Remembering North American churchwomen

Sunday, December 2, marked the 38th anniversary of the 1980 murder of the four US churchwomen by Salvadoran troops in El Salvador.  Their murder marked another atrocity from a bloody year which earlier saw Oscar Romero assassinated and in which thousands of civilians were killed by the military and death squads.  While there is some movement towards a legal proceeding after the reopening of the Romero assassination case, those responsible for ordering the murder of the churchwomen have never been prosecuted.   

I have been remiss on this blog in not earlier pointing readers to Eileen Markey's excellent biography of Sister Maura Clarke titled A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura.   In this biography, Markey offers us an intimate look at the faith and conviction which led a young woman from Queens, New York, to take religious vows and eventually immerse herself in the struggles of oppressed peoples in Nicaragua and then El Salvador.   She became a martyr for her faith, along with Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, when the Salvadoran government saw those who would provide aid and comfort to oppressed campesinos as an existential threat.         

There was a fifth churchwoman who also died that year in El Salvador.  Maryknoll sister Carla Piette grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin and then dedicated her life to service of the poor in Latin America with Maryknoll, first in Chile during the Pinochet regime and then in 1980 in El Salvador. Sister Carla had heeded a call from Oscar Romero for assistance in the church's efforts to protect the vulnerable in El Salvador's growing conflict. She arrived there on the day Romero was assassinated. Later that year, she would also perish, drowned in a flash flood as she performed her work. 

Sister Carla's story is not well known. The book, Vessel of Clay: The Inspirational Journey of Sister Carla, by Sister Carla's friend from Wisconsin, Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore, does a wonderful job of portraying one woman's dedication to serving the poor, regardless of where that call would lead her.