Sister Dorothy Kazel
Sister Dorothy was born of Lithuanian parents in Cleveland Ohio, on June 30th 1939. She grew up to be a lively outgoing young person, and at the age of 21 she entered with the Ursulines of Cleveland. In her diary 10 years later she wrote” I want to go beyond fear---to give my life for the service of others – to love the cross and accept it totally.
In 1974 she was asked to go and work among the poor in El Salvador. It was a dangerous assignment, with the country from 1977, in a state of civil war, torn by terrorism and violence. Her letters home were cheerful but realistic and she did not want to leave. She loved the exquisite mountainous country, with its faith filled people and who lived in extreme poverty.
She travelled by motor bike and jeep, preparing liturgical celebrations, serving as a vital communications link and working to develop lay leaders in the church who would teach others in their villages.
As the civil war developed organised death squads murdered professionals, catechists, and priests and often destroyed villages and crops. Dorothy supported the victims Salvador, of war, widows, and mothers who had lost their sons “I could not leave especially now—I am committed to the persecuted church here”, she said. In another letter she had written” if there is any way we can help we cannot abandon these people here- and if the days comes when you have to explain this then please do so.
On the night of December 2 1980, on instructions of “a higher authority” Sister Dorothy, with a lay missionary and 2 Maryknoll sisters , was abducted from La Libertad airport, interrogated, physically and sexually abused and shot by five national guardsmen. The next morning they were found buried in a common shallow grave, marked with a cross of two branches.
On December 4 the bodies were taken up from the burial site into international consciousness. Dorothy’s body was returned to Cleveland where her funeral in the Cathedral was attended by 1,500 people. The coffin was flanked by a guard of honour of priests, and bishops led the procession to her grave site which became a place of pilgrimage. Her memory is celebrated anually at interfaith gatherings and academic settings. And her death has been a catalyst for many diverse groups to unite to promote social justice.
As the circumstances surrounding her death became public they showed up the United State’s failure in Central America to protect human rights and their role in financing the death squads of oppressive regimes. Her murder, torture and rape highlighted the fate of more than 40,000 Salvadorians, and thousands of Honduras and Guatemalan peoples