NAZARETH, Ky. (WHAS11) – The two sisters who were killed in their Mississippi home last week were both laid to rest Friday. Sister Margaret Held had her services in Milwaukee. Sister Paula Merrill had hers simultaneously at her home congregation in Nazareth, Kentucky.
Leaders said doing the services at the same time was just one more example of how the two best friends and colleagues will continue to be united long after their deaths.
The two served the poorest of the poor in rural Mississippi for more than thirty years.
They worked as nurse practitioners, and their friends said they would always go above and beyond for their patients.
It wasn’t uncommon for them to pay for prescriptions out of their own pockets or call around to get donations of medicine and supplies.
Those who knew and loved Sister Paula best focused on her selfless service and sacrifice at Friday’s funeral and burial.
“She listened to not only where it hurts, but also to the stories her patients needed to tell. She listened when so many others would not listen,” SCN Provincial Sister Adeline Fehribach said. “Paula never wanted anyone to focus on the righteousness of her own actions.”
“The people with whom she lived and worked with in Mississippi captured her heart,” SCN President Sister Susan Gatz said.
It was a day full of sadness and grief, but also lots of laughs and smiles recalling the good times and humor Sister Paula often brought with her.
“Her collection of Donald memorabilia was renowned and her Donald Duck impression was unparalleled,” Sister Susan said.
In tragedies like this, it’s easy to focus on the negative and turn towards anger instead of forgiveness. The speakers at Friday’s service said Sister Paula would show nothing but compassion and love for the man who took her life.
“If Paula could meet the person who killed her, she would not focus on what he did to her,” Sister Adeline said. “I can almost hear her say with compassion what violence did you experience that could allow you to do what you have done to me, to my friend, and to this community. Who hurt you that much? How can I help? How can I help you to let go of some of that pain? With Jesus Paula would say, Father forgive him, he knows not what he does.”
“We have months to deal with the dark side, the criminal side of it. That’s going to be coming. We’ve spoken with the Mississippi D.A. about it. That story will, I’m sure, take over this story, but if there’s any good to just come out of this senseless tragedy, it is that two humble small lives in a very small place that we all ignore can be shown and demonstrated to all of these people so that we can inspire other people,” Sister Paula’s nephew David Merrill said. “It wasn’t about politics. They didn’t try to convert people. It wasn’t about religion. It wasn’t about anything. It was just about seeing a great need in an underserved and neglected community in this country. If we can all make one person’s life better, even for a moment, we can exponentially change the world.”
Hundreds of people came to pay their respects to Sister Paula, including several sisters from India. They had a sister murdered more than 20 years ago in Nepal, so this pain is all too familiar for them.
“We do not know God’s plans, but we believe God is with us, and he will walk us through this,” Sister Jackulin Jesu said.
Sister Jesu is also a nurse and trained at Spalding University before going to India. She knew Sister Paula and looked to her as a mentor in their shared profession.
“We are proud of Paula, very proud of her, and proud to be Sisters of Charity of Nazareth,” Sister Jackulin said. “Today was the beautiful service where we experienced oneness, forgiveness, and healing.”
Sister Paula’s death still stings for so many left behind, but it's the promise of something better that helps them heal.
“Paula, we rejoice with you that you are in the embrace of our gracious God. We know that you will be with us and support us as we grieve your loss,” Sister Susan said.