Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz Receive Legacy of the Martyrs Award

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Trena and Kevin Yonkers-Talz with ISN executive director Christopher Kerr (center).

BY ISN STAFFOctober 26, 2015

SANTA CLARA – On October 7, Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz, co-founders and co-directors of the El Salvador-based Casa de La Solidaridad study abroad program of Santa Clara University received the “Legacy of the Martyrs” award from the Ignatian Solidarity Network.

Friends, colleagues, and family members were among the 120 people in attendance at Santa Clara University’s Adobe Lodge as Kevin and Trena were recognized for their longstanding commitment to educating students about social justice issues in Central America.

Trena and Kevin co-founded Casa de la Solidaridad (CASA) in 1999 to honor the lives of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, all of whom were brutally murdered at the Jesuit-run Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1989.

The CASA model invites students to live and study in El Salvador while being immersed in the social realities of the poor. The semester-long experience integrates rigorous study at the UCA with simple living in community and spiritual reflection in the Ignatian tradition. Over its 16 years, the program has been recognized as an effective and innovative model of education within the Jesuit tradition.

In prerecorded remarks, Santa Clara University president Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., praised the CASA model. “Kevin and Trena both realized years ago that real transformation comes through authentic accompaniment,” Engh said. “The genius of the Casa program lies in the way our students are changed for the rest of their lives by relationships with people who suffer most. Truly that’s what the martyrs understood and lived.”

ISN board member Fr. Stephen Privett, S.J., also acknowledged the invaluable efforts of the late Dean Brackley, a Jesuit priest who brought the idea to Kevin and Trena that would eventually become CASA. Brackley was “really the genius behind all of this,” Privett said. “[Kevin and Trena] took this concept and they made it work.”

Brackley was a professor and community organizer who was beloved for his work in El Salvador. In 1990, he left a teaching position at Fordham University to accept a position at UCA, replacing one of the martyred Jesuit priests. He taught there until his death in 2011.

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Kevin and Trena gather with past and present participants of the CASA program.

Trena and Kevin thanked a long list of friends and partners for their early support of the CASA program. “It’s just not about us. It’s about the work of the CASA. It’s about the Salvadorans,” Trena said.

Trena and Kevin are parents and educators with significant experience working with students in Central America. They each hold graduate degrees in college student development from Miami University and in religious education from Boston College. Prior to living in El Salvador, they volunteered for two years with Jesuit Volunteers: International in Belize, Central America. They have four daughters.

In 2014, ISN established the Legacy of the Martyrs Awards to mark the 25th anniversary of the Jesuits’ deaths. In April, the award was given to the Kino Border Initiative, a bi-national organization that works in the area of migration and is located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Last year’s inaugural honorees included Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2) and two Jesuit-sponsored NGOs in Honduras, Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación and Radio Progreso.

“The work of the Trena and Kevin honors the faithful witness of the Jesuit martyrs, inspiring us all to live more just and compassionate lives,” said ISN executive director Christopher Kerr. “We are excited to recognize their 15 years of commitment to the people of El Salvador and Jesuit education.”

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