Jesuit Martyrs in El Salvador Remembered 30 Years After Tragedy

Thursday, November 14, 2019
Students, faculty and staff attend a prayer service

Eight lives. Thirty years.

This year, Jesuit institutions and communities across the world are recognizing three decades since the murder of six Jesuits at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, along with their housekeeper and her daughter on Nov. 16, 1989.

The crime, perpetrated by members of the country’s military in an apparent attempt to frame its opposition, was shocking to many who were not living with the daily realities of life in El Salvador. It was part of a civil war in the country that spanned more than a decade and resulted in tens of thousands of lives lost, including other Catholic figures such as the Rev. Oscar Romero, who like the Jesuits at the UCA was an advocate for the poor and oppressed in the country.

On Thursday, students, faculty and staff from Rockhurst University recognized the solemn anniversary with a prayer service. Earlier in the week, the University’s campus ministry office hosted a screening of Blood of the Martyrs, a documentary film about the UCA attack.

“God, be with us as we remember these martyrs,” said student Katie Eilerman in a prayer to open the service.

Rockhurst University has special connections to the martyrs — Mary Pimmel-Freeman, ’07, painted a series of portraits of each of the martyrs as part of a thesis project. Those paintings have become iconic images memorializing the martyrs for groups such as the Ignatian Solidarity Network. The University also has a rose garden in front of Sedgwick Hall dedicated to the memory of the martyrs.

The prayer service processed to that rose garden with crosses, each bearing the name of one of those victims, each name sung followed by a response of “presente!” in Spanish.

There was also an acknowledgement and blessing of those who were scheduled to leave Friday to be a part of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C., an annual event rooted in the memory of the martyrs aimed at inspiring young people to work for justice.

Trinity Hodges, a sophomore who was scheduled to be a part of the 27-member group from Rockhurst attending the Teach-In, said she didn’t know the history of the martyrs until recently. But she said their work for those in society’s margins inspires her.

“It puts it all in perspective of what it’s all about — how they worked for justice and how we can continue that today,” she said.