The night before she was viciously murdered, Sister Margaret Held was doing more than God’s work.
She was making house calls.
It was 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and when she rang a patient and friend after already logging an almost 12-hour day as a nurse practitioner at the Lexington Medical Clinic in Mississippi, a 10-mile drive from the home she rented on Castalian Springs Road since 2006 with her Sister Paula Merrill.
Sister Margaret was checking in on her patient, whom considered her not just a nurse but “a dear friend.”
“She called and asked me ‘Are you alright’ after I had come down to the clinic to meet with the doctor and had tests done,” the 86-year-old neighbor, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast.
Many might have called it a day, but not Sister Margaret.
“She had just gotten home at that time and it shows you how long she worked,” her friend said.
The woman was admittedly shellshocked learning about the sudden loss of the nuns who were discovered savagely stabbed to death inside their home on Friday; their conversation may have been the last one before the nuns were killed. Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, has been charged with capital murder in connection to their deaths.
The friend had endured four bypass surgeries since 2002 and on this night she had good news to share.
“I told her the doctor said everything was A-OK and that I didn’t have to come back till next year,” she said of their 15 minute call.
The woman remembered Sister Margaret telling her, “That’s amazing” as a kind of hallelujah.
She said that earlier that day at the clinic Sister Margaret gave her a customary hug and was made to feel special.
“I’m going to tell you she is—was—a living angel,” the woman said. “All’s she had to do was flap her wings and go to heaven.”
Police are performing autopsies on both holy women. The nuns were found dead on Thursday morning in their home after a Lexington Medical Clinic receptionist went to their residence when they didn’t show up to work and found their bloody corpses.
The nuns’ next door neighbor Patricia Weatherly was inconsolable upon learning her dear friends had been slain.
Weatherly says the sisters’ back door was mysteriously open.
“They never leave their glass screen door open,” she said.
Weatherly also remembers various dogs near her home howling that morning. “The only thing I heard was a dog barking and then another dog barking loudly.”
The loss hit Weatherly especially hard.
It was Sister Margaret who was a green thumb of the block and opened the 57-year-old retired bus driver’s world to healthy, homegrown cuisine.
“It was sort of a pasta thing with their own vegetables they grew,” Weatherly told us. “It was different because I was used to eating pasta the spaghetti way. This was totally different. I had never had zucchini or some of the other vegetables they grew before.”
When Weatherly asked a secret recipe of a dish that included some of Sister Margaret’s bell peppers the nun wasn’t so saintly.
“We’ll see,” she told her.
The garden was Sister Margaret’s passion, while the laundry and yard work was Sister Paula’s domain.
Weatherly—who lived on the block of the small and economically depressed town of Durant, Mississippi, (population barely 2,000) for 15 years—also tended to a variety of perennial flowers and when she wasn’t healing the sick and afflicted she was weeding and nourishing the herbs and veggies.
The health nuns helped inspire Weatherly’s own gardening. “They were the ones that started me to create my garden patch,” she beamed.
“Sister Margaret came to my house asking for pine needles for their garden and she made me different dishes.”
The nun warned her that she was a health nut. “She told me ‘You might not like it.’”
Her nun neighbor also helped Weatherly beat back her asthma.
“I had asthma a long time and she helped me change my to a better treatment,” Weatherly told The Daily Beast, noting that the Western medical pro wasn’t averse to alternative treatments.
“She was an earth person and told me to take these herbs and stuff,” Weatherly said. “She also told me about putting vinegar in water and boiling it and holding my head under a towel and breathing that in. I tried it and it was real good.”
Weatherly would routinely seek ad hoc doctoring from Sister Margaret for any ailment and was never turned away.
“I told her how glad I was they are my neighbor because they helped me right then and there every time instead of having to go to a doctor’s office and Sister Margaret told me ‘That’s what neighbors are for.’”
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Weatherly’s electric stove proved to be a problem to keep her and her elderly mother fed. Both Sister Margaret and Sister Paula opened their home to her and other families to cook meals.
“They came over here and asked ‘Are you okay?’ and they let us go over there and bring our food and cook there,” she said of the nuns, who had prepared hot coffee for them to sip while they cooked. “They did whatever God told them to do.”
They crossed paths often while Sister Margaret did her early morning testimonial around the block once or sometimes twice if she was so ambitious.
Or when Weatherly would hang her laundry she would banter with Sister Paula.
On the morning before Weatherly left she remembered seeing Sister Paula mow the lawn.
“After she finished mowing the yard she went inside and changed clothes and I was back outside to hang my comforter out on the line I told her ‘Oh, you didn’t do the back!’ and she told me ‘I’ll get it later.’”
Sister Paula put the mower back into storage and they waved goodbye. “I told her ‘Have a good blessed day,’” and she in her compact grey car and left.
She remembered later that day seeing Sister Paula’s car return home but didn’t know where Sister Margaret’s bright grey compact car “with Wisconsin plates on the front” was.
“I didn’t see [Sister] Margaret’s car and figured she went in early to work,” Weatherly said.
Upon returning home Weatherly couldn’t believe her eyes with the phalanx of police moored next to her home.
“When I got here lord behold I see them people everywhere and learned they were killed,” she said. “Who would kill the sisters? They were homely. They didn’t mess with anybody.”
For the friend and heart conditioned patient who had learned she won’t get any more hugs at the clinic, she says it’s going to take a long time to cope. “The first day I sat in my chair and just stared. It was just like I don’t know how to explain it.”
Then she suddenly broke out of her frozen state.
“I told myself ‘You got to quit this. Sister Margaret would not want you to do this.’”