Sister M. Trinita shares her friendship with Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, the two sisters whose murder in Mississippi last week has shocked the nation.
Yesterday afternoon I called Sister Mary Trinita at the community health clinic she’s run for twenty years in Jackson, Miss., wondering if she knew the two sisters who were murdered last week in the nearby town of Durant. The details of the sisters’ deaths are available elsewhere. Here I want to share Sister Trinita’s testimony, and offer a challenge.
“Hi Trinita, you’re answering the phone,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Just walked in the door. I was at the memorial. At the cathedral. It was beautiful. Not an empty place in the church.”
It shouldn’t have surprised me that she would know Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill. Durant is in the Jackson diocese just sixty miles from Jackson, the place Sister Trinita has called home for her entire religious life, and all three sisters in the business of caring for the poor in one of the poorest states in the union.
What I didn’t realize was that they were good friends who enjoyed the time they could steal to visit, share a good meal, and laugh. “I last saw them in April,” Sister Trinita recalled. “They’d come to Jackson to shop and we went out to lunch. We talked and enjoyed reminiscing.”
“They lived the Gospel. Talk about giving your life to God. They proved that they did.”
What I didn’t realize was Sister Margaret and Sister Trinita’s friendship began 21 years ago when they studied together to become nurse practitioners. They shared the weekly three-hour drives back and forth between Jackson and the campus in Columbus, Miss. “Margaret was feisty,” Sister Trinita said. There was a soft chuckle; I waited for the story.
“Once we drove through a storm to make it to class on time,” Sister Trinita explained. The teacher walked in late and announced that the inclement weather meant she was not prepared for class. “Sister Margaret stood up and spoke her mind: ‘We drove through snow and ice to be here and we are prepared for class. Don’t tell us you are not prepared for class!’”
I asked what she’d like our friends to know about Margaret and Paula.
“They lived the Gospel. Talk about giving your life to God,” she mused, “They proved that they did. They would do anything for anyone at any time. They were lovable, and I loved them.”
What I wasn’t prepared to hear was the normalcy with which Sister Trinita considered her friends’ deaths. She told me that on Thursday she received a call at the clinic from one of our sisters who thought of her when she heard the news and called to make sure she was okay.
“It wasn’t me this time. I assured her I was okay but shaken by the news.” That’s what she said. It wasn’t me. This time.
The people of Holmes County, Mississippi, are now wondering who will come to take Sister Margaret’s and Sister Paula’s place.
I asked her if she worried about potential violence in her ministry at St. Dominic’s clinic. “I think about it once in a while,” she admitted. “It could—and does—happen anywhere.” She rattled off a list of incidents she recalled.
“I’m careful, but I don’t let it bother me; otherwise it might keep me from doing what I need to do.”
This, from a woman who three weeks ago was home in Springfield with her community celebrating the three sisters she lives with in Jackson who marked 60 years of consecrated religious profession. A woman who has served in Mississippi since before I was born. This week, this sister of mine buried two friends who were killed in the midst of their ministry and went back to work at her clinic in Jackson.
The people of Holmes County, Mississippi, are now wondering who will come to take Sister Margaret’s and Sister Paula’s place. As Mississippi columnist Sid Salter wrote, “The role these sisters played in the lives of the poor and the sick in Holmes County will be assumed by . . .whom? When the faith-based ministries that politicians like to talk about are targeted, just who takes up that slack?
“Because remarkable souls like these innocent, dedicated women don’t choose to come to rural Mississippi every day.”
Mr. Salter’s point, I believe, is that Sister Margaret and Sister Paula, and My sister, Trinita, are filling a need that so often our governments fail to meet.
My point is, where are the Catholic sisters to stand in the gap?
We have seven remarkable Springfield Dominican Sisters serving at St. Dominic in Jackson, all but one of whom are nearing retirement, and I’m on the downside of my fifth decade.
Who will take their places?
Will a young woman you know? Will you? Will you “Talk about giving your life to God”?
We’d be so happy to hear from you, and to help you discern whether God is calling you to serve him as a Dominican Sister, either in Jackson or in any one of many other challenging, life-giving ministries.
For more information about becoming a Dominican Sister of Springfield, call Sister Teresa Marron, OP, at 217-787-0481 or contact us here.