Murdered nun reached out to poor community, worried about recent theft of bingo money

| November 5, 2009

NAVAJO, N.M. – Sister Marguerite Bartz had worried just weeks ago about crime in the community after someone broke into the St. Berard Mission Church and stole bingo money.

Then she herself fell victim to a horrible crime. The beloved nun was murdered in her residence on church property, a killing that has rattled this impoverished town on the Navajo Indian Reservation and left parishioners in mourning.

"She was like a mom to me," said resident Arlene Deche. "It was so sad to hear what happened to her."

When Bartz, 64, failed to show up as scheduled for Sunday Mass in the neighbouring community of Sawmill, a person who hasn't been identified was sent to check on her welfare.

The church property sits along a highway against a scenic backdrop of red rock cliffs near the New Mexico-Arizona border. Her death turned tragedy loose on a town long beset by economic hard times, with its boarded-up, graffiti-scarred houses and weed-strewn playground.

Parishioners sobbed and hugged in the church parking lot as Bartz's roommate, who would only identify herself as Sister Magdalena, returned Wednesday to the residence they shared.

Sister Magdalena was in New Jersey when the crime happened. She said she now plans to move to the larger town of Fort Defiance, Arizona, 15 miles (24 kilometres) south of Navajo.

"She did a lot of counselling with people that were having difficulties," Magdalena said. "It's hard for anybody to understand the depth of what she did. She wanted so much to empower the people. She wanted them to know how good they were."

The FBI is investigating Bartz's death. Spokesman Darrin Jones said Wednesday a quick arrest is not likely but investigators received preliminary autopsy results that showed Bartz "sustained a substantial amount of trauma, likely as a result of a violent confrontation" with her killer or killers.

Jones said agents are withholding the specific cause of death while the investigation continues. However, he said there was no evidence to suggest Bartz was sexually assaulted or that she was targeted because she was a nun or for religious reasons.

A mini-SUV Bartz had used was transported to Albuquerque for processing by investigators. It arrived with a sheet draped over the driver's side, covering the window.

The FBI has declined to provide any motive for Bartz's murder, but said the murder apparently happened Halloween night or early Sunday.

Gallup Bishop James S. Wall said in a statement Wednesday that he was extremely saddened by Bartz's death. He said she loved the people she served and was a woman of great faith.

"She would want us to live out our faith as she did so well by seeking peace and not violence, love and not hatred, forgiveness and not vengeance," Wall said.

Parishioners Deche and Mary Petersen said Bartz had served Navajo and the surrounding communities for a decade and had success converting people through her work.

When they talked about Bartz, they spoke of her in the present tense.

"She makes me and my family feel really safe," Deche said.

Deche and others said Bartz prayed with them in their homes and travelled to the homes of elders on the remote reservation. She offered advice on raising children, ran bingo and religious education classes, played guitar and learned the Navajo language to sing Navajo songs.

She had a big smile.

"She seemed to be a person who got really close to people. She had a huge impact on people's lives and really reached out to families in need among the people she served," said Lee Lamb, spokesman for the Diocese of Gallup.

Mary Petersen of Navajo said she was worried about two women living alone with no dogs or a man to protect them.

Rough economic times started here more than two decades ago with the closure of a sawmill that had employed up to 400 people. While many stayed in Navajo – the population is roughly 1,500 residents – jobs are scarce and many villagers are poor.

The streets have potholes and abandoned houses are covered with black graffiti.

About five years ago, the local recreation hall shut down, said Raymond Howard of Navajo. A playground and basketball court are overgrown with weeds. Residents worry there's not enough to keep teenagers busy.

Petersen worried that other religious workers might stay away from the town, but Deche said she takes comfort in knowing that Bartz's spirit will look over the little church.

"In spirit, she's here. She's not going to leave us. She's not going to abandon us. She's going to lead us on," Deche said.

 

http://www.metronews.ca/edmonton/world/article/360356–murdered-nun-reached-out-to-poor-community-worried-about-recent-theft-of-bingo-money

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Church Security

Comments are closed.