• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Four Women, Including an Alumna

Remembering four martyrs.


December 3, 2015

One does not have to be a labor economist to know that finding a job that speaks to the very depth of one’s soul is something to be treasured. I found myself thinking of this recently as Ursuline College celebrated the legacy of four church women who were martyred 35 years ago this past week.

The women, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, along with lay missionary Jean Donnovan and a local Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, were martyred as they worked with the poor in the midst of the civil war in El Salvador in the late 1970s and into 1980. Dorothy Kazel, a local Ursuline Sister, felt a pull towards the people of Latin America that was inspired by courses she took while a student at Ursuline College. Never doubt that what you teach can inspire your students and through them, perhaps, change in the world.

As the four women were kidnapped on December 2nd of 1980, Ursuline College helped present a night to celebrate their lives this past week. I expected a simple ceremony, but what I found was a moving experience in which the words and lives of the four women came alive. In different rooms, people who knew the women or worked in El Salvador were there to testify to the choices that brought them into conflict with the “death squads” of those dark days. Actors, including some of our own students, read from letters written home, and at times in the night pretended to give interviews by reading from words the women had written themselves. I was particularly moved by a portion of a letter written by Dorothy Kazel to President Carter, asking him why the United States was making it easier for the slaughter to continue. She spoke of a girl, just a little younger than my own daughter, who was killed for no reason.  All four “women” were asked at some point why they stayed. All gave some version of the answer; they could not abandon the people with whom they worked. “Jean Donnovan” was even more specific. She stayed for the children.

It is hard to be part of our campus community and not know about what happened thirty five years ago. Our vice President for Academic Affairs was invited to represent the students at her Ursuline-sponsored school at the funeral. She recalls what it was like to be a wide-eyed fifteen year old at a funeral with such national and international significance. One of our Art professors has gone to great lengths to make others aware of the forces she believes led to the deaths. One long-time faculty member tells the story of being at a school Christmas party when they learned that the four women were missing. And it was easy to identify the professor whose office is near mine in a picture that was take of a mission team from that area.

Years ago, as it became clear that my first tenure-track position was not going to work out, I felt like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. I had found that job the traditional way, through published job listings, a national conference, and follow-up interviews that kept me flying around the country. I cringed at having to undertake such a search again.

One day I stumbled upon a movie about the four women called “Choices of the Heart.” At some point in the movie the character playing Dorothy Kazel walked across the screen wearing a sweat shirt reading “Ursuline College.” That was the first time I learned of the connection between the tragedy and the college down the road, but it led to the conclusion that Ursuline must be a special place that would support my own values. It took several years, and “thinking outside the box”, but I eventually found this job here.

When someone once heard that story, they spoke of Dorothy, “she brought you here.”

Yes, I guess she did.

I just hope that I can make her proud.


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