Thursday, November 29, 2018

Remembering the American Churchwomen Martyred in El Salvador

Clockwise from top left corner: Sr. Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U.;
Sr. Maura Clarke, M.M.;Jean Donovan; and Sr. Ita Ford, M.M.
(Photo Courtesy of the Maryknoll Mission Archives)
By: Joan L. Roccasalvo, CSJ

On December 21980, four American Catholic churchwomen and missionaries were tortured, raped, shot, and murdered in El Salvador by National Guardsmen of the military-led government there.

Two of the women, Sisters Ita Ford, M.M. and Maura Clarke, M.M., ages 40 and 49, respectively,  were members of the Maryknoll Missionary Order. Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., age 41, belonged to the Ursuline Order (Cleveland, OH), and Jean Donovan, 27, a lay missionary, was Sister Dorothy's associate. In the spirit of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the women served the poor training catechists, preparing programs, and caring for the many practical necessities of daily life for those unable to care for themselves. As with the Archbishop, they had been under close surveillance by the government.  

Events Leading Up to the Murders

The chilling events leading up to the murders were carried out quickly, decisively, and with savage brutality, the essence of assassinations. Here is an account of those events.

December 2: Sometime after 9 PM

The two Maryknoll churchwomen, Ita and Maura, were returning to El Salvador from a two-month regional conference in Managua, Nicaragua. Dorothy and Jean drove to meet them at the airport.  They were driving a white van. The flight was scheduled for arrival at 9:11 PM. Shortly thereafter, the four left the airport, headed down the main road, homeward bound. 

Five uniformed assassins, who had changed into civilian clothes, waited for the women in the stealth of night. About fifteen miles from the airport, the attackers stopped the white van and directed the women toward a semi-secluded location. There they carried out the well-planned orders of their commander. The massacred bodies lay naked and exposed at the side of the road. 

Locals who saw the white van only later reported that they had heard machine-gun fire followed by single shots. "The five men fled the scene," reported the locals. "The lights in the van were on, the radio blaring. The van was then set on fire at the side of the airport road."

December 3: Early Morning

Some local residents found the women's bodies. The authorities, a judge, three members of the civil guard, and two commanders, forced the men to bury the women in a nearby common grave. The local men obeyed, but they informed their parish priest Father Paul Schindler of the murders. He himself had inquired about Jean and Sister Dorothy. News of the assassinations was dispatched to the local Catholic bishop and to the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White. It was the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary saint.

December 4

The bodies were exhumed in the presence of fifteen reporters, other missionaries, and Ambassador White. Sister Madeline Dorsey, M.M., from a nearby mission and an eyewitness, described the scene in her own words: "Then came the painful extraction of the four piled one on top of the other. Jean was the first, her lovely face destroyed. Dorothy had a tranquil look. Maura's face was serene but seemed to utter a silent cry, and last little Ita. I went forward to wipe the dirt from her cheek and placed her arms at her side. We Sisters fell to our knees in reverence."

December 5: A Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated by Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas.  

December 6 

On the next day, the bodies of Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. were flown back to the United States for proper burial. In keeping with the tradition of the Maryknoll Missionaries, the bodies of Sisters Ita Ford, and Maura Clarke were buried at their mission in Chalatenango, El Salvador.


In 1984, four national guardsmen were convicted of the massacre and were sentenced to thirty years in prison. Their immediate superior was also charged and convicted of the murders. Some of these were subsequently released from prison.  

Sister Ita Ford's brother William, an attorney,  has spent more than twenty-five years in the U.S. court system attempting to obtain justice for his sister and the other slain women. A legal battle has ensued to have these men brought to the United States. The case is not as yet resolved. 

Who Were These Churchwomen?

Jean Donovan, raised in an upper-middle-class home, was educated in fine schools. On completion of her master’s degree in business from Case Western Reserve University, she took a position as a management consultant in Cleveland. Though engaged to a young physician, she felt the call to volunteer for youth ministry with the poor. After completing her training as a lay missionary at Maryknoll, NY, she went to El Salvador in 1977 with Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U.  

Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. first taught in Cleveland and then did missionary work among the Papago Tribe in Arizona. She joined the mission team of the Diocese of Cleveland. Both she and Jean Donovan worked in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Dorothy was known as "an alleluia from head to toe." She and Jean worked not far from the mission of the Maryknoll Sisters in El Salvador.

Sister Ita Ford, M.M. was the cousin of Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, M.M., the first of a long line of seminarians to apply to the newly-established Maryknoll Fathers, founded in 1911. He went to China as a missionary and in 1952 was martyred in a Communist prison camp. Before entering the Maryknoll Missionaries, Ita was taught by religious sisters from three institutes: the Visitandine Sisters, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Prior to entering the convent at Maryknoll, Ita worked as an editor in a publishing company for seven years. As a missionary, she served in Bolivia, Chile, and finally in El Salvador.

Sister Maura Clarke, M.M. was the oldest of the four slain churchwomen. She had spent seventeen years in Nicaragua working against the dictatorship there and was assigned to El Salvador only months before her death. "If we leave the people when they suffer the cross, how credible is our word to them?" she wrote only weeks before her death. "The Church's role is to accompany those who suffer the most, and to witness our hope in the resurrection."

St. Oscar Romero and Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J.  (Photo courtesy
of Tenquique503 [CC BY-SA 4.0
from Wikimedia Commons)
The Martyr, Saint Oscar Romero

The murders of the women missionaries occurred some ten months after the assassination of Archbishop, now Saint Oscar Romero in 1980 by a similar death squad, and Father Rutilio Grande, S.J. in 1977. Romero was celebrating Mass in March of 1980 and just as he completed a homily on the government's oppression and civil rights violations against the poor when he was shot and killed. 

The churchwomen were one with Archbishop Romero who, shortly before his martyrdom, declared: "Let it be quite clear that if we are being asked to collaborate with a pseudo-peace, a false order, based on repression and fear, we must recall that the only order and the only peace that God wants is one based on truth and justice."

Like the Archbishop, Jean, Dorothy, Ita, and Maura were martyred for their faith. Like Saint Oscar Romero, the women are worthy to have their cause opened for canonization. As martyrs, two miracles would be waived since they died "in perfect charity."

Civil War 1979-1992

In October 1979, a coup d'├ętat brought the Revolutionary Government Junta to power. It nationalized many private companies and took over much privately owned land. Nearly 50 percent of the Salvadorans are Roman Catholic. On December 2, we remember and honor these four churchwomen, missionaries, and martyrs. We pray to Sisters Ita Ford, MM, Maura Clarke, MM, Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and Jean Donovan. Let us anticipate their beatification. Did they not hold the palm of martyrdom in their hands?

[Joan L. Roccasalvo, CSJ is a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood]

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sr. Janet Kinney Reports from Nuns on the Bus

By: Sr. Janet Kinney

Travel Log: Rep. Comstock Lobby Visit

Sr. Janet Kinney address a crowd in North Philadelphia.
(Photo Courtesy of NETWORK)
Today we are making our last stops as we round out this week ‘on the road’ speaking about Tax Justice on our Truth Tour across the country.

We left Delaware and after a 3-hour ride arrived at the office of Representative Barbara Comstock (VA-10).  While Rep. Comstock voted against Speaker Ryan’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act, she has also voted to remove some of the provisions of this act that will affect thousands of people who rely on their health care plans to remain healthy and receive much-needed care. Rep. Comstock also voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which has not provided the tax benefits and wage increases promised to the average person, as it was designed to benefit the upper 1 % and major corporations. Already we have heard that this country has lost over $160 billion in tax revenue this year alone because of the passing of this legislation! And now Senate Leader Mitchell McConnell says we will have to cut our social programs – Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other programs – to make up for the deficit!

Sr. Janet Kinney (fourth from left) with the novices and
directors of the CSSJ Federation Novitiate program.
(Photo Courtesy of Sr. Janet Kinney)
I accompanied Sister Simone Campbell and Sister Richelle Friedman on a lobby visit with John O’Donoghue, who works on tax and healthcare issues for Representative Comstock. We also were accompanied by Angie Voyles of the Little Lobbyists; Jim Vollmer, an SEIU member; and Yolanda, a representative of CASA Maryland.

Angie spoke movingly about her daughter Anna who is medically fragile and was born at 25 weeks, along with her twin brother. Anna has a tracheostomy, feeding tube, cerebral palsy, metabolic bone disease, as well as a few other debilitating conditions and relies on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid to receive the care that she needs. Angie became Anna’s mom when she was 2 months old and officially adopted her at age 2. Her daughter has had many medical emergencies and, because of her husband’s career in the military, they were flown to DC to get Anna needed care because their hometown hospital in Arkansas had run out of the resources needed to treat her conditions.

Despite the odds, Anna has grown, has started walking and talking, and is attending school! She is able to attend school due to her access to a home healthcare nurse provided by the Medicaid Waiver program. Angie and her husband are so fearful that the provisions currently being suggested to revise Medicaid will harm the services that help her daughter every day.

Nuns on the Bus rally. (Photo Courtesy of NETWORK)
We tried to impress upon Rep. Comstock’s staff that her advocacy in Congress for her constituents and families like Angie’s was critical to their wellbeing. Unfortunately, we received only a message that Mr. O'Donoghue would pass along our concerns to the Representative. When we shared statistics and data supporting our concerns made public by the Congressional Budget Office with him, we were questioned on the accuracy of our data!

After the lobby visit, we had a rally outside Rep. Comstock’s office with a rousing group of her constituents who also shared that she has never had a town hall to listen to their concerns in her two terms in office, and they have experienced roadblocks every time they try to meet with her. This was discouraging to hear!

Angie’s story and many other stories like hers, I have heard over and over during our trip this week.

These are the voices that need to be lifted up and shared with our legislators and one another, so that we vote for persons who represent "We the People." I am praying that we have record turnout at the voting booths this November 6th. United together we can make this happen!

Travel Log: Morristown

The "Nuns on the Bus." Sr. Janet Kinney is pictured
kneeling on the right side. (Photo Courtesy of
Today was another early day for the nine sisters and NETWORK staff who are traveling on the Bus this week.  Each day begins with contemplative prayer in Simone’s room, where the sisters sit in quiet and listen to the stirrings within our hearts, recalling the people we met the prior day. After a period of extended quiet, we lift their intentions, mingled with our own and then one by one, share the fruits of our contemplation. Part of the program the prior evening was an illustrative example acted out by the sisters of how the tax cuts impact real people. One sister shared in this morning’s prayer about a conversation with a woman who came up to her afterward and said, "I am the Nicky you spoke about. I live in HUD housing and I am so fearful that if cuts are made to the social net programs I use and need, I will lose my apartment." As the sister gazed into her face she saw a middle-aged woman of pallid complexion, simply dressed who was doing the best she can, day by day, yet living on the edge and carrying all the uncertainty that this stark reality brings to her life.

We ended our prayer, gathered our suitcases and stepped onto the bus, fortified by our faith, called to be bearers of hope to those we will meet each day. Leaving Seneca Falls a little after 8 am, our first two stops were lobby visits with Representative Tenney (New Hartford) and Representative Faso’s (Kingston) offices. Sister Betsy shared these experiences in her blog for that day.

As evening dusk began to fall, we arrived in Morristown, New Jersey. Our hosts were the parishioners of Church of the Redeemer. We were greeted warmly by Reverend Cynthia Black and introduced to Mayor Tim Dougherty. We shared a meal with the parishioners in the parish hall, where we were told that they serve over 70,000 meals to individuals and families in need in their community. Rev. Black shared that their church was founded by the Abolitionists; they are also a "Green Faith sanctuary."

After dinner, we moved to the church for the program.
Sr. Janet Kinney speaking at a Nuns on the Bus stop
at a church in Delaware. (Photo Courtesy of

Simone gave a brief introduction to the trip, but the real purpose of this evening’s program was a live podcast interview with Jesuitical, which is sponsored by America Magazine. Zac Davis and Ashley McKinless from America moderated the conversation with Sr. Simone and Sr. Richelle Friedman, another “Nun on the Bus." Sr. Simone and Sr. Richelle shared moving stories from the road trip and explained why the Republican tax plan is so devastating to over 60% of the country’s population, encouraging all to get out the vote for the midterms. After the podcast concluded, all gathered were invited to sign pledge cards and move outside to sign the bus. It was a beautiful moonlit night – Rev. Black "signed the bus" with a Church of the Redeemer bumper sticker with this slogan: "supporting the separation of church and hate since 1852."

Clearly, all that we heard and experienced from these parishioners embodied these words.

After the podcast, all participants moved outside to sign the bus. We were provided hospitality by the Filipino sisters at their Filipini Villa Walsh, a 100 + acre campus which includes an all-girls academy, grades 7-12. Sister Ascenza and Sister Alice greeted us and after showing us our rooms, we gathered briefly to give gratitude for the people we have met and the graces we have received.

I am humbled by these experiences and enriched by the desire of so many good people in this country who truly want to be a caring community for others, in contrast to the negative rhetoric and policies that are being implemented by the current administration. This trip is all about bringing hope to those who are discouraged by all that they are seeing happening in our country.
Sr. Janet Kinney (Photo Courtesy of NETWORK)
I am richly blessed for these days shared with my sisters and those we have met on the road to Mar-a-Lago.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NETWORK's website. You can see more Nuns on the Bus posts at and follow them on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

[Sr. Janet Kinney is a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood. She is the executive director of the Partnership for Global Justice, a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the United Nations.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck Reports from Nuns on the Bus

By: Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck

The "Nuns on the Bus" at a rally in Chicago. (Photo courtesy
of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
Oct. 15 found 10 new travelers boarding the bus for the second leg of the four-legged trip on its way to Mar-A-Lago. You have read the experiences of Sr. Phyllis Tierney (Rochester) and Sr. Julie Fertsch (Philadelphia). The exciting aspect about part two is that it was a continuation of the experience of meeting equally dedicated and determined members of "we the people" from Omaha to Cleveland.

Throughout the week we visited four Congressional Offices. Constituents were also with us speaking about the impact on their lives of the tax policy and their fears about the anticipated shredding of the safety net. At one office the constituents brought a cardboard cut-out of the Congressman explaining that is the way they "saw" him rather than in person.

The greatest energy and hope came from those who met us at the rallies, shared their stories, signed the pledge cards and signed the bus. We the People are alive and well.

A "townhall" event in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Mary
Ellen Gondeck)
The Town Hall Meetings were in Cedar Rapids at Mount Mercy University, St. Alphonsus "Rock" Liguori Church in St. Louis, St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago, and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing, MI.

The message at each was about the great disparity in our country because of the Tax Policy. The presentation was a very "live" portrayal of the dollar differences among the five quintiles used as a measure of household income. It also presented the income of the corporations. Each gathering was unique, the highlight being hearing directly from "our friends" about their felt impact and the ideas to remedy the great pain that so many were experiencing because of the tax policy. At each site the Tax Justice explanation was very well received with the request for a way to replicate it more broadly. It was a real "eye opener" for most of the participants.

We were also energized by the agencies offering valuable and creative services to many in their communities. In Des Moines it was YESS (Youth Emergency Services and Shelter), the largest youth shelter in the state offering many significant services for youth from infant to teenagers — all surrounded with the love and compassion that was so needed to deal with the trauma experienced by the 50+ children who come every day.

In Peoria, IL we visited the Heartland Health Services which began in 1991 as a free clinic with volunteer doctors and nurses and in 2004 became, a federally qualified healthcare center and now runs five clinics with two more "out-county." Programs include pediatric, immunization, acute chronic illness, women’s health, behavioral health, and midwife services for over 5,000 people each year. 

One of the "tiny houses" in Detroit. (Photo
courtesy of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
By Saturday we were in Detroit to visit the Cass Community Social Services. Rev. Faith Fowler shared with us the Tiny House program for people who are homeless. It provides a home for $250/month rent. At the end of 7 years, the home belongs to the resident who during this time receives home-ownership training, finance management training, and other support and wrap-around services to ensure success as a home-owner. At the same time, the residents are adding to the beauty of Detroit and creating community in the neighborhood. What could be better? The goal this year is 25 new homes.

The last agency that we visited was the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) in Cleveland, another place offering a number of programs. We learned about the culinary program, Chopping for Change, which is a partnership with LMM, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry. It is a pre-release workforce development training and behavioral health service for women in the criminal justice system. The smiles of the women told the whole story about the path from "making a big mistake" to being employed in a life-giving job.
Our travel time between events gave us a good opportunity to learn more about our colleagues, the nuns, the staff, the videographer and bus driver. Invaluable time! We were Simone Campbell, Mary Ellen Lacy, Quincy Howard (all from Network), Mumbi Kigutha, Jan Cebula, Linda Werthman, Ilaria Buonriposi, Gwen Hennessey, and Robbie Pentecost, and myself all with wonderful stories of their own ministries and lives.

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck
The bottom line for me was that everyone we met was absolutely determined and dedicated even in their pain and struggles to make a difference for the common good. It was said over and over again that "we the people" will not be defeated.

The overall spirit was that we are strong together in addressing the changes needed for the common good. Simone reminded us that the lie being spread about the need for individualism is contrary to the very words of our Constitution, "we the people." We are a community, which was the message I felt from the folks gathered as they signed the pledge cards and the bus.

[Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck is a member of the Justice Team for the Congregation of St. Joseph]