BY ISN STAFF | August 12, 2021
For ten years, the University of Detroit Mercy has hosted an annual fundraising event for the UCA Jesuit Martyrs Scholarship, which enables students living in impoverished communities in El Salvador to attend the Jesuit university in San Salvador.
The fund is named for the martyrs who died at the university—six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter—in November of 1989. During El Salvador’s civil war, the Jesuits, including the rector of the university, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., worked to negotiate peace and stood with the marginalized and oppressed in the country. During their lives, these Jesuits walked with students who they encouraged to devise solutions to their country’s problems. The scholarship’s mission is to ensure that El Salvador has leaders who will address poverty and oppression because they know it intimately and have developed the skills and dedication to effect positive change in their own communities.
The 2021 event was the first in its ten year history to be held virtually, in light of the ongoing pandemic. Each year, the event opens with a musical performance. “This year, the music, due to the technological wonders of Zoom, was provided by a band in El Salvador, at Sr. Peggy O’Neill’s Centro Arte para La Paz in Suchitoto, El Salvador,” shared Gail Presbey, the director of the University of Detroit Mercy’s Carney Latin American’s Solidarity Archive (CLASA), which coordinates the fundraising efforts.
The 2021 keynote speaker was Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., Vatican Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Cardinal Czerny is closely connected to El Salvador and to the late Fr. Dean Brackley, S.J., who was central to the keynote address, titled—”Remembering Dean for Tomorrow.” Cardinal Czerny’s remarks asked: “what would Dean want us to do now?”
“Many of us here at Detroit Mercy felt a close concern and affinity to Dean Brackley, S.J. His insights on the role of the Jesuit universities in our contemporary world resonated with us,” shared Gail Presbey, who spoke of the power of his challenge to the Jesuit network to “have our crusty, guarded hearts broken open by the poor of El Salvador, and to practice ‘downward mobility’.” Fr. Brackley responded to the call to volunteer to take the place of the slain martyrs at the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, where he remained until his death in 2011.
In addition to teaching at the university, Fr. Brackley ministered in rural and urban parishes, as well as serving as pastor of the UCA parish. He was the primary supporter of the scholarship fund to enable economically challenged Salvadoran students to attend the UCA.
After his death, the Jesuits in the U.S. were alerted by Gene Palumbo, a professor in El Salvador, to the scholarship fund’s financial need. Fr. Tom Smolich, S.J., then the president of the Jesuit Conference in the U.S., made the request for help to the American Jesuit universities, and Fr. Greg Lucey, S.J., then president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), decided that “the most appropriate group within the AJCU to respond to such a plea is the Campus Ministry programs at our colleges and universities.”
Upon an invitation from Fr. Ed Mathie, S.J., at Marquette University, David Nantais, then the director of university ministry at Detroit Mercy, initiated the program to support the scholarship, with Gail Presbey quickly engaging as well, as the scholarship is consistent with the mission of the Carney Latin American Solidarity Archive to organize public programming on Detroit Mercy’s campus to raise awareness of peace and justice issues concerning Latin America, and to foster solidarity of North Americans with Latin Americans, as was the passion of Fr. James “Guadalupe” Carney, S.J., namesake of CLASA.
Prior speakers at past events include Adrianne Aron, translator and editor of a book of writings by the UCA Jesuit martyr Fr. Ignacio Martin-Baro, S.J.; Dr. Miny Romero, who served as Fr. Brackley’s medical doctor; Gene Palumbo, a journalist and teacher who lives and works in El Salvador; Fr. Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J., known as “Padre Melo,” who works for the rights of indigenous people in Honduras; Fr. Chepe Idiaquez, S.J., president of the UCA in Managua; Kevin Yonkers-Talz, then-director of Casa de la Solidaridad at the UCA in San Salvador; Julio Perez, director of the Romero Program at the Casa; Francisco Mena Ugarte, director of CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador); and Sr. Peggy O’Neill, founder of Centro Arte para La Paz. Events have also incorporated reflections from family members of Fr. Brackley and local and international musicians.
“What keeps us going?,” considered Gail Presbey after the 2021 event. “It’s the bonds of solidarity that we forge across our continent, inspired by the message and role modeling of Dean Brackley. And we are greatly heartened by hearing the stories of the students who are benefiting from the program, and hearing about the fund’s ongoing need.”
View a recording of the event, including Cardinal Czerny’s talk, here. A donation can be made to the scholarship fund through the Jesuits Central and Southern Province here. Be sure to write in the comment section that your donation should be applied to the UCA Jesuit Martyrs Scholarship fund.