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By Sister Patricia Stellmah, OP

December 10, 2015, Cleveland, Ohio – I was privileged to be among more than 500 people who participated in a special gathering, “Bearing Witness: The Living Legacy of the Church Women in El Salvador,” held December 1 at the Motherhouse of the Ursuline Sisters in Cleveland. We gathered in the chapel, where we divided into four groups for our silent procession and pilgrimage to four places to remember the events of 35 years ago and to become a part of the legacy for the future.

The December 1 event marked 35 years since December 1, 1980, when four U.S. Catholic missionaries who had served in El Salvador were abducted on their way back from the airport, raped, and murdered for their dedication to the poor people of El Salvador in the midst of a terrible civil war. 

We began with a display of large pictures of the Church women: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford; Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, of Cleveland; and lay missioner Jean Donovan. Also on display were photos of other martyrs involved with the people of El Salvador: Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero; murdered in March 1980 by government agents while he celebrated Mass; and six Jesuit priests – Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López, and Joaquin López y López; Julia Elba Ramos, their housekeeper; and her daughter, Celina Ramos, murdered in November 1989 because of the priests’ activism in favor of the people. In the next room, four women who portrayed the Church women spoke of why they came to El Salvador – and why they stayed, in spite of the danger.

The last two stops focused on the two women who were connected to Cleveland. Excerpts from Sister Dorothy’s letters to her family were read, as well as a letter she had written to President Carter. A woman portraying Jean Donovan told of her love for the children, which kept her in El Salvador, and introduced a woman from El Salvador, who told her story. The woman had been 12 years old at the time of the murders. The daughter of the woman who cooked for the Sisters, she had grown to love each of them. She had declined an invitation on that day in December 1980 to ride with Sister Dorothy and Jean to pick up Sisters Maura and Ita at the airport – and was thus spared from being murdered along with the Church women. Years later, the young woman was awarded the Sister Dorothy Kazel Scholarship to Ursuline College of Cleveland and came to live in the United States with her mother.

The Diocese of Cleveland has a mission in El Salvador, and sisters, priests, and lay missionaries have served there for 51 years. The final prayer included recognition of parishes and schools that have supported and visited the diocese’s three missions in El Salvador.

The beautiful evening was the fourth in a series of remembrances of the 35th anniversary year. The events were planned by the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, John Carroll University, Notre Dame College, Ursuline College, the InterReligious Task Force on Central America, and Community Oscar Arnulfo Romero (COAR). Read another article on the event from the Diocese of Cleveland and watch a video reflecting on the impact of the women’s martyrdom. 


Feature photo: Courtesy of the Diocese of Cleveland

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December 9, 2015, Paris, France – For many people, the idea of climate change is distant and abstract. Two young climate scientists spoke in the civil society sector of the UN Climate Conference in Paris about the urgency of the situation – the need to address climate change immediately. Indigenous peoples share their personal stories of climate change, as well as ways to live in right relationship to Earth. Sister Elise D. García, OP, reports in her latest article in Global Sisters Report.


Feature photo: Dominican Sr. Patricia Siemen at the canoe of life. (GSR Photo/Elise D. Garcia)



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