Bearing Witness: The Living Legacy of the Church Women of El Salvador

by Kathleen Ryan, SND on December 1, 2015

in Blogs

The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland in collaboration with John Carroll University, Notre Dame College, Ursuline College, COAR(Community Oscar Arnulfo Romero), and the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) ask us to join with them on December 2, 2015  to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of the four churchwomen–Maura Clarke, MM;  Ita Ford, MM; Dorothy Kazel, OSU; and Jean Donovan–who were brutally murdered for their work and commitment to the poor during the civil war in El Salvador.  The following blog was posted several years and bears repeating today:


It was a night like any other in San Salvador in 1980.  The Cleveland mission team working in LaLibertad was  well aware of the dangers involved in staying in the war-torn county.  Lay missionary Jean Donovan knew particularly well the danger she was in.  A few weeks earlier she wrote to her friend: “The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low.  The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide.  Several times I have decided to leave. I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy.  Who would care for them?  Whose heart would be so hard as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of tears and helplessness?  Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” (Jean Donovan, lay missioner murdered in El Salvador, 1980 as quoted in Peacemaking:Day by Day published by Pax Christi USA)

On the night of December 2, 1980,  Cleveland Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan took a trip to the airport that was absolutely necessary.  Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were coming to help out at the mission during the Christmas season when many missionaries were returning to their home countries for a visit.  National Guardsmen abducted the women on their return trip from the La Libertad airport. They were physically tortured, shot to death and left in a common grave.

On December 2, we recall  their unwavering conviction that Jesus,  our Incarnate God, became flesh to remind us that loving our neighbor as ourselves is the passage way to eternal life.  They, like Jesus not only denounced evil, violence, fear, hopelessness, but, like Him, announced salvation by announcing an alternative vision of life– all are made in the image and likeness of God, all are included, all have potential.  Their lives remind us our strength is in the great law of love–loving God, our neighbor, ourselves, the earth–seeing all as connected.   Bringing about love refreshes–can be trusted–gives wisdom to the simple–endures–is the justice of the scriptures.  It was their truth, their strength.

Wouldn’t it be great if people said of us this Advent what comes to mind when we think of the Salvadoran martyrs:   They had their hearts set on having the reign of God.  They wanted their lives to be a blessing as they searched.  They just couldn’t seem to rest until there is right in the world and justice and equality for all.  They seemed content with their greatness and their smallness.  They seemed hungry for new ways to convey the truth and work for justice. They were creators of peace.   They left love where ever they went –it is genuine and lasting. (Beatitudes paraphrased)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn December 2, 2015 at 8:56 am

Every year on this day I remember these brave women, these incredibly courageous Advent-women and I try to post about them on my blog and social media. I’m so glad that I found your blog today, such powerful words that will be shared. ¡Presente! They are indeed present, with us always. Amen!


Alice Dugar, SND December 3, 2015 at 10:42 am

Tonight we joined with you in honoring the lives of Dorothy, Maura, Jean and Ida. May all who commit to peace, justice and the integrity of creation find courage and inspiration from these dedicated church women whose lives live on in our hearts.


Lisa Novak December 3, 2015 at 10:55 am

I remember Dec. 2, 1980 and getting the call from Mary Hurley, HM saying that the four women were found. From the somber tone of her voice, I knew. God bless them for being Beatitude Women!
God bless you for making this connection. I think I’ll use it at our faith sharing. Thank you, Kathy.


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