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The Martyrs Remembered

Twenty-five years ago this October, five Adorers of the Blood of Christ serving as missionaries in Liberia were slain in that west African nation’s long civil war.

Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra, ASC and Mary Joel Kolmer, ASC were ambushed while attempting to drive an employee to the safety of his home on Oct. 20, 1992. Three days later, on Oct. 23, 1992, the three remaining Adorers serving in Liberia at that time — ASC Sisters Shirley Kolmer, Agnes Mueller and Kathleen McGuire -— were ordered out of their home and killed by rebel forces.

In the fog of war and chaos at the time, word of their deaths did not reach the Adorers’ province in Ruma,, until Oct. 31.

On Oct. 21, the Adorers marked the 25th anniversary of this defining moment in the life of their community with commemorative events at their centers (former motherhouses) in Ruma, Illinois; Wichita, Kansas; and Columbia, Pennsylvania.

At the Ruma commemoration Sister Raphael Ann Drone, ASC, said, “Our sisters’ stories became entwined with the stories of the Liberian people, with all others who serve there …. Because of that, their story will never die in our hearts and in the hearts of the Liberian people.” Sister Raphael Ann added: “The memories of our sisters have been etched for many years to come in the lives of the Liberian people — in schools and clinics named for them. Their enduring legacy is the love of Jesus in the hearts, the lives of the people and in the stories of relationships which will be passed down through generations.”

One of those stories was recounted by Ramona, a former ASC Liberian aspirant, who said, “There aren’t enough words in the dictionary or the English language to describe the gratitude I have for the ASCs and their legacy in my life and the lives of many others. My goal is to continue that legacy in my life as a nurse practitioner.” Because of the ASC legacy she calls her son “an ASC grandchild” of which she said there are thousands in Liberia.

Guests attended a welcome, prayer service and program in honor of the five women — proclaimed Martyrs of Charity by Pope John Paul II — and viewed a new mini documentary on their lives and legacy. (See http://adorers.org/martyrsdocumentary)

The Adorers began serving in Liberia in the early 1970s, when priests of the Society of African Missions (SMA) asked them to work in that country. They served in Grand Cess on the Kru Coast and eventually opened missions in Gardnersville and Klay in Bomi County.

Over the years, 17 sisters ministered in Liberia, staffing health clinics, teaching in schools, doing pastoral work, mentoring and training young Liberian women interested in joining the Adorers and simply being with the people whom they had come to love and respect.

When Liberia’s first civil war erupted in 1989, the sisters and an aspirant evacuated to Ivory Coast. By the end of August 1990, they had returned to the U.S. The following year, 1991, Sisters Shirley Kolmer, Agnes Mueller, Mary Joel Kolmer and Barbara Ann Muttra, returned to Liberia, joined by Sister Kathleen McGuire. By late October 1992, the sisters were dead, along with hundreds of thousands of Liberians.

In 2010, Sister Raphael Ann, who served in Liberia for seven years in the 1970s, returned as an SMA lay missionary from 2010-2012. She returned for some months in 2014. As part of the 25th anniversary commemoration, the Adorers sent three sisters, two Newman University students and two community associates on a pilgrimage to Liberia in May 2017 to visit the places and people the five had served. One of the sisters also met with bishops and others to look into the possibility of returning to ministry in Liberia, perhaps with an international group of Adorers.

This 25th anniversary of the deaths of the five missionaries was a celebration of their lives and legacy, the Adorers’ deep friendship with the people of Liberia, and the ways these five women have inspired the community, and the world, to serve others, no matter the cost.

Sister Barbara Hudock, ASC regional leader, summed up their legacy. “Those same five women could have gone to any country or remained in southern Illinois. They would have done the very same thing they did in Liberia, teaching, working in hospitals or clinics,” not any different than the work of the ASCs elsewhere. “The sacrifice they gave was a sacrifice … to be with the people of Liberia,” Sister Barbara said. “So when people of Liberia ask how can you forgive us for what happened to your sisters, it was never a question” to be asked. “We were there with the people of Liberia who were suffering the same thing. It happened to all of your people. It happened to five of our women. You’ve given so much more than we would have ever given. But that’s also who we are and what we’re about, whether in Liberia, southern Illinois, Guatemala or Bolivia, to be with people, to talk about and to be witnesses to that love God has for all of us.”

Rafe Middeke contributed to this article.

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