martyrs-sculpture_ruma

Memorial of the Martyrs of Charity outside the Adorers’ Ruma Center in Ruma, Illinois

Today begins 12 days of remembering our missionary Sisters who died this month, 24 years ago in Liberia, during that African nation’s brutal civil war.

Adorers had been in Liberia since 1970 educating girls, working in health care and doing other ministries. They had come at the invitation of the SMA Fathers, Society of African Missions, based in Tenafly, N.J., who begged the Sisters to come. Many did.

But in the 1980s, as the war heated up, human rights were violated, and unrest and chaos ensued, it became more difficult to stay.

Yet they did, because in the words of Sister Shirley Kolmer who said during a home visit while recuperating from malaria, “I just decided that whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to make a difference.”

On Oct. 20, 1992, Sisters Mary Joel Kolmer and Barbara Ann Muttra were ambushed and killed on a road they had taken to drive home a convent employee. Their partially charred bodies would not be found for weeks.
Three days later, on Oct. 23, gunmen pulled up to their convent in Gardnersville, outside the capital of Monrovia, where the Sisters lived. The women were ordered to come out.

Sister Kathleen McGuire came outside first and was fatally shot. Then Sisters Agnes Mueller and Shirley Kolmer were ordered outside, and were shot to death.

convent-yard-where-srs-shirley-agnes-and-kathleen-were-killed

Convent courtyard where Srs. Shirley, Agnes, and Kathleen were killed

Other occupants in the house fled to tell the bishop in Bonga, Bomi County, Liberia. The news had to be surreptitiously delivered via a radio operation in Ivory Coast. The news was under wraps for days.

The Sisters back at the motherhouse in Ruma, Ill., would not find out until Oct. 31, when a call was placed at 2 a.m. to then-Province Leader Mildred Gross.

At 5 a.m., the news was delivered first to Sisters Elizabeth Kolmer and Mary Ann Mueller, whose own siblings were among the dead. Sister Elizabeth Kolmer remembered.

“It was a Saturday. I woke up to Mary Ann knocking on my door and telling me, ‘You’re supposed to call Mildred.’ I could tell something had happened, and I said, ‘Tell me.’

“I’ll never forget what Mary Ann told me: ‘They’re all dead.’ martyrsmandalalrg

“We sat down on her bed and cried.”

The women’s remains would not arrive in the U.S. until six weeks later, in December. They were flown to Dover Air Force Base.

“Sometimes, I wonder how we ever got through that time,” Sister Elizabeth Kolmer said.


We invite you to remember the Martyrs of Charity this week especially, on the anniversary of their deaths, celebrating their continued witness to lives of courage, compassion, and commitment.

5 thoughts on “Our Missionary Sister Martyrs Remembered”

  1. Avatar
    Diane Shirley Kolmer

    It was as if the ray of light was pulled downward out of me, as I sank to the floor with my father, Shirley’s brother, telling me they were all gone on the telephone. Shirley was my soul mate aunt. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was the epitome of how to live one’s life. Just as I hit the floor, I simultaneously realized it did not matter who killed her and them, a sensation of water flowing backwards over my head and hearing the words ‘forgive them’…was palpable. I felt her holding my head up and back and looking in my eyes to tell me she was all right and to ‘let it go’ She was surrounded by white light as she laid me on the floor and when I blinked her presence, her energy was gone. It seems like it happened yesterday.

  2. I remember these ladies I heard the news all the way in southern IL where I was back living again and I was shocked the memories of they did loved by all. As a missionary on my own I feel that I was called by the sisters

  3. Avatar
    Pam Crosson Kickham

    I will always remember Sr. Joel. We shared many trips to TEC Retreats all over Southern Illinois in the early 1980’s talking for hours as we drove. She taught me how to be strong and how to keep my faith strong. I had been in a serous car accident in 1980. She was my inspiration… convincing me that I could be someone else’s inspiration in the retreat program. I’ve never forgotten her and never will. I loved her smile!

  4. Avatar
    Fr. Joe Glynn C.S.Sp

    I remember Barbara, Shirley and her cousin Joel with fond and loving memories. I worked in the neighboring parish (St. Mary’s) on Bushrod Island in the 80’s. It was with you community in Gardnersville I enjoyed my first Thanksgiving dinner. We all had our silhouette in the community room wall. On one occasion Joel enquired about my parents. When I told her I had not written them for some time, Joel wrote to my mom to tell her what was I was doing. Shirley was good with the scissors; she cut my hair a few times. They were wonderful ladies ,full of joy and beauty. By the grace of Jesus I knew them. Today I remember them in my mass.

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