Xavier honors Jesuit martyrs

By: Erica Lampert ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of xavier.edu | The Jesuit martyr memorial commemorates the six UCA Jesuits executed by the Atlacatl commandos on November 16, 1989 in El Salvador.

The University of Central America in El Salvador had six of its professors shot down in the middle of the night during the country’s civil war in 1989.

Before the shooting, the professors had received bomb and death threats due to their Jesuit education system of providing education to the poor.

“They knew their situation was intense, but they kept doing what they had to do on the behalf of the poor,” Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology and founding director of the Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice, said.

This time during the civil war had been intense, and a curfew had been imposed to protect those who had been receiving the death threats.

“The professors actually told their housekeeper and their daughter — who they were really close to — with the curfew and everything else and living so close to the police station to stay the night there on campus,” Ahlgren said. “The mother and daughter were shot down as well, because the paramilitary forces could leave no witnesses, and ended up dying in each other’s arms.”

All the bodies had been dragged out onto the campus after the shootings occurred, and several families and friends found them next morning.

“The murder of the martyr of the Jesuit University of Central America was shocking, and unprecedented,” Ahlgren said. “The university had been a voice for the voiceless, the science for those who have no science, and used and leveraged its power in all realms to make the world a better place.”

Twenty-six years later, Xavier is constructing a memorial in honor of those six professors who had lost their lives that night.

“Those of us who were impacted by the events of 1989 know there is a whole generation of Xavier students who have their mark to make but don’t even know the story and why they would be significant in anyway,” Ahlgren said. “So it seemed very appropriate to erect a monument in their honor to educate this generation and all those who follow.”

The Jesuit Martyr memorial will serve as a space of honor and memory and as a space to acknowledge the eight who died for Jesuit education.

“This memorial seeks to educate on behalf of the better world. We are an educational process that is not afraid to look at the difficult and challenging things in our world,” Ahlgren said.

The memorial is meant to honor Jesuit education and remind students that we are here to help bridge the gap of education and to bring that education to others throughout the world.

There will be a dedication service on Nov. 15 outside of Bellarmine Chapel for this memorial. All students and faculty are welcome to come to honor those who died in 1989 trying to educate the world.

“We want our students to set the world on fire — to educate others for a better world and we hope this memorial inspires them to do so,” Ahlgren said.