Jean Donovan and the US Sisters

Tony Sheen visits another site with a tragic history from the time of the Salvadoran civil war:

Wednesday, 20 November

This afternoon we travelled to San Pedro Nonualco for Mass. Here a chapel has been built on the site where Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Cleveland lay mission team member Jean Donovan were raped and murdered by the military on 2 December 1980.


During Mass their parish priest and friend, Father Paul Schindler, told the story of events. Fr Paul is from Cleveland, Ohio in the USA and was ordained 49 years ago. He came to El Salvador in 1972 at a time when the pope was inviting priests to become missionaries in the third world. His work involved serving 160,000 people in the area. The only way this was possible was to train catechists to work with the poor. Jean Donovan and the sisters were members of the core team that trained others.


On the night of 2 December 1980, Sr Dorothy and Jean went to collect Sisters Ita and Maura from the airport. The officers at the airport approached the Sisters and drove them away to an army camp near San Pedro Nonualco, where they were all raped. They then drove them in a military van to farmland near San Pedro Nonualco, where they shot and buried them.

Fr Paul Schindler was concerned with the non arrival of the sisters and Jean back from the airport and a message was put out by the archbishop the next morning that they were missing. It was not long before the community in San Pedro Nonualco raised concerns of the arrival of the army the previous night and the sound of shots. Fr Paul arrived to discover their bodies.

The Government promised an investigation of the murder, which never took place. A group of soldiers were arrested and signed confessions for the murder, but their confessions were not accurate and they are now free. The United States Congress, Alexander Haig and Jean Kirkpatrick shamefully tried to discredit the nuns at the time, calling them socialist activists. The military generals who were in charge at the time have never been prosecuted.

Jean Donovan and the sisters’ story is told in a film called ‘Roses in December’.

Read more from Tony’s pilgrimage to El Salvador:

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