Mary Anne Ford addresses students in Modern Women of Faith class.
Inside the Core this week, we were honored to have Mary Anne Ford, sister-in-law of Ita Ford, speak to students in Prof. Maribel Landrau's Core III/CAST course, Modern Women of Faith on Tuesday. The students are studying the four martyred churchwomen (Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan), who were killed by off-duty soldiers in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980. Mrs. Ford spoke to the students about how her husband’s younger sister Ita decided to become a Maryknoll sister and travelled to Chile, then Nicaragua, and finally to El Salvador at the request of Archbishop Oscar Romero. However, Romero himself was killed before her arrival, and Mrs. Ford spoke of Ita's sadness at serving in a location now without a shepherd.
Ita Ford, Maryknoll missionary
The class, which I observed, began with a student's presentation on the Maryknoll sisters (Ford and Clarke) and the other two women (Kazel and Donovan) killed that day in El Salvador. Mrs. Ford's personal remembrances of Ita were profoundly moving. She talked about how Ita herself was inspired to be a missionary, in part, because her own (distant) cousin, Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, was a Maryknoll missionary, who died in China under communist oppression of religion. In her own case, it was a right-wing government, which was funded by the US at the time, and viewed anyone, including church people, as subversive if they spoke up for the rights of the poor, the campesinos, who was responsible for her death. Mrs. Ford made the point strongly that Ita and her companions were "not naïve," but "intelligent women," who knew well the dangers they were facing, but did so for love of Christ and the poor. Their deaths marked a turning point in US awareness of what was really going on in El Salvador, but it took many years for those higher up in the government to be charged with the deaths of these women. William Ford, Mary Anne's late husband, spent thirty years working to get justice, not only for his younger sister, but also for the many Salvadorans killed under the brutality of the government of El Salvador during that period (in the 1970s and 80s).
Ita Ford with her nieces and nephews, the children of Bill and Mary anne Ford
Mrs. Ford quoted at times from a book of Ita Ford's writings and correspondence, Here I Am, Lord: the Letters and Writings of Ita Ford (Orbis Books, 2005), where Ita spoke about some of the struggles she was facing in El Salvador. For example, she and her friend, Maryknoll Sister Carla Piette, were helping with food distribution and other ministries to the poor when their jeep was swept away in a flash flood. Ita was pushed out of the car window by her friend, who drowned; this event was in the summer of 1980. Ita suffered from "survivor's guilt," but then she herself lost her life in the same mission of helping the poor, but in a more violent death than that endured by her friend. Mrs. Ford also mentioned that Ita Ford had left Maryknoll for a while, working in a publishing company, but returned because she felt so drawn to the missionary life.
I know Mary Anne Ford from church and have been privileged to hear her speak before, so I was not surprised at the power of her presentation. The students, however, I could tell, were. They asked excellent questions, and a couple of them stayed after class to discuss the subject further with their professor, Mrs. Ford, and me. After the presentation, the seminary kindly hosted us (Prof. Landrau, Mrs. Ford and myself) to lunch, where, interestingly, we ran into a priest from El Salvador, in fact, from Chalatenango, the place where Ita and her companions worked and were murdered. Another Salvadoran, the Core's own work study and CAST/Biology double major senior, Giselle Pineda, sat in on the class with me.
The Core was truly blessed to have Mary Anne Ford as our guest, and we hope to have her back to talk more about her inspiring relative, Ita, and the significance of her work and martyrdom in El Salvador.