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American Nun’s Choice to Stay in Nicaragua Costs Her Life With AM-Nicaragua-Ambush

January 3, 1990

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Sister Maureen Courtney chose to stay with the Nicaraguan people she had served for 15 years rather than take another post last summer because ″she felt that was what she was called to do,″ a friend said Tuesday.

Courtney and another Roman Catholic nun, Teresa Rosales of Nicaragua, were killed in an attack on church workers Monday night in eastern Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government blamed the attack on Contra rebels, but church officials said they could not confirm details.

″She was not at all politically motivated,″ said Sister Jean Steffes, mother superior of Courtney’s order, the Sisters of St. Agnes, in Fond du Lac, Wis. ″They simply were there to be with the people.″

Also injured in the attack was Bishop Pablo Schmitz, 46, a native of Fond du Lac and an auxiliary bishop in Bluefields, Nicaragua’s main Caribbean port. He was shot in the arm but was in no danger of dying, church officials said.

Courtney, 45, a native of Milwaukee, decided a few weeks ago not to come home for Christmas, preferring to wait and celebrate her 25th anniversary as a nun in Wisconsin this summer, Steffes said.

″She loved life and loved to share her life. I think its just a tragic loss of life. I just don’t understand this kind of tragedy,″ Steffes said.

Courtney taught sewing and catechism to adults at a school in Port DeCasus, Nicaragua, and was helping to establish a medical clinic, the order said.

Her parents, Frances and Russel Courtney, have lived in the same suburban Milwaukee home for the last 40 years. Mrs. Courtney said her daughter had been in Nicaragua for 15 years.

″She was supposed to celebrate her 25th jubilee in the order this summer,″ she said in a telephone interview. ″She was just a lovely little girl.″

Mrs. Courtney, 79, said she had been worried about her daughter’s safety but did not expect her daughter would be killed.

″Does anybody prepare for death?″ she asked.

Church officials said Courtney had visited her mother in Milwaukee last year. A friend said Courtney chose then to return to Nicaragua, although she ″could have gone anywhere she wanted.″

″She understood what she was in for, but she loved the type of work she was in,″ said Norma Venkler, a classmate of Courtney at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in the 1960s. ’She chose to go back. She felt that was what she was called to do.″

Steffes said she visited Courtney’s parents Tuesday. ″It’s very difficult for them,″ she said. ″They have lost a child.″

The Courtneys supported their daughter’s decision to stay in Nicaragua and understood why she had no plans to return to the United States permanently, Steffes said.

″The people are wonderful,″ she said. ″The people are warm and they want peace.″ She said the Courtneys ″found it difficult but they know that’s what Maureen wanted.″

Ms. Venkler said Courtney decided to become a nun immediately after high school.

Before going to Nicaragua, Courtney taught elementary school in Beloit, Wis., and in Harlem in New York City, Steffes said.

Bishop Schmitz went to Nicaragua as a missionary in 1972 and was ordained auxiliary bishop in 1984, according to Brother Larry La Cross, a spokesman for the Capuchin Order provincial headquarters in Detroit.

″It’s an awful shock,″ said Schmitz’s mother, Lavina Schmitz of Fond du Lac, adding only that she was relieved her son was alive.

About 35 Capuchin missionaries work in Nicaragua. La Cross said they hadn’t expressed any concerns about their safety in the days before the attack.

Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, an acquaintance of Schmitz, said he was a ″very devoted and pastoral bishop who has been very careful in avoiding any political involvement as he preaches the Gospel and ministers to his people.″

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