Two Catholic nuns were stabbed to death in their home in Durant, Mississippi last Thursday.
They were Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, two nuns that have spent most of their practicing years helping the poor. Held and Merrill were reported missing by the Catholic Diocese of Jackson after they did not show up at a nearby clinic in Lexington where they offered service.
The fatal outcome of a robbery
Clinic operators contacted authorities when Held and Merrill failed to appear. Police reported that a co-worker had found the bodies while checking the house. They visited their home and encountered evidence of a successful break-in.
One of the nuns’ vehicles appeared to be missing, but it was later found at 8:45 p.m. on a secluded street a mile away from the site of the events. The blue Toyota Corolla was undamaged and was subsequently towed to police facilities for forensic analysis. Police did not issue a statement on the crime motive other than an attempt of robbery, as there are no indications whether the nun’s work as caregivers or practitioners had anything to do with the crime.
Police Chief John Haynes stated that authorities were reviewing nearby surveillance footage to spot suspicious movements that could provide more information on the perpetrators.
“Pray in gratitude for the precious lives of Sisters Paula and Margaret. They served the poor so well. Because we are gospel women, please also pray for the perpetrators,” stated Sisters of Charity of Nazareth President Susan Gatz.
A hard loss for the town of Durant
The nuns’ locality has a poverty rate of 41 percent, whereas 40 percent of the clinic’s patients do not have medical insurance or just Medicaid. Held and Merrill were cherished by the locals, as they were the clinic’s primary caregivers. Parishioners congregated at the church after finding out about the murder to share stories, remembering their work and lively character.
58-year-old Paula Merrill had practiced nursing in Mississippi for over 30 years, having worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic since 2010.
68-year-old Margaret Held joined the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, where she would practice her faith for 49 years. She moved to Mississippi in 1983 and then to Durant in 2003, reportedly to try and fight against racism and poverty.
“These sisters have spent years of dedicated service here in Mississippi. They absolutely loved the people in their community,” oftentimes stated Jackson Diocese’s Bishop Joseph Kopacz.
Dr. Elias Abboud, who had worked with the sisters throughout the years, commented that the community will surely change after their passing, as there is always the need of people who do work lovingly and towards helping other people in need, especially in Durant, one of Mississippi’s poorest towns.
The two nuns provided basically all of the care at the clinic, focusing on the nourishment of relationships with patients and trying to provide them with everything they needed. The nuns also worked extensively during Hurricane Katrina, as the town was left without power on several occasions. They often let people come in their house to use their gas stove to cook dishes.