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Ita Ford
Born April 23, 1940
Bronx, United States
Died December 2, 1980
El Salvador
Cause of death murder by military death squad
Resting place Chalatenango, El Salvador
Occupation nun
Religious beliefs Roman Catholic
Relatives William P. Ford, Austin Ford
Part of a series of articles on
20th Century
Persecutions of the
Catholic Church


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Saints  · José Sánchez del Río
Persecution in Mexico  · Miguel Pro

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Meminisse Juvat  · Anni Sacri

El Salvador

Maura Clarke  · Ignacio Ellacuría
Ita Ford  · Rutilio Grande
Dorothy Kazel  · Ignacio Martín-Baró
Segundo Montes  · Óscar Romero

General

Persecution of Christians
Church persecutions 1939-1958
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Conspiracy of Silence (Church persecutions)

Ita Ford, M.M. (April 23, 1940 – December 2, 1980) was a Roman Catholic Maryknoll Sister missionary to Bolivia, Chile and El Salvador. She worked with the poor and war refugees. On December 2, 1980, she was tortured, raped, and murdered, along with fellow missionaries Maura Clarke, M.M., laywoman Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. They were killed in El Salvador by members of a military death squad.

Contents

Life and work

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 23, 1940, Ford was the daughter of William Patrick Ford, an insurance man who took early retirement due to tuberculosis, and Mildred Teresa O'Beirne Ford, a public schoolteacher. She had an older brother, Bill (1936-2008), and a younger sister, Irene. The family lived at 1023 57th Street in Brooklyn.[1]

William Patrick Ford was related to the prominent Catholic publisher Austin Ford, who immigrated to the United States after a publication calling for social justice in Anglo-Irish relations was banned in Ireland. Austin's son, Francis Xavier Ford (1892-1952), was the first seminarian to apply to the newly-established Maryknoll Fathers in 1911 and, after being ordained as a missionary in 1917, went to China, where he became a bishop and a martyr. He died in a Communist prison camp there in 1952, when his young "cousin" Ita was twelve.[1][2]

Though her mother taught in the public school system, Ita Ford was educated in parochial schools, beginning at age five in the Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge, run by the Visitation Sisters, a semi-cloistered order. She attended Fontbonne Hall Academy, a high school operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, where she worked on the school newspaper.[1] Finally, from 1957 to 1961, she attended Marymount Manhattan College, founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. (Marymount Manhattan split from its mother school, Marymount College, in 1961).[1][3]

Following in her relative the Bishop's footsteps, Ford had confided in a high school friend at the age of fifteen that she not only wanted to be a nun, she specifically felt called to be a Maryknoll missionary sister.[1] Even before her college graduation in 1961, Ford had a vocational counselor advising her about her fitness for Maryknoll.[1] She formally entered the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic at the age of twenty-one. Three years later, due to ill health, she had to leave the novitiate.

After working seven years as an editor at a publishing company, Ford reapplied and was again accepted by the Maryknoll missionary order in 1971.[3] After serving briefly in Bolivia in 1972, she moved to Chile a short time before the September 11, 1973 military coup.[4] Ford lived in a poor shantytown with Sister Carla Piette in Santiago, where they ministered to the needs of the people, especially those who lived in poverty.[3]

After spending a required "reflection year" in 1978–1979 before final vows in the United States, in March 1980, Ford moved with Piette from Chile to El Salvador, arriving the day of Óscar Romero's funeral.[4] In June of that year, they began working with the Emergency Refugee Committee in Chalatenango. In this mission, Ford worked with the poor and war victims, providing food, shelter, transportation and burial.

After the death of Piette in a flash flood on August 23, 1980—a flood which nearly cost Ford her own life, saved only by Piette's help in pushing her from the overwhelmed vehicle—Ford was joined on the mission by Maura Clarke, a Maryknoll sister who was already in El Salvador in contemplation of a mission assignment. Altogether, Piette and Ford had worked together in Chile and El Salvador for eight years, until their deaths barely three months apart in 1980.

Murder

In November 1980, Ford and Clarke attended a regional assembly of Maryknoll Sisters in Nicaragua. At the closing liturgy on December 1, 1980, Ford read a passage from one of Archbishop Óscar Romero's final homilies:

"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, be tortured, to be held captive - and to be found dead." [2]

The following day, December 2, 1980, Ford and Clarke boarded a plane to return to El Salvador. They were picked up by missionaries Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline sister and Jean Donovan, a Roman Catholic laywoman. Several members of the National Guard stopped the vehicle they were driving after they left the airport in San Salvador. The four women were taken to a relatively isolated spot where they were tortured, raped, and murdered by the soldiers.

Ita Ford and the other missionaries joined the more than 75,000 people who would be killed throughout in the Salvadoran Civil War.

Subsequent history

According to the Maryknoll Order:

“The U.N.-sponsored report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador concluded that the abductions were planned in advance and the men responsible had carried out the murders on orders from above. It further stated that the head of the National Guard and two officers assigned to investigate the case had concealed the facts to harm the judicial process. The murder of the women, along with attempts by the Salvadoran military and some American officials to cover it up, generated a grass-roots opposition in the U.S., as well as ignited intense debate over the Administration’s policy in El Salvador. In 1984,, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Truth Commission noted that this was the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge had found a member of the military guilty of assassination. In 1998, three of the soldiers were released for good behavior. Two of the men remain in prison and have petitioned the Salvadoran government for pardons.” [3]

Ita Ford's brother, attorney William P. Ford, has spent over 25 years using the U.S. court system to try to obtain justice for his sister and the other three murdered women. He has worked closely with Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) on federal lawsuits to try to bring Salvadoran generals to answer for the murder of the women, and, in other cases, for the torture and murder of members of the Salvadoran poor.[5]

The head of the National Guard, whose troops were responsible for the murders, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, went on to become Minister of Defense in the government of José Napoleón Duarte.[3] After their emigration to the U.S. state of Florida, Vides Casanova and his fellow general, José Guillermo Garcia, were the named defendants in the suit brought by Bill Ford on his sister's behalf.

In 1998, Human Rights First was able to interview four of the five National Guardsmen in prison in El Salvador. All four stated that they had been ordered to kill the women by their superior officer, Subsergeant Luis Antonio Colindres Alemán, and all four stated Colindres Alemán had said he was acting on orders from above. According to HRF's letter to then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "Colindres Aleman was the only convicted Guardsman to refuse to speak to us. Each of the four Guardsmen we interviewed maintained that only Colindres Aleman knew who issued the superior orders, and each believed that he was maintaining his silence because of fear or financial benefit, or both."[6]

Film

The murders of the four women, including news footage of their exhumations, are covered in the 1982 documentary Roses in December, which focuses mainly on the life of Jean Donovan, the laywoman.[7] This documentary won the Interfilm Award at the 1982 Mannheim-Heidelberg Internationales Filmfestival.

Mari Gorman played Ita Ford in a 1983 television movie, Choices of the Heart, which has been criticized for lacking clarity about the political context of the women's killings.[8] Despite that, the movie won the 1984 Humanitas Prize in the 90-minute category. Melissa Gilbert, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, and Mike Farrell were among the cast members.

The Florida federal civil court case (Ford v. Garcia) brought by Bill Ford and Human Rights First on behalf of all four women is profiled along with a similar case (Romagoza v. Garcia, re attacks on Salvadoran citizens) in a 2002 film, Justice and the Generals. This documentary by Gail Pellett was completed in the time frame between the 2000 trial of the generals in Ford, and the 2002 rejection of the women's families by the federal appellate court, first airing on PBS on February 1, 2002.[9]. It won the 2002 Amnesty International Film Festival (Vancouver) and the 2003 Award of Merit in Film from the Latin American Studies Association. It is distributed by First Run / Icarus Films.[10]

Writings

In October 2005, Orbis Books published "Here I Am, Lord": The Letters and Writings of Ita Ford by Ita Ford and Jeanne Evans, ISBN 1570756058.

In 2005, a planned biography of Sister Carla Piette was announced. As they worked together in Latin America for nearly of a decade, the Piette book, when published, will contain much biographical information on Ita Ford.[11]

Footage of the murders is also in Frank Dorrel's collection of mini documentaries including School of Assassins that tells of the School of the Americas as it trains assassins. Students of the school where convicted of the crimes against the Maryknoll nuns.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Here I Am, Lord": The Letters And Writings of Ita Ford by Ita Ford and Jeanne Evans (New York: Orbis Books, 2005) ISBN 1570756058.
  2. ^ Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, accessed online December 11, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Martyrs of Central America
  4. ^ a b Ita Ford Peacemakers biography
  5. ^ Human Rights First 25th Anniversary: Bios biography of William P. Ford, accessed online December 11, 2006.
  6. ^ [1] HRF to Madeleine Albright, April 3, 1998; accessed December 11, 2006.
  7. ^ "Roses in December" details at American Friends Service Committee lending library; accessed online December 9, 2006.
  8. ^ "Choices of the Heart" detailed review dated 2005; accessed online December 10, 2006.
  9. ^ "Justice and The Generals" 2002 film on PBS by Gail Pellett; accessed online December 11, 2006.
  10. ^ "Justice and the Generals" documentary synopsis at First Run / Icarus Films; accessed online December 11, 2006.
  11. ^ Visitors see impact of missionaries' work in El Salvador 2005 article by Brian T. Olszewski for the Catholic Herald.

Further reading

  • Hearts on Fire: The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters, Penny Lernoux, et al., Orbis Books, 1995.
  • Ita Ford: Missionary Martyr, Phyllis Zagano, Paulist Press, 1996.
  • The Same Fate As the Poor, Judith M. Noone, Orbis Books, 1995.
  • Witness of Hope: The Persecution of Christians in Latin America, Martin Lange and Reinhold Iblacker, Orbis Books, 1981.

External links

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