Sister Dorothy Kazel, modern-day martyr

Dorothy L. Kazel, baptized Dorthea Lu Kazel, was born to Lithuanian American parents, Joseph and Malvina Kazel, in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 30, 1939. Shortly after entering the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland in 1960, she was given the religious name of Sister Laurentine, in remembrance of an Ursuline nun martyred in the French Revolution.

One of Dorothy's life themes was reaching out to those marginalized within our schools, our city and our nation; and ministering to those at risk of violence and war in El Salvador.

Dorothy joins mission team in El Salvador

As a member of the Cleveland Latin American mission team from 1974 to 1980, Dorothy came to know and love the Salvadoran people. Especially in the parishes of Chirilagua, La Union and La Libertad, and in outlying villages and cantons, including Zaragoza. She loved the exquisite, mountainous country with its faith-filled people who lived in extreme poverty.

She traveled by motorbike and jeep preparing for liturgical celebrations, serving as a vital communication link between the parishioners and the parish, and striving to develop lay leaders within the Church, with the hope they, in turn, would teach others in their village.

While serving in the CARITAS program, Dorothy taught women how to properly care for and nourish their children. "There was a constant working with the people, empowering them, trying to get them to do the teaching and the coordinating," says Sister Martha Owen, who served with Dorothy. She and other Sisters and laywomen on the team taught native men and women to read and write.

In 1977, a civil war emerged. Professional death squads murdered professionals, campesinos, catechists, and priests, and often destroyed villages and crops. Dorothy worked with victims and refugees of the war, widows and mothers who had lost their sons. "I could not leave Salvador, especially now ... I am committed to the persecuted Church here," she said.

Dorothy among four women missionaries killed

On the night of December 2, 1980, Sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missioner Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were abducted from the La Libertad airport, interrogated, physically and sexually abused and shot by five national guardsmen. The next morning they were found buried in a common, shallow grave, marked with a cross of two branches.

On December 4, the women's bodies were drawn from the burial site into Cleveland's, the nation's, and international consciousness. Dorothy's body was returned to Cleveland, Ohio, where Bishop Anthony M. Pilla celebrated the Mass of Christian burial at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist December 10, 1980.

The casket was flanked by an honor guard of priests, as bishops led the procession out of the Cathedral. One thousand, five hundred people attended the funeral. Her grave site in All Soul's Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio, is a place of pilgrimage. Sister Dorothy is celebrated annually at liturgies, at interfaith gatherings and in academic settings.

Her so-called ordinary life as a woman with the title of Sister was revealed to have been extraordinary. Her death has been a catalyst for many groups of diverse people to unite and advocate for social justice at local, national and international levels.

A critical awareness of the United States' role in Central America, its failure to protect human rights, and its participation in the training of the military arm of oppressive regimes became evident as the circumstances surrounding Dorothy's death became public. Her murder, torture and rape mirrored the fate of more than 40,000 Salvadorans, and thousands of Hondurans, and Guatemalan people.

Dorothy's death brings outcry and action

The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland and all religious communities of women were inspired to action on behalf of women as victims of violence, and to see the connection between rape and war. After the murder of another Ursuline in 1995, the Ursulines of Cleveland initiated Women Watch, an annual event in April to commemorate women and children who were victims of violence in Cuyahoga County within the past year.

Dorothy's life continues to provide valuable information about women who enter religious communities of Sisters, about their motives, their struggles and their spirituality.

Her story provides insight into the complex human dynamic of choices women religious have made, and their efforts to enflesh the message of Jesus Christ through lives of contemplation,justice, and compassion at the end of this 20th Century. The four churchwomen's biographies document lives lived with Gospel's values in El Salvador, as well as the faith, culture, and experience of Salvadoran people. A movie, Roses in December (mid-1980s), focused on the lives of Dorothy and Jean Donovan. Dorothy's biography, "In the Fullness of Life," written by Sister Cynthia Glavac, was published in 1996.

In March of 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission Report for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: the 12-Year War in El Salvador, concluded evidence was sufficient to support that "the arrest and the execution of the four women had been planned and carried out based on orders from a higher superior."

The Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America in Cleveland and Washington, D.C., has been actively engaged with many other groups to stop federal funding of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA). Efforts to stop training in torture and de-stabilization of Latin American governments follows evidence that three of five officers cited in the rapes and murders of Dorothy, Jean, Ita, and Maura; that two of the three officers cited for the assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero; that 19 of the 26 officers cited for killing the six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughters were graduates of SOA.

Amnesty International condemned SOA training manuals containing interrogation techniques of torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of those being questioned. Nationally, thousands of people have mobilized to close the SOA, challenging the concept of foreign aid as military training in terror and violence. Because of these efforts, one can say that Dorothy's death had national significance with international implications.

Ursuline Sisters continue to serve the people of El Salvador through the Cleveland Diocese's mission team.