13 April 2017, The Tablet

Sister Comunista


A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura

An American Catholic missionary stationed for 20 years in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Sister Maura Clarke, was devoted to an ideal of “social justice”. In this role, she campaigned on behalf of the Central American poor. Catechising with passages of Scripture was of little interest to her. Any Salvadoreans or Nicaraguans she recruited to the Church between 1959 and her death in 1980, she brought along by gentle persuasion. According to Eileen Markey, a sense of ordin­ary goodness surrounded Maura Clarke; only the pectoral cross round her neck betrayed her high rank as a Maryknoll sister superior.

Dreadfully, in December 1980 on a remote road in El Salvador, her body was found buried in a shallow grave, together with the corpses of two other Maryknoll nuns, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, and a lay missionary, Jean Donovan. The four women had been raped, beaten and murdered by the US-trained Salvadorean military. An international scandal ensued when it was established that the women were United States citizens. In protest, the US suspended all aid to El Salvador.

Eileen Markey, a Bronx-based investigative journalist, sets out to explore Sr Maura’s ­murder in A Radical Faith. Written with great narrative verve, the book does not dwell in true-crime fashion on the killings 37 years ago, but concentrates instead on the path that led the 49-year-old Maura Clarke to meet her end in a far-distant corner of the world.

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