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The Cost of Compassion discussion questions

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The Cost of Compassion: Five Women Who Paid the Ultimate Price

21 Questions for Reflection and Discussion


General Questions

1. What did you like about The Cost of Compassion? Why? Is there anything you did not like or understand? If so, explain.

3. The subtitle of the book says it is about five women who paid “The Ultimate Price,” but the story is about much more than just their death. Name some of the other themes of the book. Which of the five women did you relate most to? In what ways?

4. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ religious order played an important part in the book and in the women’s lives. What struck you about how this institution influenced them? How did the distance (both geographically and figuratively) between Liberia, Africa, and Ruma, Illinois, shape the story?

5. How did you feel about the threat of violence that permeates the book? What insights did it give you about the larger world in which we now live?

6. What other books or events did The Cost of Compassion evoke for you? Name them and tell why they did so.

7. If you were casting the movie of The Cost of Compassion, what actresses would you have play Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra, Shirley Kolmer, Mary Joel Kolner, Agnes Mueller, Kathleen McGuire? How about some of the other main people in the book, such as Sr. Barbara Brillant, Fr. Philip Bagnasco (who recruited the nuns to become missionaries), some of the other missionaries they worked with in Africa, the indigenous people with whom they worked and shared their ministry, the other women religious in their order?

Specific Questions

1. What struck you about the opening scene when Sr. Barbara Brillant was trying to reach the five sisters? What emotions did you experience as you read the story? After finishing the book, what do you think of the author’s decision to open the first chapter with a description of the murders of the five women?

2. Why do you think each of the sisters chose the specific lines of ministry they did? What decision might you have made, given their situation? Why?

3. Do you know people whose relationship to their religious faith developed in different ways? Think of one set of them and, without naming them to others, describe how they are different and what you think might have made them that way.

4. There is a lot of humor in this book. Why do you think the author wrote it that way? Did it help or hinder your enjoyment of the story of the five sisters? Why and how?

7. How do you interpret the final sentence of the book: “It is enough”?

Deeper Questions

1. Sister Kathleen’s parents had somewhat disparate views on the nature of God. Her father was more ethereal and unquestioning in his interpretation of the nature of God, while her mother was more rooted in reality. She believed that God was as much interested in what she did “outside of prayer time” as in her prayer life. Is each view equally valid? Which view of the nature of God is most appealing to you? Explain why.

2. Sisters Agnes and Kathleen had an expansive vision of God. Agnes felt God could be any gender and any color, while Kathleen wrote of “God revealing herself most intimately to me.” How do these views of God diverge or align with traditional Church teaching on the nature of God? How about with your own experience and images of God? List some of them.

3. Social justice issues were central to the sisters’ core beliefs, often spurring them to take action when they felt they could affect change.   Are there issues today that motivate you? What actions might you pursue to address a particular problem? What stops you from doing so?

4. The sisters were strong feminists. They were highly educated and brilliant in their respective fields. Yet they were often limited by a Church hierarchy dominated by men. Some of them would have loved to become priests themselves and felt their calling was limited merely because they were women. Yet they stayed true to their vows and remained steadfast in the Church. Why do you think they did so? Ask the same question of yourself. Do you see any hope for more expanded leadership roles for women in the Church in the near future? What would it look like?

5. The sisters returned to Liberia in 1991 during a cease fire in the Civil War. Some people tried to dissuade them from returning, while others felt it was impossible to deter them from returning even if there was danger. How would you have addressed the situation had one of the sisters been your friend or family member? Write a letter to her, explaining your position and encouraging her decision.

6. Were the sisters “foolish” to have stayed so long in their convent after the fighting resumed in October of 1992? Why do you think they didn’t leave at the first sign of trouble? What would you have done or wanted them to do?

7. Do the concepts of heroism and sainthood apply in our modern world? How? Would consider these women heroes? Saints? What else might you label them? Why?

(Copyright 2019 by ACTA Publications,, 800-397-2282.)