BY BILL FORD | December 14, 2017
Editor’s Note: The following is a reflection from Bill Ford, Cristo Rey New York High School principal, and Emily, Rashaun, Dayana, and Jacob, CRNYHS students and 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice attendees. The student reflection was part of the homily at the school’s 2017 Founders Day Mass, during which the school annually honors and celebrates the 4 U.S. churchwomen who were killed in El Salvador in 1980.
Thirty-six years ago, when I was a junior in high school, my father received a phone call at home late in the evening from Sr. Melinda Roper, President of the Maryknoll Sisters:
His sister, my aunt Ita, was missing, together with Sr. Maura Clarke, Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, a lay missioner who was engaged and soon to be married.
This was a very dangerous time in El Salvador….
As Monseñor Romero had said prophetically, “Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor. And in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, to be tortured, to be captive and to be found dead.”
Two days later…
From a focus on the death—horror, pain, outrage: who could do this? Our government was involved in this!
To a focus on their lives: who were the women? What work were they doing? And why had they chosen to do it in El Salvador, in so dangerous a place and alongside a people that was being brutally repressed?
The shift came with the help of friends and of realizing we had joined something bigger than just ourselves. As Jesuit Dean Brackley said: we see in El Salvador the drama of all our lives, it is a dying and a rising.
The seeking after answers to our questions about the women led us here, to East Harlem, and to the opening of Cristo Rey New York High School. In the first year of our school, from this very altar, Fr. Joe proclaimed the four women and Romero to be OUR founders in spirit.
We believe they are risen, they are present and they are watching over you, protecting you, believing in you and inspiring you to be what we know you are at your best: brave, smart, good, and generous.
It is our tradition each December to celebrate our Founders and to recall who they are and what they did to renew our own commitment to be our best selves and to offer who we are and what we have for the sake of justice in our place and time.
Today, I am delighted to announce we are not looking back but we will share what a group of our students and faculty are doing here, now, today, to embrace the spirit of the women and Romero and to carry on their work.