The sun was rising on an early March morning in 2016, and Rosemarie Merrill was in the driveway, getting ready to leave for the long trek from Durant, Mississippi, to her home near Boston.
She had been visiting her sister, Sr. Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, and Paula’s housemate, co-worker and friend, Sr. Margaret Held of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.
“Paula brought me my coffee and Margaret brought me blueberry muffins she made,” Merrill said. “Them, standing in the driveway, waving goodbye. That’s my last memory of them, and no one’s going to take that away from me.”
Months later, the motherhouses of the two sisters got the news: On the afternoon of Aug. 25, police checked on the sisters when they did not show up at the medical clinic where they worked in nearby Lexington. They found signs of a break-in and entered the house to find Held and Merrill had been killed.
Held and Merrill had become what Jesuit Fr. James Martin would later call “martyrs of charity.” They were both 68.
In Nazareth, the leadership team called the sisters together in the chapel and shared the news.
“Our individual and community grief flowed in and out of each other,” Sr. Susan Gatz, the congregation’s president, wrote. “Our minds scrambled to make sense of it … no use. Our hearts ached.”
Many of those close to Held and Merrill have said part of their mourning is for the community the sisters served because the two were a vital link between people living in poverty and health care.
But the Daughters of Charity are preparing to help fill that gap.
Daughters of Charity Sr. Mary Beth Kubera said Sr. Mary Walz, a social worker, will live and work in Durant
starting in November, after Walz’s sabbatical ends. Kubera said the two have been planning the mission for months
Kubera, a member of the province leadership council, said the community in St. Louis had already been looking for a way to serve the people of Mississippi, and, after the loss of Held and Merrill, Durant seemed to be the perfect place.
“The work the sisters were doing was really a ministry of presence to the people,” Kubera said. “Sister Mary’s going to be a social worker a the clinic, and we’re looking for another sister or two interested in partnering with us.”
The Lexington Medical Clinic has hired a nurse practitioner and continues to run much as it did when Held and Merrill worked there, officials at the clinic said.
Kubera said the invitation to join Walz has gone out to the entire Sisters of Charity Federation, and they hope to have a partner for Walz by the end of September in time for the November move-in date.
The sister or sisters who go to Durant will already have a place to live: They will lease the same house Held and Merrill lived in, which Rosemarie and David Merrill still own.
“It’s a very sacred space. The sisters made a very happy home there,” Kubera said. “The people will be extremely pleased to know they’ll have the presence of sisters again.”
Originally published by Dan Stockman in Global Sisters Report.