Santa Clara University Honoring Jesuits Killed in El Salvador 25 Years Ago for Seeking Justice for the Poor

Santa Clara University Honoring Jesuits Killed in El Salvador 25 Years Ago for Seeking Justice for the Poor

Twenty-five years ago, a well-regarded Jesuit university president in El Salvador was among those loudly proclaiming that the country’s bloody civil war, and the oppressive conditions behind it, were ruining the lives of too many poor citizens. He and his fellow Jesuits were living out the Church’s mission to act out of a “preferential option for the poor.” But his actions caused military warmongers to consider him a threat to their continued power and wealth.

Investigations found that on Nov. 16, 1989, they had the president, Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., of the University of Central America, killed, along with five fellow Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter.

“In some ways in the context of El Salvador, Ellacuria was akin to great civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr.—an effective leader who relentlessly beat the drum about injustice at his own personal peril and was killed for it,” said Michael McCarthy, S.J., executive director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara. “His was a remarkable example of being an authentic voice for millions of voiceless people who lived in a state of powerlessness and oppression.”

From Nov. 5 to Nov. 16, Santa Clara University will honor the 25th anniversary of that tragic day with programs, lectures, and prayer events on Santa Clara University’s campus and in El Salvador.

Santa Clara University has unique ties to the UCA, including study-abroad and other immersion experiences there. In 1982, Ellacuria received an honorary degree and gave the University commencement speech. In 1989, SCU provided shelter to one of the Jesuits who had narrowly escaped being murdered, Jon Sobrino, S.J. SCU also helped provide aid to the sole witness to the event, another housekeeper named Lucia Cerna, and has recently helped publish a book featuring her account of the events, La Verdad, written with co-author historian Mary Jo Ignoffo.

The University maintains eight crosses in front of its Mission Church year-round in honor of the martyred victims.

Events honoring the anniversary include:

*On Nov. 5, a panel discussion about the impact of the Jesuit assassinations on contemporary Catholic leadership, entitled “Leadership Born of Struggle and Hope.” Speakers will include Kevin Burke, S.J., professor of systematic theology at Santa Clara’s Jesuit School of Theology; Holy Names University religious studies professor Robert Lasalle-Klein; Lynette Parker, supervising attorney at SCU’s Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, and Ana Maria Pineda, R.S.M., Hispanic theology professor at Santa Clara University.

*On Nov. 12, a lecture and Q&A centered on the book La Verdad, a firsthand account from Cerna, the eyewitness to the event. Cerna and her co-author Ignoffo, will be at the event to discuss the book, the impact and relevance of the events today, and to take questions.

*On Nov. 13, a prayer service led by Santa Clara University Campus Ministry will be held at the Mission Church on campus at 4 p.m. The event will include a procession through SCU’s Sobrato Mall, carrying a banner commemorating the anniversary. The service will include readings reflecting on the lives of the martyrs and a send-off for participants in the 17th annual Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C.

*On Nov. 13, a delegation of five Santa Clara University faculty and staff will travel to El Salvador for anniversary-related events including a celebration of the Casa de la Solidaridad Program, a mass honoring the Martyrs, a forum on the impact of the assassinations, and a vigil of remembrance.

*Because the anniversary also coincides with the 15th anniversary of SCU’s immersion program in El Salvador, Casa de la Solidaridad, on Nov. 14, SCU President Fr. Michael E. Engh, former USF President Fr. Stephen A. Privett, Casa alumni, and Salvadoran partners will all celebrate the program in San Salvador.

*Visit to find further resources on the history of the Jesuit martyrs and the events at SCU to honor them.