvious the story touched the hearts of so many, not only in this community, but elsewhere across the globe.

The memory of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Martyrs still lives on today — 20 years later — through schools and buildings built in the Sisters’ names as well as a book written by fellow Sister M. Clare Boehmer called Echoes In Our Hearts. It is a book Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School teacher Beth Lyons discusses with her eighth grade class every year.

The book has been taught for more than 15 years at SPPCS in Waterloo, including the five years Lyons has been with the school. She says her class can connect through the biographies of the women.

“It is interesting for them to relate to doing things (the nuns) did while growing up and that some of them even taught here,” Lyons said.

Sister Mary Joel Kolmer, 58, who taught at SPPCS, and her cousin, Sister Shirley Kolmer, 61, of Waterloo, were among the five slain nuns. Others were Sister Kathleen McGuire, 54, who once taught at Ss. Peter & Paul High School, Sister Agnes Mueller, 62, and Sister Barbara Ann Muttra, 69.

Lyons says she teaches the book because of the Sisters’ martyrdom, their service, and their close ties to the community and Ss. Peter & Paul Parish.

The Adorers were on a mission trip of education and health care in October 1992, and were stationed at a convent in Gardnersville, a suburb of the capitol city of Monrovia, Liberia, when attacks in the civil war-torn country began to escalate.

“After the attack on Monrovia on Oct. 15 by the rebels, we sent a message via shortwave radio to them that we were thinking of them and supporting them with our prayers and we would support any action they needed to take for their safety and we would be in touch with their families,” provincial superior of the Ruma Convent Sister Mildred was quoted in the Nov. 4, 1992 Republic-Times. “The Ruma Convent’s last direct contact with the sisters was on Oct. 2, when Sisters Shirley and Barbara Ann made their usual monthly call home. They indicated that the situation in the country was tense, but had no reason to fear for their safety.”

Sister Shirley Kolmer Sister Mary Joel Kolmer

Just a few days later, the Adorers learned of their Sisters’ death, but all that was known at the time was that the nuns were “brutally murdered,” as described by church officials in Liberia.

It wasn’t until sometime later they were informed about the missionaries’ cause of death.

“The exact circumstances of their deaths probably will never be known,” the Adorers of the Blood of Christ website states. “It is believed that Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra and Mary Joel Kolmer were caught in the crossfire of an ambush as they drove one of their workers from Gardnersville to Barnersville on Oct. 20. Three days later, soldiers of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia lined up Sisters Kathleen McGuire, Agnes Mueller and Shirley Kolmer in front of their convent in Gardnersvile. The soldiers then murdered them in cold blood.”

Today, due to their service and the cruel circumstances of their deaths, the nuns are known as martyrs with a statue erected in their honor outside the Ruma Convent.

This weekend, the convent will hold a private 20th anniversary memorial celebration of the Sisters’ service and sacrifice.

“With hearts full of gratitude, we remember their loyalty and their commitment to keep alive the covenant established with the people of Liberia,” stated today’s Adorers General Leader Sister Mariamma Kunnackal. “These Sisters willingly chose to stay close to the people of Liberia, standing in solidarity with them in some of their darkest times. Their faithfulness to God’s call ultimately brought them to give their lives.”

SPPCS will also honor these women, not just through its annual reading of their story, but through a free outdoor movie night fundraiser this Friday. The Class of 2013 is sponsoring a showing of “The Lorax” at 8 p.m.

Donations and proceeds from the concessions will be given to the Sister Mary Joel Kolmer Fund. She is the only slain nun who does not have a building erected in her name. The fund is working toward building a school in Liberia in her honor.

Twenty years later, the story of five women on a mission in Africa continues to touch the hearts of many, while the words of their past still ring true today.

“These dear Sisters of your’s were a source of inspiration, dedication and commitment in whatever way they serve the Master. Like the Master, they gave up their life for their fellow persons,” stated Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia in a letter to the convent 20 years ago.

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