The Living Legacy of the UCA Martyrs:

The Mission of Jesuit Catholic Higher Education

A Blog by Annie Burns

I didn’t like the Jesuits at first. I wasn’t impressed by their ‘poverty,’ — their beautiful residences, fancy gadgets, or smartphones. Coming from a Franciscan high school, I was used to a charism that took simplicity and poverty to heart. In the Jesuits, it appeared to me that this was lost.

Then I got to know a few of them. I have been lucky enough to learn about Ignatius and the Jesuit tradition from some of Loyola’s finest members of the Society of Jesus. In relationship with them, I fell in love with this tradition that urges a personal response to the call of God through action, and through a deep commitment to prayer. I got a taste of what discernment looks like, and I began to discern for myself what all of this had to do with the university I had grown to love.

My sophomore year I traveled to El Salvador to study abroad with the Casa de la Solidaridad, a study abroad program that invites students into relationship with those on the margins so that we may learn history from the survivors of it. We learned of the Civil War in that country, of Liberation Theology, which empowered so many to advocate for themselves and their neighbors, and we learned about the many, many martyrs. At the Jesuit University in El Salvador – the UCA – 6 Jesuits and 2 women were brutally murdered by the Salvadoran military. These Jesuits disrupted the unquestioned efforts of the oligarchs and of those who desired to maintain power through continued oppression of the poor. These 6 men had begun to speak boldly on behalf of the terrorized, massacred thousands in El Salvador. Within their own academic specialties, they encouraged study that named the dignity of the poor, and condemned the military endeavors of the government. Their witness of profound suffering and violence moved them to act on behalf of the poor from their situatedness as Jesuits. Their words and their organizing posed such a threat that those in power ordered they be killed. Their identity as contemplatives in action, as Jesuits, as men in love with persecuted Salvadoran communities – it affected everything.

A rose garden was planted on the lawn where these women and men were martyred. The quiet moments I spent sitting, reflecting in that holy place usually led me to think of the Jesuits I knew back at Loyola, and of the role our institution is called to play in a violent, unjust world. We celebrate Ignatian Heritage Month in November in part so that we may recall the example of the UCA martyrs and their commitment to those on the margins. Our Jesuit Catholic identity has implications beyond an individual call to the cross. That we are Chicago’s Jesuit Catholic University means that we, as an institution, should act in the service of faith and the promotion of justice in all that we do. Pedro Arrupe says that what we love – which, when discerned well, is the will of God – should affect everything: what gets us out of bed in the morning, how we spend our evenings and weekends, what we read, who we know, what breaks our hearts, and what amazes us with joy and gratitude.[1] Well, for Loyola, as an institution made up of love-filled, justice hungry persons, the call shouldn’t look too different. Our love, our priority, should be centered on the marginalized of our communities. In memory of the UCA martyrs, this love should urge us to condemn any offense done to the dignity of the human person, even at the risk of persecution. This should affect the ways that we invest, the ways that we grow, develop, and recruit, the books we read, the classes we offer, the organizations and resources we promote, the ways we compensate and support our employees, and the invitations we extend to one another to conversion in each and every moment. Being a Jesuit Catholic institution should affect everything.

Annie Burns
“A Rose Garden was planted on the lawn where these women and men were martyred.”

Loyola University of Chicago is not a perfect place. In the same way, the Jesuits are not always a perfect representation of the vision of Ignatius. We – all of us – are still discovering the ways and spaces that we fail to live out our Jesuit Catholic identity. If we are to take the call of the UCA martyrs, of Ignatius, and, indeed, of Jesus Christ seriously, we must be willing to name these faults and to be better. We must come down from our ivory towers, peel our noses out from behind our books, and get off of our reverent knees to meet the world in all of its gritty reality.[2] There may still be moments when we don’t like all that this institution is complicit in, but we must continue to commit ourselves, over and over again, to the preferential option for the poor that is part and parcel of our Jesuit Catholic identity. With this as our way of proceeding Loyola University of Chicago may be uniquely leveraged to do it exactly what it is here to do: to seek God in all things, and to expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, through justice, and through faith.



[2] Kolvenbach, in an address entitled “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education.”


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