The fourth and final day of Bishop Nelson Perez’s visit to the Diocese of Cleveland mission in El Salvador was jam-packed with events, including celebrating Mass, baptizing three children and visiting the chapel built on the spot where four churchwomen, including two from Cleveland, are buried. The women missionaries were murdered nearly 39 years ago this month.
Father Paul Schindler, a diocesan priest and longtime member of the mission staff in El Salvador, coordinated events for the bishop’s trip, including those in the La Libertad area, which is near Immaculate Conception Parish, where he is pastor. Much of the final day of Bishop Perez’s visit – Dec. 19 — was in that area.
Accompanying the bishop on the trip was Father Stephen Vellenga, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Painesville and director for the propagation of the faith and the diocesan mission office. He also served at the diocesan mission in El Salvador from 1987 to 1995. They were joined during much of the visit by Father John Ostrowski, who also is a diocesan priest serving at the El Salvador mission.
The bishop and his group visited the parish in Teotepeque where he celebrated Mass and visited the parish house. Students at the parish school are on Christmas break, so he was unable to visit the school. However, a number of students were rehearsing for the Christmas play, so they took a break, chatted with Bishop Perez and posed for photos.
One of the more somber parts of the trip was a visit by the bishop and priests to the chapel on the site where four churchwomen who were murdered on Dec. 2, 1980 are buried. Two of the women — Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan – were from Cleveland. The other two were Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clark from New York. They were beaten, raped and murdered by five Salvadoran National Guardsmen.
A cross and marker stand on their burial site.
Bishop Perez and Fathers Schindler, Ostrowski and Vellenga celebrated Mass in the chapel, which is used by the local parish community for liturgies and catechesis many days during the week.
The chapel contains posters, photos and displays about the work the four women were doing in El Salvador.
The group returned to Immaculate Conception Parish for a lunch meeting hosted by Father Schindler where the bishop met leaders from the parish, school, clinic, pastoral and catechetical programs. They explained their work to the bishop. Afterwards, he toured the school and clinic and ended at the parish retreat center.
That evening, the bishop returned to Teotepeque to celebrate Mass at St. Mark Chapel, located in a community not far from the parish church. Father Ostrowski celebrates Mass there monthly and baptisms are celebrated when parents request them.
The bishop said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate Mass for the parishioners and to baptize three children. He also spent time chatting with the altar servers and posing for photos.
This was the bishop’s first trip to the diocesan mission in El Salvador, which was established 54 years ago. Many parishes and others continue to volunteer and support the mission.
For more information on supporting mission work, visit dioceseofcleveland.org/missionoffice.