Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, were found murdered in Mississippi. Police are seeking a suspect.
Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, were found murdered in Mississippi. Police are seeking a suspect.
WASHINGTON — A central Mississippi sheriff  has taken the confession of a man who says he murdered two women religious who had spent years caring for poor people as nurse practitioners.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, was arrested and held in the deaths. A convicted armed robber on probation, Sanders gave no reason for stabbing Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky. The women were found Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home.

The sisters had worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic in Lexington, about 10 miles from the house they shared.

Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said police discovered a car missing from the nuns’ home the evening of Aug. 25 on a secluded street about a mile from where the women were found dead. Police officers discovered the women’s bodies after co-workers called asking to check on them after they failed to report for work at the clinic.

“These were just two wonderful faith-filled women who just brought so much life to this poor little section of Mississippi. They and so many of the sisters who have come down here throughout the years are the unsung heroes,” said Franciscan Father Greg Plata, sacramental administrator of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington, where the sisters participated in parish life.

“They just bring the light of Christ to this area here.  Both were extremely loved by the people in the area,” Father Plata said.

“These two sisters wouldn’t hurt a flea. It’s almost incomprehensible that someone could perpetrate such a violence against them,” the priest added.

Dr. Elias Abboud, the clinic’s owner, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, the deaths are “a loss to the community. They were loved by everybody.”

Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson commended the sisters for their years of dedicated service. “They absolutely loved the people in their community,” he said. “We mourn with the people of Lexington and Durant and we pray for the Sisters of Charity, the School Sisters of St. Francis and the families left behind.”

Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, asked for prayers of gratitude “for the precious lives of Sisters Paula and Margaret.” The leadership team of the U.S. province of the School Sisters of St. Francis announced shock and grief.