A New Orleans Archbishop announced Wednesday that an 83-year-old Louisiana nun captured by a group of gunmen five months ago while living and working in a West African country had been found.
Sister Suellen Theresa Tennyson, a member of the Marianites of Holy Cross in Lousiana, was kidnapped from her bed at a mission site in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, a landlocked country between Ghana and Niger, on April 4, 2022. Tennyson’s abduction put her on the most wanted list from the FBI.
The New Orleans Advocate reported that a letter sent to Marianites of Holy Cross members Tuesday — and confirmed by the order’s U.S. congregational leader, Sister Ann Lacour — states that Tennyson is alive and under U.S. protection in Niamey, the capital of Niger. Tennyson has requested to maintain privacy and to return home safely.
New Orleans Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond said in a statement to WWLTV that congregational members are “deeply grateful to God, and to the women and men who made this possible.”
“The safe return of Sister Suellen Tennyson, MSC is an answer to our most heartfelt prayers,” Aymond said. “We thank God that she is safe and that she has been returned to the care of those that love her.”
In an interview with the Clarion Herald, Lacour said Tennyson detailed her kidnapping on the phone.
During the midnight hours, Tennyson reportedly was kidnapped barefoot when about ten armed gunmen burst into the convent, where she had worked for 10 years in the medical clinic.
Lacour said when Tennyson served as a pastoral minister, she would “wipe tears, give hugs, [and] import a smile.”
“She really did support the people that work in the clinic that the parish runs,” she said, adding that locals would walk for miles seeking help from the clinic.
The abductors ransacked the living quarters and kidnapped her while leaving behind her glasses, blood pressure medicine, and two other Marianite sisters.
“They destroyed almost everything in the house, shot holes in the new truck, and tried to burn it,” Lacour said. “The house itself is OK, but its contents are ruined.”
The two other Marianites at the convent in Yalgo – Sister Pauline Drouin, a Canadian, and Sister Pascaline Tougma, a Burkinabé — had few details to share surrounding the abduction, but said they believed more men were on the road at the time.
Pauline and Pascaline contacted both the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso and the U.S. State Department, and were relocated by authorities to Kaya, Burkina Faso — about 70 miles from the convent in Yalgo. Church officials also contacted the apostolic nuncios to the U.S., Burkina Faso, France, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S.
Authorities said Tennyson’s case was “a high priority.”
“We don’t know who it was that abducted her, but we know that there are various gangs throughout Mali and Burkina Faso trying to capture those that they feel like they can barter for in some fashion,” Lacour told WWLTV.
Local media reports that Burkina Faso ranks as one of the 10 countries in the Sahel region of Africa that have been under violent political uprisings with jihadi extremist groups fueling armed groups to attack civilians.
Lacour said the captors released Tennyson to the U.S. Military in Niger on August 29.
“She’s totally worn out,” Sister Ann 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,’” she added. “That’s all that matters.”
The details on why she was released have not been made public.
The #FBI seeks information about Suellen Theresa Tennyson, an American citizen & Nun living & working in Burkina Faso, who was kidnapped by armed gunmen in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, on April 4, 2022, & may potentially be located in Burkina Faso, Mali, or Niger: https://t.co/rdmBFW15RP pic.twitter.com/jwM27eIluC
— FBI Most Wanted (@FBIMostWanted) July 14, 2022