Maura Clarke

Maura Clarke (January 13, 1931December 2, 1980) was an American Roman Catholic Maryknoll nun and missionary to Nicaragua and El Salvador. She worked with the poor and the refugees in Central America from 1959 until her death in 1980. She was beaten, raped, and murdered, along with fellow missionaries Ita Ford, Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel in El Salvador, by members of a military death squad.

Life and Work

Maura Clarke was born in Queens, New York on January 13, 1931. She graduated from Stella Maris High School in Rockaway Park, NY in 1949. She joined the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic in 1950 at the age of nineteen. Soon thereafter, she became a teacher and taught first grade at St. Anthony of Padua school in Bronx, New York. In 1959, she relocated to Siuna, Nicaragua, a gold mining town. Here, Clarke worked to help the poverty-stricken mining families. She then worked with the poor elsewhere in Nicaragua, and aided those who were devastated by an earthquake the shook the area in 1972. She stayed in Nicaragua for seventeen years.[]

In 1980, Clarke responded to the request made by Archbishop Oscar Romero for help in El Salvador. She worked in Chalatenango, El Salvador with fellow Maryknoll sister Ita Ford, at the parish of the Church of San Juan Bautista, providing food, transportation and other assistance to war refugees of the Salvadoran Civil War.

She and Ita Ford traveled in November of 1980 to Nicaragua for a regional conference of Maryknoll workers. While there, Clarke affirmed her commitment before all the Maryknoll Sisters of the Central American region. She said she would remain in El Salvador, "to search out the missing, pray with the families of prisoners, bury the dead, and work with the people in their struggle to break out of the bonds of oppression, poverty, and violence."[1]

Currently, there is a junior high school in the Rockaway peninsula name Maura Clarke Junior High School, in her honor. Also, Maura Clarke High School and its founding organisation CECIM (Centro Educative Hermana Maura Clarke) in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua are named in her commemoration.

Murder

On the night of Tuesday, December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke and three other Catholic churchwomen joined the more than 75,000 people who were killed in the civil war.

In the afternoon of December 2, Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun, picked up two Maryknoll missionary sisters, Teresa Alexander and Madeline Dorsey, from the airport after the pair arrived from attending a Maryknoll conference in Managua, Nicaragua. They were under surveillance by a National Guardsman at the time, who phoned his commander for orders.

Acting on orders from their commander, five National Guard members changed into plainclothes and continued to stake out the airport. Donovan and Kazel returned to pick up a second pair of Maryknoll sisters: Maura Clarke and Ita Ford. Clarke and Ford were returning from the same conference on a flight not due until 7:00 pm.[2]

The five members of the National Guard of El Salvador, out of uniform, stopped the vehicle they were driving after they left the airport in San Salvador. Clarke and the three other women were taken to a relatively isolated spot where the soldiers beat, raped, and murdered them.[2]

At about 10:00 the night of Tuesday, December 2, three hours after Donovan and Kazel picked up Clarke and Ford, local peasants had seen the sisters' white van drive to an isolated spot and then heard machine-gun fire followed by single shots. They saw five men flee the scene in the white van, with the lights on and the radio blaring. The van would be found later than night, on fire at the side of the airport road.[2]

Early the next morning, Wednesday, December 3, they found the bodies of the four women, and were told by local authorities—a judge, three members of the civil guard, and two commanders—to bury the women in a common grave in a nearby field. Four of the local men did so, but informed their parish priest, and the news reached the local bishop and the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White the same day.[2]

The shallow grave was exhumed the next day, on Thursday, December 4, in front of fifteen reporters, Sisters Alexander and Dorsey and several missioners, and Ambassador White. Jean Donovan's body was the first removed; then Dorothy Kazel's; then Maura Clarke's; and last, Ita Ford. The next day, a Mass of the Resurrection was said by the bishop, Rivera y Damas; and on Saturday, December 6, the bodies of Donovan and Kazel were flown to the United States for burial. The bodies of the Maryknoll sisters, Clarke and Ford, were buried in Chalatenango, El Salvador.[2]

Subsequent history

As news of the murders was made public in the United States, public outrage forced the U.S. government to pressure the El Salvador regime to investigate. The earliest investigations were condemned as whitewash attempts by the later ones, and in time, a Truth Commission was appointed by the United Nations to investigate who gave the orders, and who knew about it, and who covered it up. Several low-level guardsman were convicted, and two generals were sued by the women's families in the federal civil courts of the United States for their command responsibility for the incident. U.S. foreign policy, which had shored up the right-wing government through the Carter Administration, was forced into the public eye. At the 1984 Democratic Convention, keynote speaker Mario Cuomo, erroneously blamed President Ronald Reagan. A backlash ensued, reenforcing the image of the Carter administration and the democratic party's foreign policy ineptitude.

According to the Maryknoll Order:
“The U.N.-sponsored report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador concluded that the abductions were planned in advance and the men responsible had carried out the murders on orders from above. It further stated that the head of the National Guard and two officers assigned to investigate the case had concealed the facts to harm the judicial process. The murder of the women, along with attempts by the Salvadoran military and some American officials to cover it up, generated a grass-roots opposition in the U.S., as well as ignited intense debate over the Administration’s policy in El Salvador.

In 1984, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Truth Commission noted that this was the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge had found a member of the military guilty of assassination. In 1998, three of the soldiers were released for good behavior. Two of the men remain in prison and have petitioned the Salvadoran government for pardons.”[3]


The head of the National Guard, whose troops were responsible for the murders, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, went on to become Minister of Defense in the government of José Napoleón Duarte.[1] After their emigration to Florida, Vides Casanova and his fellow general, José Guillermo Garcia, were sued by the families of the four women in federal civil court.

Quotations

  • "God is very present in His seeming absence."
  • "My fear of death is being challenged constantly as children, lovely young girls, old people are being shot and some cut up with machetes and bodies thrown by the road and people prohibited from burying them. A loving Father must have a new life of unimaginable joy and peace prepared for these precious unknown, uncelebrated martyrs."
  • "I see in this work a channel for awakening real concern for the victims of injustice in today’s world; a means to work for change, and to share…deep concern for the sufferings of the poor and marginalized, the non-persons of our human family."
  • "If we leave the people when they suffer the cross, how credible is our word to them? The church's role is to accompany those who suffer the most, and to witness our hope in the resurrection."[0]

See also

References

1. ^ Biography InterReligious Task Force of Cleveland; accessed October 7, 2005.
2. ^ Judith Noone, The Same Fate as the Poor, Orbis Books (1995) pp. 1-2. Text not available online. [ISBN]: 1570750319.
3. ^ Martyrdom in El Salvador by Maryknoll Sisters.
4. ^ "Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean" December 5, 2006 edition of National Catholic Reporter; column by John Dear, S.J., quoting Clarke "just weeks before her death." Accessed online December 10, 2006.

Further reading

  • “Hearts on Fire: The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters,” Penny Lernoux, et al., Orbis Books, 1995.
  • “Ita Ford: Missionary Martyr,” Phyllis Zagano, Paulist Press, 1996.
  • “The Same Fate As the Poor,” Judith M. Noone, Orbis Books, 1995.
  • “Witness of Hope: The Persecution of Christians in Latin America,” Martin Lange and Reinhold Iblacker, Orbis Books, 1981.

External links

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Jean Donovan (April 10, 1953 - December 2, 1980) was an American lay missionary who was murdered with three nuns in El Salvador by a government death squad while volunteering to do charity work during the civil war there.
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Dorothy Kazel (June 30 1939 – December 2 1980) was an American Ursuline nun and missionary to El Salvador. On December 2 1980, she was raped and murdered, along with fellow missionaries Ita Ford, Jean Donovan and Maura Clarke, by members of the Military of El Salvador.
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