December 2nd lives on in my memory because it was the day in 1980 when Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan and two Maryknoll sisters were murdered. In the spring of 1974, Dorothy’s dream of becoming a missionary came true when she was chosen to serve on the Diocesan Mission Team for a five-year term. In El Salvador, Dorothy worked in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in La Libertad, training catechists, carrying out sacramental preparation programs, and overseeing the distribution of Catholic Relief Services aid and food supplies. She was also engaged in working with refugees of the Salvadoran Civil War, obtaining food, shelter, and medical supplies, and transporting the sick and injured to medical facilities.
As the civil war increased in violence, resulting in the death of many of the native Salvadoran people, Dorothy and the other team members knew that they were increasingly being put in danger. During her last visit home, I had the privilege of spending an entire day with her, and heard first-hand what was happening. This day was most unusual, because Dorothy would have breakfast with someone, visit with a group before lunch, have lunch with someone else, and then see others at supper and in the evening. On this occasion, Dorothy, Srs. Martha Mooney and Barbara Jean Sever, and a Sister friend of mine from Philadelphia spent the day on a pontoon boat.
While we were on the pontoon, Dorothy shared with us what was happening. She showed us pictures of three of her catechists’ bodies that had been dumped at the convent door. This was a clear warning to the Sisters. We asked how she could return, knowing she was in danger. She told us that she couldn’t abandon the people in their hour of need. She was deeply committed to the people of El Salvador who she had grown to love during her time there.
On the afternoon of December 2, 1980, Dorothy and Jean Donovan, a layperson who joined the diocesan mission team, picked up from the airport two Maryknoll Sisters,Maura Clarke and Ita Ford. Five members of the National Guard stopped the vehicle they were driving after they left the airport in San Salvador. Dorothy and the three other women were taken to a relatively isolated spot where they were beaten, raped, and murdered by the soldiers.
Early the next morning, December 3rd, the peasants found the bodies of the four women and were told by local authorities to bury the women in a common grave in a nearby field. Their shallow grave was exhumed the next day, December 4th. On December 5th, a Mass of the Resurrection was said by Bishop Rivera y Damas and on December 6th, the bodies of Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel, were flown out for burial. Dorothy’s body was sent back to Cleveland and was met at Hopkins Airport by Sister Bartholomew, Superior of the Ursulines at that time, and Bishop-elect Anthony Pilla.
Have you ever personally known a martyr? I never dreamed that I would know such a person. But I actually have, and I feel blessed that I knew Sr. Dorothy Kazel, OSU. My experience of her remains a gift and a blessing.
A martyr is literally a witness. A martyr is a woman or man who is put to death because of her/his faith in Jesus the Christ. This description certainly fits Dorothy, because during a retreat, she prayed that she live her life in such a way that she would be an Alleluia Woman from head to toe. Her love of life and her joy in living attest to the reality of her prayer request. She gave her life because of her great love for God and her love and commitment to the people of El Salvador.
We may not be asked to pay the price for our faith as real martyrs do but we are called to be committed Christians who live our lives to the best of our ability. We are to grow into wholeness/holiness by loving God, self, and our neighbors – regardless of how difficult that may be at certain times and places in our lives. Let us strive to be alleluia women and men from head to toe by living our beliefs faithfully and joyfully.
We all experience fear and/or anxiety during our lifetime. How do you face those difficult moments?
You may not know a real martyr who died for a cause but do you know someone who truly gives witness by her or his life?