Politics, religion, and hope. Those three words were, more likely than not, juggling around in the minds of Springfield College students on Tuesday night when Eileen Markey spoke in the Judd Gymnasia.
Markey – journalist, Springfield native, and author of “A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura”. Markey came to campus to discuss her book and how it relates to the topic of the way philosophy and religion shape key social justice issues.
“A Radical Faith” is the true story of four church women who were killed in El Salvador during the Cold War while fighting for a movement they strongly believed in. This book focuses on one of them, Sister Maura Clarke.
Sister Maura’s parents were Irish immigrants, so they grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood in New York City. Markey said they were a part of the working class, “…where people didn’t go to college and girls especially didn’t go to college.”
There was not much opportunity for a young girl who was adventurous, spontaneous, and had a feeling that she was meant to do something more. The only way out was to join the convent.
Markey interviewed people in the convent and asked why they decided to join. Many of them said things like “I wanted to get off the farm” or “I wanted to get off the block.”
“They couldn’t be marines and they couldn’t be in the foreign service, so you could be a nun and that could be big and dangerous and brave for a girl,” Markey said.
Once she became a nun, Sister Maura taught in the Bronx for a couple of years and then was sent to Nicaragua. When she arrived to teach, she started telling the children of the country that they weren’t being treated right and that it wasn’t their fault they were poor.
“The dictatorship in which they lived in Nicaragua was freaked out when the Catholic church started teaching this way,” Markey said.
Eventually, Sister Maura was on her way to El Salvador. Prior to her arrival, a movement was already underway to reform the country and had been for 15 years. It did not go well.
The oligarchy in El Salvador was “so freaked out by this use of religious language for political change that they started killing priests.” They killed the Bishop while he was celebrating mass.
Killing the Bishop would be a huge deal in any country, but everyone in El Salvador was Catholic. Six months after the Bishop’s death, Sister Maura arrived.
Politicians saw Maura as a threat. Though most citizens saw her as a sweet, harmless nun that wouldn’t harm a fly, she believed in what she was fighting for very strongly and her determination is what made her frightful. “She always ran towards, never away,” Markey said.
One day in El Salvador, a boy was being taken away by the National Guard from Sister Maura’s home for asking for a fair price for water.
In El Salvador, the rich did not have to pay nearly as much for water as the poor did. As the boy was being taken, Maura yelled, “Where are you taking that boy, he is simply asking for a fair price for water!”
The rest of her sisters were in shock that she had stood up to the guard in that way. The guard told Sister Maura to go back to her convent and smirked at her like she was nothing. This infuriated her and she shouted with authority, “This is my convent!” Unfortunately, Sister Maura would die before she stopped fighting for what she thought was right.
Sister Maura helped many people in El Salvador and was fighting for a great cause and movement. “She’s heroic, primarily because she cared,” said Markey.
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