Angel of Mercy: Nun surprised she survived ordeal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 12, 2003

PINE APPLE &045;&045; Roseanne Cook is as surprised as anyone that she survived being robbed, stuffed in the trunk of her car, and shot at four times, left for dead by thugs.

But she was positively astounded to find that the whole episode landed her in the pages of The National Enquirer, right alongside the latest reports of Elvis being sighted and housewives from Yonkers being abducted by aliens.

She can no longer recall the exact headline that went with the story, but it was something along the lines of &uot;Angel of Mercy Miraculously Rescued.&uot;

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She doesn’t say if the experience changes her opinion of whether Elvis really is alive or not. Or about the existence of those aliens.

Cook is a Catholic nun of the order of Sisters of Saint Joseph. She is also a medical doctor with the Selma-based Rural Health Medical Program. The program maintains seven clinics in the West Alabama area, including the Pine Apple Community Health Center where Cook serves the needs of this tiny Wilcox County community, population 230.

She had been tapped to serve a remote village in Peru, but guerrillas destroyed the village shortly before she was to arrive. A fellow nun, nurse practitioner Jane Kelly, urged her to consider coming to Alabama’s Black Belt.

Cook was appalled by what awaited her.

Most residents at the time got their water by loading up a pickup truck with plastic jugs and heading down to the local filling station.

Conditions at the clinic itself, which occupies an old school building, were not much better. When she first came to the area in 1980, Kelly admits &uot;it was sort of dismal.&uot;

The building had fallen into disrepair. There was one bathroom, with an inadequate septic tank which tended to back up regularly. &uot;Really ugly stuff,&uot; Cook says with an involuntary shiver.

Slowly, improvements were made. The clinic was renovated. A child care center and community center were added.

Today, the clinic sees an average of 25 to 30 patients a day, up from the five or six patients Cook saw when she first arrived. The clinic maintains a client base of around 5,000 people, some coming from as far as 50 miles.

The clinic receives some federal funding, which allows fees to be assessed on a sliding scale. There is even a charity medicine fund, which helps with the cost of prescriptions.

Cook became a nun at the age of 19 &uot;after much prayer.&uot; She began attending medical school at the age of 40.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph do extensive work in both the education and health care fields. Cook points out that the two share many similarities.

That explains why those same people were so upset when Pine Apple’s &uot;Angel of Mercy&uot; found herself the victim of a crime which very nearly cost her her life.

It was Dec. 13, 2001. A Thursday. Cook was driving to the clinic when she saw three men with a car pulled over to the side of the road on Highway 10, between Pine Apple and Oak Hill. &uot;They were looking like they needed help,&uot; she says.

Cook stopped and the men used her jumper cables to start their car. Then one of the men pulled a gun.

She remembers the man with the gun saying, &uot;You’re dead.&uot;

The man with the gun struck her in the head, and the other men put her in the trunk of her car. Then the man with the gun fired four shots into the trunk.

Only one of the bullets struck its intended target, lightly grazing Cook’s face. &uot;If my head had been a little bit one way or the other, I’d have been a dead duck,&uot; she says.

The robbers then fled the scene, taking with them a 50-pound sack of dog food that Cook had purchased earlier.

In the end, it was the dog food that was the robbers’ undoing. Other residents who had seen the three men stopped at the side of the road provided descriptions to law enforcement personnel. When the men were found, they still had the dog food in their possession.

Cook studiously avoids describing her escape from harm as a &uot;miracle,&uot; saying only that, &uot;I do consider that I was very much protected by a power other than a human power.&uot;

Of this much, however, she is positive: &uot;I consider that the Good Lord wants me here, doing what I’m doing.&uot;

Perhaps that’s the biggest miracle of all.