Daily Advent Evening Prayer: First Tuesday

On December 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel were brutally raped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave on the side of the road outside the airport in San Salvador. These churchwomen are sometimes called the four roses of December... NCR's columnist John Dear recounts their story:
I stepped out of my room and reached down for the Durham Morning Herald and blanched at the headline: "Four churchwomen killed in El Salvador." Their bodies had been found in a shallow grave in a barren region some 15 miles from the San Salvador airport.

Three were nuns: Sr. Ita Ford of Maryknoll had spent years in Chile; Sr. Maura Clarke also of Maryknoll had spent years in Nicaragua; and Sr. Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun from Cleveland worked in El Salvador. The fourth, a young laywoman, Jean Donovan, had volunteered to go to El Salvador through a church mission program.

Sr. Ita Ford stands, to my mind, as one of the church's giants. She was targeted specifically by U.S.-backed Salvadoran death squads because she stood up to them in defense of the disappeared. "You say you don't want anything to happen to me," she wrote her sister in 1980. "I'd prefer it that way myself -- but I don't see that we have control over the forces of madness, and if you could choose to enter into other people's suffering, or to love others, you at least have to consent in some way to the possible consequences. Actually what I've learned here is that death is not the worst evil. We look death in the face every day. But the cause of the death is evil. That's what we have to wrestle and fight against."

Sr. Maura Clarke spent 17 years in Nicaragua working against the U.S.-backed Somozoa dictatorship, before moving 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."

Sr. Dorothy Kazel joined the Cleveland Mission Team in El Salvador and was assigned to work in the parish of La Libertad with Jean Donovan. Dorothy was beloved by one and all. She was feisty, lively and sweet.

Jean grew up in upper-middle-class Westport, Conn., attended the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, spent a life-changing year in Ireland, and tried to become an accountant. Instead, she joined the Cleveland diocese and Maryknoll Lay Mission programs to serve in El Salvador. After several years, she found herself in the center of a war zone. And more often than not, she and the others spent their days picking up murdered bodies left along the road...

That summer, Jean's two closest friends were assassinated after they had taken her to a movie and walked her home. Their deaths devastated her."The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low," she wrote later that fall. "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 El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine..."

On the evening of Dec. 2, Jean and Dorothy drove to the airport to meet Ita and Maura, who were returning from Managua. The four women were last seen driving from the airport down the main road. Two days later their bodies were discovered. They had been raped and shot at close range...

(Read the complete article here)
Dear God, We remember today four women who risked everything out of love for their Prince of Peace and for his beloved people. They heard you calling in the night, they heard the cry of the poor and they carried your people's pain. When you call me in this Advent season, I pray I will have the faith and trust to answer, "Here I am, Lord. I will go where you lead me." Show me how, in my own time and place, I might hear the cry of the poor and hold your people in my heart... - Our Father


  1. I remember when this happened. I was sick over it for days. I remember someone saying to me that the "Lord's Prayer" had taken on a new meaning for them because of these murders. With that planted in my mind I found it difficult as well.
    These women are contemporary saints.

  2. Every remembrance of this makes me weep and weep. What words can express the witness of these 4 women?

    And yet here we are in the season of hopeful expectation. Am I so bold to think that Dorothy, Jean, Ita and Maura might tell me straightaway- risk it all, risk it all to save the least of these with a true spirit of hopeful expectation?

    Yes I am that bold because it is because of this sense of adventus that is our promise and our salvation.

    These women lived that so well.

  3. This moved me so much -- your reminder and reflection is much appreciated. Just curious -- where is that window? It is beautiful and I love that it is clear....

  4. I love the window, too! I copied it from a post I did last year on these four women and at that time, I confess, I was not as faithful as I am now about attributing sources for images. A diligent search this morning did not help me find the place I found it last year.

  5. Thank you so much for the prayer honoring these women. I actually "borrowed" it to use at a meeting last night (with proper credit I might add! ;-)

  6. These women truly were Profiles in Courage. They lived their lives with a preferential option for the poor. I wish I had only a fraction of their goodness. I am sure that God has given them a very special place in heaven.


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