Religious sisters Dorothy Kazel, OSU; Ita Ford, MM; and Maura Clarke, MM; and their associate Jean Donovan were brutally murdered by Salvadoran National Guard members 35 years ago on Dec. 2, 1980. The four women had committed their lives to accompanying the children and families who had fallen victim to the escalating violence and oppression that eventually led to the civil war in El Salvador.
A special delegation of 100 women religious and community leaders traveled to El Salvador to mark the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of the missionaries from Nov. 28–Dec. 5. Six sisters from area congregations were part of the group, including BVMs Carolyn Farrell (Lester), and Paulette Skiba; Dubuque Franciscans Charlotte Enright and Judy Sinnwell; and Sinsinawa Dominicans Mary Howard Johnstone and Pam Mitchell. The delegation was sponsored by SHARE El Salvador and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
During the trip, on the anniversary of the women’s deaths, Paulette Skiba, BVM shared: “This was a very moving day. We remembered the 35th anniversary of the deaths of Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean as well as the death of Maryknoll Sister Carla ZPiette who drowned in a flash flood the same year. As we turned off the highway towards the place where they were killed and buried in a shallow grave the buses became siletn as we bumped along – on my bus a chorus of ‘Be Not Afraid; began and it seemed as if we were accompanying them 35 years later but no less present . . . ”
She adds: “The witness of the four church women in El Salvador who chose to stay in a dangerous situation in order to accompany the poor during a very violent time has always been an inspiration to me. I was discerning a call to religious life at the time of their deaths. Several people told me religious life was no longer relevant in the contemporary world. Their faith and commitment convinced me of the opposite: that there was nothing more relevant.”
BVM Carolyn Farrell shares, “The rape and murder of the four Catholic Church women Dec. 2, 1980, in El Salvador was one of the pivotal moments in my life. I awoke to the clock radio news describing this horrendous tragedy. As I pondered these ordinary women working for the poor and marginalized, I thought, ‘Carolyn what is your life all about?’ This year I was able to join the delegation to El Salvador, that I call a pilgrimage, to lift up and honor with gratitude the inspiration these women have provided me these past 35 years.”
The delegation included a pilgrimage to the martyrdom site of the four churchwomen to hear firsthand testimonies by people who knew them, meetings with grassroots movement leaders, human rights defenders, and mothers of the disappeared. The delegation also explored root causes of migration to the United States and the current challenges impoverished communities face, including increasing violence.
The Sisters of Charity, BVM, as part of Area Catholic Sisters, invited the public to “Light for the Nations,” Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., at the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque, Iowa for a special commemorative prayer service honoring the 35th anniversary of four martyred church women.
This prayer service was the third and final initiative of the area communities to mark the Year of Consecrated Life, celebrated from Nov. 30, 2014, to Feb. 2, 2016. Area Catholic Sisters observed the Year of Consecrated Life earlier this year by hosting an open house at each congregation’s motherhouse, and in recent months, area women religious invited their associates and employees to help prepare and serve meals to those in need as part of a collaborative service project.
BVMs Carolyn Farrell and Paulette Skiba and Dubuque Franciscans Judy Sinnwell and Charlotte Enright are available to speak to groups in the Dubuque area about their experiences in El Salvador. To schedule a presentation call Carolyn or Paulette at 563- 588-2351 and Judy Sinnwell or Charlotte at 563- 583-9786.