IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

A desperate search is underway for an American nun who was kidnapped in Africa

An 83-year-old nun from New Orleans was abducted at gunpoint in Burkina Faso from a convent where she has been living since 2014.

Friends and colleagues of an 83-year-old nun from New Orleans are praying for her safe return after they say she was kidnapped earlier this week in the West African nation of Burkina Faso by a group of unidentified gunmen.

Sister Suellen Tennyson, a nun in the Catholic congregation of the Marianites of Holy Cross, was abducted overnight on Monday from the convent at the church's parish in Yalgo, according to a news release by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The kidnappers vandalized the convent and took her to an unknown destination, according to the archdiocese.

Two nuns who survived the attack relayed what happened to Marianite congregational leader Sister Ann Lacour.

"There was a lot of fear in their voices," Lacour told NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin on TODAY Wednesday. "They knew that the kidnappers had guns. 

"They went from the kitchen to each one of the bedrooms where the sisters are, but the only one that was kidnapped was Sister Suellen. We suspect they were looking for money and medicine."

Tennyson has been serving as a missionary at the parish since 2014 after feeling a calling to help in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world. The nation also is facing a desperate humanitarian situation in part due to a prolonged drought.

Sister Suellen Tennyson (left) has served in a parish in Burkina Faso since 2014.
Sister Suellen Tennyson (left) has served in a parish in Burkina Faso since 2014. Marianites of Holy Cross

She left to serve in the landlocked country of 20 million people after becoming a well-known presence in New Orleans, where she helped in the recovery after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and many other crises.

"A kinder, gentler soul does not exist," friend Karen Swensen said on TODAY. "She went over there because it was such an impoverished village, and she thought she could help."

Sister Tennyson (at left) was the only one abducted by armed kidnappers out of a group of nuns who were attacked.
Sister Tennyson (at left) was the only one abducted by armed kidnappers out of a group of nuns who were attacked.Marianites of Holy Cross

“For many years, Sister Suellen ministered to the people of the Archdiocese of New Orleans with great joy," Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond said in a statement. "Today, we express our sadness and shock at her abduction and offer our prayers for her safe return."

The State Department was aware of the reports of a U.S. citizen missing in Burkina Faso and the embassy is working to verify the reports while monitoring the situation, a spokesperson told NBC News.

Tennyson's work in Burkina Faso is so vital that people walk 50 miles for treatment at the clinic where she serves, according to Lacour.

Extreme heat has caused a surge in cases of malaria, particularly among children, which Lacour said is why Tennyson was so adamant about staying in the country despite its deteriorating security situation.

Swensen, a retired local news anchor in New Orleans and close friend of TODAY's Hoda Kotb, says Tennyson is well known as a calming presence in dire times.

"She makes you feel like everything’s going to be OK, no matter what is happening around you," Swensen said. "I have no doubt that she has already forgiven her captors."