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Elderly New Orleans Nun Kidnapped On African Mission Trip In April Found Alive

Marianite Sister Suellen Tennyson was kidnapped five months after 10 armed men stormed her convent in Burkina Faso. She was recovered safe on Monday.

By Jax Miller
An FBI handout of Sister Suellen Tennyson

A Louisiana nun kidnapped by armed men nearly five months ago has been found safe.

Sister Suellen Tennyson, 83, of the Marianites of Holy Cross in New Orleans, was kidnapped in early April while providing Catholic mission work with her convent in Yalgo, Burkina Faso — a nation in west Africa — according to the Clarion Herald, a newspaper representing the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The outlet referred to Sister Suellen’s service as an “educational and medical mission.” According to Reuters, she had been stationed there since 2014 as part of the diocese of Kaya, which is about 70 miles southwest of Yalgo.

Loved ones feared the worst when, sometime between the late night of April 4 and the early morning of April 5, 10 armed men stormed the convent and kidnapped a barefoot Tennyson, leaving her blood pressure medication and eyeglasses behind.

“There were about 10 men who came during the night while the sisters were sleeping,” congregational leader Marianite Sister Ann Lacour wrote in an April 6 e-newsletter alert.

Two other nuns were there when the ransacking took place but could provide few other details. Two younger women who lived at the convent were also taken from their beds with “no glasses, no shoes, phone, medicine, etc.,” and claimed to have seen more men on the road, according to Sister Ann.

“They destroyed almost everything in the house, shot holes in the new truck, and tried to burn it,” the newsletter continued. “The house itself is OK, but its contents are ruined.”

However, the armed men only left with Tennyson.

The remaining nuns immediately contacted the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou — about 130 miles southwest of Yalgo — and the U.S. State Department, which claimed the abduction was a “high priority case,” according to the Herald.

“U.S. Embassy Ouagadougou is working diligently with local authorities to verify these reports and is monitoring the situation,” the U.S. Embassy then said in a statement to Reuters. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

Yalgo, in the northeastern region of the landlocked county, has been experiencing “a sharp deterioration in the security situation… due to the presence of non-state armed groups,” according to the Herald.

Militant groups, many with ties to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, were previously behind other kidnappings and deaths in the area, according to Reuters. These same groups began taking control of larger land masses in 2015, resulting in the displacement of nearly two million people in the Sahel. These extremist groups continue to terrorize the region, including the recent July murders of 22 civilians in Kossi, about 275 miles west of Yalgo.

Thousands have died by violence in the Sahel region, a vast area stretching across the continent’s east and west from Senegal to Sudan.

According to Al Jazeera, Burkina Faso “became the epicenter of conflict” in the Sahel.

The region’s armed conflict is one of several crises, including food shortage and disease, that threaten those who live there, according to the World Health Organization.

“According to media reports, Burkina Faso, one of the 10 countries in the Sahel region of Africa, has been facing rampant violence occasioned by political crises, which offer a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups,” wrote the Herald. “The city of Yalgo borders the province of Soum, where armed groups are particularly active. In this area, attacks against civilians have increased, according to the reports.”

However, officials have yet to confirm whether any of those paramilitary groups were behind Sister Suellen’s kidnapping.

Details surrounding her recovery also remain unknown.

“She is safe,” Sister Ann told the Herald. “She is on American soil, but not in America. She is safe. She was recovered Monday morning. We have spoken to her. She eventually will get back to the United States.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans took to Facebook on Tuesday to proclaim, “Thanks be to God!!!!”

Archbishop Gregory Aymond also made a Facebook post, stating, “We are grateful to God for the safety of Sr. Suellen.”

Sister Suellen worked as a pastoral minister, and people would walk for miles to meet her at the clinic, according to Sister Ann.

“To wipe tears, give hugs, import a smile,” said Sister Ann. “She really did support the people that work in the clinic that the parish runs.”

Sister Ann said she has spoken to Sister Suellen since her rescue.

“She’s totally worn out,” she said. “I told her how much people love her, and she doesn’t have anything to worry about. I told her, ‘You are alive and safe. That’s all that matters.'"

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