Precious Blood Missionary Murdered

While the world’s attention was focused on the outbreak of deadly xenophobic attacks in South Africa another deplorable murder took place. Eighty-six-year-old Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood, Stefani Tiefenbacher, was allegedly gang raped and murdered in her bedroom. Police are waiting for the results of forensic tests to confirm that the sister was sexually assaulted. Other sisters discovered her body in the early hours of Sunday morning; she had been tied up with a typewriter cord and suffocated. She was found with a rosary twisted around her wrists.  

Sr. Stefani had moved to the mission in the small town of Ixopo (southwest of the city of Durban) sixty years ago when she left her native Austria. Sacred Heart Home, where Sr. Stefani lived, was opened in 1923. A number of elderly sisters live in the house. They teach at the adjoining school and volunteer at a nearby hospital. The community is also the novitiate house of the congregation.


According to another sister in the community, Gerald Frye, the elderly nun had dedicated her life to the service of the poor. She was especially committed to helping impoverished children and worked in the mission school for forty years until 1992. Frye said that she had a very kind heart and was always willing to assist anybody. Sr. Stefani was part of an Education Outreach Programme for over twelve years. The Programme reaches out to children and adolescents from disadvantaged communities. This is the first incident of this nature in the mission’s 92-year history.

A close friend of Sr. Stefani, eighty-five-year-old Betty Firmstone, told the Daily News that she was shocked to hear of the murder. “I met sister in 1952, when I started teaching at the school attached to the mission. We worked very closely together. She loved her work with children” she said. “This really was an act of savagery against a gentle and caring soul.” Firmstone said that she could not comprehend how anyone could commit such atrocious acts against an elderly woman of God who posed no threat to anyone who had no worldly possessions.

Sr. Frye said that she woke up in the early hours of Sunday morning when she heard voices. The nuns had noticed Sr. Stefani’s door was ajar and called her by name. When she did not respond they went in and discovered her lifeless body.  The suspects ransacked the pantry taking fruit, alcohol and other groceries. It is believed that they accessed the premises of the mission by cutting a hole in the fence and entering through a side door one of the sisters forgot to lock. They also made off with about US$2,177.

Another sister, Christopher Kneringer, told the media how, the night before Sr. Stefani’s murder, they had all played cards together. “She loved her meals,” the sisters said. “She was very generous, she was ever ready to do something for someone else.”

Local police spokesperson, Major Thulani Zwane, said that the police had launched a manhunt for the killers and had appealed to the local community for any information that could lead them to the perpetrators.

Sr. Stefani is survived by her younger sister and brother in Austria, they have been notified of her death. Sr. Frye said that the convent has been inundated with calls from the Austrian media and distraught former students. She is the second religious women to be murdered in South Africa in the last year. Last year eighty-two-year-old Sr. Mary Paule Tacke was kidnapped and murdered in Mthatha on the East Coast of the country. 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.