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“Crossing Borders”: El Salvador Martyrs Remembered

2009 FMS and Maryknoll Lay Missioners list qualities of St. Francis during Fr. Mike Johnson, OFM’s “Day of Reflection” formation course.

In an earlier post from this year, Fr. George Corrigan, OFM provided an essay on Franciscan theology and the concept of “crossing over in mission.” He wrote:

“Francis’ vision of mission included the very strong idea of leaving one’s “camp” and crossing over to another “camp”. In other words to be truly Franciscan is to be missionary across boundaries in whatever form one might encounter them.” (Read more of Fr. George Corrigan’s reflection by clicking here).

During our Collaborative Formation Gathering, Franciscan Mission Service and Maryknoll Lay Missioners come together each year to discern what it means to cross over, to cross boundaries and experience a new culture. We rely on St. Francis because he understood essentially what it meant to “cross over” and we seek to follow his example. We also look to the people who have come before us for guidance and encouragement, others who have done like St. Francis in letting go of fear and anxiety about the “other” in order to build relationships across borders.

On January 6, 2011, in a service entitled “Crossing Borders”, FMS joined Maryknoll in remembering the three sisters and one lay missioner who lost their lives on Dec. 2, 1980 in service to the poor in El Salvador: Maura Clarke, M.M., Ita Ford M.M., Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and Jean Donovan.

The four missioners from the U.S. who tragically lost their lives in El Salvador (December 2, 1980): Ita Ford, M.M.; Maura Clarke, M.M.; Jean Donovan; and Dorothy Kazel, OSU

These four women came to El Salvador at the call of Archbishop Oscar Romero y Damas, who requested the presence of the Maryknoll sisters to help the poor communities struggling in the midst of government oppression. As conditions became worse in La Libertad, El Salvador, these individuals remained to assist the poor and stand up to the injustices despite the dangerous upheaval. According to John Dear, author of The Questions of Jesus and Living Peace, the missioners both lay and religious assisted with the burying of the dead bodies alongside the road and helped individuals to try and find their relatives.

During the commemoration, the Maryknoll sisters gave an award to the Ita Ford’s brother, William Ford, for his continuing pursuit of peace in El Salvador following his sister’s brutal murder. Janice McLaughlin, M.M., president of the Maryknoll sisters, also presented a talk on the “Crossing Borders” theme of the 30th anniversary of their deaths. Through their efforts, the four women let go of all fears and crossed borders and courageously sought to help those desperate conditions to renew hope.

Through our work at Franciscan Mission Service, along with our partners at Maryknoll, we hope to follow in the footsteps of these women, in order to embrace our baptismal call to mission and live with determination in taking a stand against injustice.

To end, we offer a brief reflection from Sr. Janice McLaughlin, M.M.:

“We are using the theme of “Crossing Borders” as we celebrate this 30th anniversary. Not only did the women cross the external borders of various countries in their mission journey – Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador- but they also crossed the inner borders of mind and spirit that enabled them to live with joy and freedom and that makes them so appealing and such role models for the rest of us. It is not their deaths that we wish to imitate, as noble as they were, but the example of their lives.”

Below are pictures of FMS missioners who have journeyed to El Salvador, during their time of service:

Beth Riehle began her mission with FMS in El Salvador in 2006 before serving as Program Director in D.C.

During his time in mission (2005-2007), Don Clausen taught computer classes to children in El Salvador.

During her time in mission, Pat Clausen brought her expertise as a nurse to the people of El Salvador

FMS missioners and staff come together for a retreat in Sonsonate, El Salvador

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We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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