A Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated by Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas.
On the next day, the bodies of Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. were flown back to the United States for burial. In keeping with the tradition of the Maryknoll Missionaries, the bodies of Sisters Ita Ford, M.M. and Maura Clarke, M.M. 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 and attorney, William, has spent more than twenty-five years in the U.S. court system attempting to obtain justice for his sister and the other three 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. She was engaged to a young physician but 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.
Some weeks before she died, Jean wrote to a friend: "The Peace Corps left today, and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme, and they were right to leave. . . . 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."
Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. first taught in Cleveland and then did missionary work among the Papago Tribe in Arizona. She felt the call to join 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.
(Column continues below)
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Sister Ita Ford, M.M. was the cousin of Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, M.M., the first seminarian 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.
Ita Ford was taught by three religious institutes before entering the Maryknoll Missionaries, the semi-cloistered 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 then finally in El Salvador where she ministered to the needs of the poor.
At the closing Liturgy in Managua, Ita had read a passage from one of the Archbishop's final homilies: "Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive-and to be found dead."
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."
The Martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero
The murders of the women missionaries occurred some ten months after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero by a similar death squad. He was shot in March 1980 while celebrating Mass and just as he completed a homily on the government's oppression and civil rights violations against the poor. Archbishop Romero's cause for canonization was opened in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. On May 23rd, 2015, Pope Francis beatified him.