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Upbringing, Midwestern Values Pushed Slain Nuns to Liberia With AM-Liberia

November 3, 1992

RUMA, Ill. (AP) _ For five American nuns slain in Liberia’s civil war, the path to service in dangerous places began in the corn fields of the rural Midwest.

Those who knew the nuns, members of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, say they had an intense need to help those who have next to nothing.

That calling ultimately cost Sisters Agnes Mueller, Shirley Kolmer, Mary Joel Kolmer, Kathleen McGuire and Barbara Ann Muttra their lives.

″This summer, when she came back home for a visit, we knew there was fighting and we asked her, ’Why go back?‴ said Rose Kreke, Sister Mueller’s sister. ″She said, ’Because those people need us.‴

Two of the nuns were slain after leaving their convent near Monrovia to rescue a wounded child Oct. 20. The three others were last seen by a parish priest two days later.

Their bodies have not been recovered from a battle zone near Monrovia, the Liberian capital, because the area still is too dangerous to enter.

The Roman Catholic archbishop in Liberia blamed rebels for the nuns’ killings, but rebel leader Charles Taylor has denied responsibility.

The little-known order has been in Ruma, about 35 miles southeast of St. Louis, for nearly 120 years. Part of a Rome-based Catholic congregation, the 240-member Ruma convent specializes in health care and teaching in rural areas such as Liberia, where it has had a convent since 1971.

The Ruma group also operates several hospitals and provides staff to schools in Illinois and 11 other states. Most of its members come from the Midwest.

Its presence is strong in communities such as Sister Mueller’s tiny hometown of Bartelso, near St. Louis.

″By and large, most of us come from rural backgrounds,″ said Sister Elizabeth Kolmer, whose sister and cousin were among the nuns killed.

The Kolmers came from Waterloo, about 20 miles from Ruma. Sister McGuire was from Ridgway, near the Indiana border. Sister Muttra came from Springfield.

Like the others, Sister Mueller, 62, joined the order when she was in her teens and wanted to go to Liberia ″to serve the very poorest of the poor,″ Kreke said. In 1987, a year after their mother died, Sister Mueller went overseas.

″The spirit of our congregation is that we try to be signs of God’s love to his people, especially when they’re in crisis or when they’re the poorest and most needy,″ said Sister Kate Reid, a close friend of Sister McGuire.

Four of the nuns, including Sister Mueller, had to flee Liberia in 1990 when the war got too hot. The rebels helped them leave.

Sister McGuire joined the group when they returned to Liberia last year.

Sister Mueller may have had a premonition of danger during her last visit home, said her brother, Joseph Mueller.

″I gave her a little gift, a memento of World War II, and she passed it on to my daughter,″ he said. ″It was like she knew she wasn’t coming back.″

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