Paintings of Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs by Mary Pimmel

The tyrant dies and his rule is over,
the martyr dies and his rule begins
~ Søren Kierkegaard

Jesuits Commemorate 25th Anniversary of El Salvador MurdersPart One: Twenty-Five Years After a Massacre, Jesuits Reflect on the Meaning and the MartyrdomPart Two: Twenty-Five Years After a Massacre, Jesuits Reflect on the Meaning and the MartyrdomLegacy of the Martyrs: Lives Changed, Causes Embraced

Remembering the Anniversary of the Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs

by John Sealey

(Please see below for events and opportunities to get involved)

The martyrdom of the six Jesuits and two lay companions on November 16, 1989, was a turning point in the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–92) and even more importantly an event that brought international attention to the work of the Jesuits at the University of Central America (UCA). The martyrs insisted that a university that calls itself Christian must be committed to a preferential option for the poor, for it is the poor who reveal Jesus’ suffering, passion, and resurrection in a special way. The UCA became a social force in El Salvador that challenged the atrocities borne by the poor. The Jesuits promoted peace negotiations to end the war and confronted economic injustice and military oppression that  perpetuated suffering. The life project of Jesuit Rector Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, the UCA not only welcomed the poor, but also provided an intellectual presence “to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices.”

To understand the martyrs, it is important to consider the forces that led to their assassinations. During the Salvadoran Civil War 75,000 people were killed, one-third of the country was forced to relocate internally, and another million people  had to seek refuge in other countries. The tiny nation was the second highest recipient of US military aid after Israel, despite mounting evidence of widespread abuse by Salvadoran forces.

Remembering the 25th Anniversary of Salvadoran Jesuit martyrs
For a list of events Honoring the Jesuit Martyrs in pdf format Please Click Here or see listings below. 
The United Nations Truth Commission found that the Salvadoran army and security forces were responsible for 85 percent of the political violence (e.g., murders, kidnapping, and torture) during the war and complicit right-wing paramilitary death squads often staffed by off-duty soldiers hired by wealthy land owners or businessmen accounted for an additional 10 percent of the violence. The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) accounted for only 5 percent of the violence. 


The Truth Commission reported that Colonel René Emilio Ponce, head of the Army’s Joint Chiefs, ordered troops to murder Fr. Ellacuría and to “leave no witnesses.” Ponce graduated from the U.S. Army School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Georgia, as were 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers who participated in the Jesuit killings. 


This realization might leave some readers confused and even ashamed, which is the identical experience of many who visit El Salvador. How could our country have knowingly supported and trained the military forces that killed the Jesuits and so many others before them such as Archbishop Romero, the four American church women, and countless catechists, indigenous, labor and community leaders? How could our country defend a brutality that inflicted so much suffering? 


In the days following the assassinations, Jesuits from around the world volunteered to help fill the faculty losses at the UCA. One of them, theologian Fr. Dean Brackley, would often ask visiting delegations to El Salvador to reflect on one question in the light one’s faith, work, and understanding of the world. It is a question of ultimate meaning that the witness of the martyrs continues to beckon: “Whose interests are you defending?”

Twenty-five years later this is an enduring legacy of the martyrs and a question we might continue to discern on a personal, institutional, and national level. The legacy and human costs  of the Salvadoran Civil War also remains today as economic disparity and regional murder rates in Central America are among the highest in the world. So many of the families and children who have recently arrived at the US southern border are fleeing the violence in El Salvador and neighboring Honduras, which shares a similar history. What preference do we give these poor? Whose interests will we defend?   

We Remember the 25th Anniversary of the Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs: November 16, 1989

Event listings are open to the public and arranged by city and date

Please email John Sealey if you have additions or corrections to the list below


Nov. 15 7 pm lecture (St. Mary's Parish) Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (U of St. Thomas, MN)

CHICAGO (Loyola University
Nov. 20 noon Mass (LU-Madonna Chapel) Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ (presider)
     - Fr. Dan Hartnett, SJ (homilist)  

Nov. 20 6 pm lecture (LU-Mundelein Auditorium) Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ
     - Please note: Registration is recommended, please see Loyola University Website

Nov. 21 930am academic roundtable (LU-Information Commons, 4th floor)
    - Fr. Dan Hartnett, SJ, Dr. Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, (LMU)
    - and Dr. Robert Lassalle-Klein (author of Blood and Ink) with respondent Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ

CINCINNATI (Xavier University)
All semester, art exhibit (Gallagher Student Center, 3rd Fl) Mary Pimmel, artist
Sept. 23 7 pm lecture (Kennedy Auditorium, CLC) Fr. Fernando Cardenal, SJ
Nov. 13  7 pm candlelight procession & vigil service (XU central campus)

CLEVELAND Metro (John Carroll University)
Sept. 25 noon-1:30 pm conversation (JCU Lombardo Student Center) Fr. Fernando Cardenal, SJ
Nov. 13 7 pm lecture (Lombardo Student Center) Dr. Michael Lee (Fordham Univeristy)
Nov. 16 6 pm and 9 pm prayer service (JCU St. Francis Xavier Chapel)
Dec. 3 5-8 pm Dinner & documentary film (JCU Dolan Science Center) "Enemies of War"

DETROIT (University of Detroit Mercy)
Sept. 22 10am lecture (UDM Briggs, 205) Fr. Joe Mulligan, SJ  (Nicaragua: Colegio Centro America)
Nov. 13 noon prayer service (Jesuit community rose garden)
Nov. 17 7 pm lecture ((UDM Ford Life Science Bldg) De. Robert Lassalle-Klein (author of Blood and Ink)
April 7  2015, fund raiser/dinner (UDM) Padre Melo, SJ (Honduras: Radio Progreso/E.R.I.C.)

MILWAUKEE (Marquette University/Gesu Parish)     Website
Oct. 24  8:30-4:30 pm, academic symposium (MU Law School, 433) Dr. Mike Allison (Scranton U)
Nov. 1 8:30-1 pm, morning of reflection (AMU, Holy Family Chapel) Dr. Thomas Kelly (CU)
Nov. 3 4 pm lecture (MU Raynor Library, Beaumier Suites) Dr. Thomas Kelly (Creighton U)
Nov. 9  4 pm Mass (Gesu Parish) commissioning of pilgrims
Nov. 10 4 pm presentation (MU Haggerty Art Museum) Mary Pimmel, artist
Nov. 11 7 pm Taize Prayer (MU Joan of Arc Chapel)
Nov. 12  6:30 pm film (Gesu Parish Herian Hall) “Romero”
Nov. 13 & 14  10-3 pm Rose Garden Commemoration (behind Jesuit residence)
Nov. 16  4 pm Mass (Gesu Parish) Mass of Thanksgiving for the Martyrs
Dec. 2  4-5:30 pm prayer service for the El Salvador Churchwomen (MU Chapel of the Holy Family)
April 2015 with date TBD, Fr Gustavo Gutierrez, OP 

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL  (St Thomas More Parish)     Website
Prayer Service for the UCA Martyrs  (pdf)  
Sunday, November 16th at 7 p.m.   

OMAHA (Creighton University)      Website
Sept. 30  7 pm lecture (CU Harper Ballroom) Guadalupe Montalvo Palumbo
Oct. 28  7 pm film (Harper 3029) "El Salvador: Another Vietnam"
Nov. 6  7 pm film (Harper 3029) "In the Name of the People"
Nov. 12  3 pm exhibit (St. John's Church front steps)
Nov. 12  7 pm film (Harper 3029) "Roses in December"
Nov. 16  4:30 pm Mass (St. John's Church)
Nov. 16  5:30-8 pm Dinner & documentary film (Skutt Student Center) "Questions of Conscience"
Nov. 18  7 pm film (Harper 3029) "Enemies of War"
Nov. 20  7:30 pm lecture (Harper Auditorium) Dr. Kristin Heyer (Santa Clara University)

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