Peter Finney Jr./Clarion Herald Sister Suellen Tennyson
A New Orleans nun is speaking out for the first time after she was kidnapped and held captive for five months in Africa.
Marianite Sister Suellen Tennyson, 83, returned to Louisiana on Aug. 31 after being abducted by at least 10 armed men in Burkina Faso in April, according to the Clarion Herald, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Sister Suellen was serving a mission at a convent in Yalgo when the pre-dawn attack took place, the Herald previously reported.
Five months later, Sister Suellen was "freed peacefully" without ransom to the FBI, U.S. embassy and Air Force personnel in Niger, per the Herald's latest report.
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Sister Suellen told the outlet that she is deeply grateful to have survived the ordeal, and thankful for everyone who helped her return home safe and sound.
"I am truly humbled by all of this," she said from the Archdiocese. "And the only way I can say thank you is 'thank you.' My heart is filled with gratitude."
Sister Suellen was kidnapped from the medical mission residence in Yalgo, which she shared with two other Marianite sisters and multiple employees since 2013.
FBI Sister Suellen Tennyson
After she was blindfolded and gagged, the attackers sat Sister Suellen on a motorcycle and drove for hours through West Africa before passing her off to a second group, the newspaper reported.
While being held captive, the nun used paper and a red pen she was given to mark the days. She was not given any books, and relied on her memory to recite prayers and recall Bible verses.
The nun had no clue where she was. Per the Herald, he recalled telling a captor at one point, "I can't run away — I can't run, and I don't know the way!' "
"Prayer sustained me," Sister Suellen told the outlet. "I went through my Mass every day. I did each part of the Mass and received spiritual Communion. During the day, at least three or four times a day, I would do a spiritual Communion. That was the thing that kept me going because I had nothing."
Freedom came suddenly in August, when Sister Suellen was handed off to a new group of men in Niger, per the Herald. Initially, she was concerned that she was being traded off to another group of captors, but soon learned she was finally free.
"One of the men came to me and said, 'You can take that jacket off.' And he turned to me and he said, 'You're free!' I said, 'What? I'm free? Who are you?' "
Sister Suellen was medically transported back to Louisiana and has remained at a safe haven in the Archdiocese for the last two weeks.
Marianite leader Sister Ann Lacour previously told the Herald that Sister Suellen was "totally worn out" following the ordeal.
"I told her how much people love her, and she doesn't have anything to worry about," Sister Ann said at the time. "I told her, 'You are alive and safe. That's all that matters.' "
In recent years, Burkina Faso has seen a surge in what Human Rights Watch describes as "abuses committed by armed Islamist groups, state security forces during counterterrorism operations, and pro-government militias" that have led to the deterioration of human rights in the region.
"Of particular concern are the gravity and number of armed Islamist group attacks against teachers, students, and schools," the organization says on its website, adding, "Few efforts have been made to hold those responsible for these abuses to account."